The Phantom Tollbooth

ISBN: 1556908768
ISBN 13: 9781556908767
By: Norton Juster

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About this book

Milo mopes in black ink sketches, until he assembles a tollbooth and drives through. He jumps to the island of Conclusions. But brothers King Azaz of Dictionopolis and the Mathemagician of Digitopolis war over words and numbers. Joined by ticking watchdog Tock and adult-size Humbug, Milo rescues the Princesses of Rhyme and Reason, and learns to enjoy life.

Reader's Thoughts


Michael Chabon has written an introduction to a new edition of The Phantom Tollbooth, which is reprinted in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books (June 2011 - you'll need a subscription to read the whole thing), and which prompted a reread.I will uncritically and unreservedly recommend this book to everyone. It's been my experience that while no singular author or book has ever consciously "blown my mind," many have done so unconsciously, including this one. How can you not love a world where you can only get to the island of Conclusions by jumping or where cars go without saying or where the Mathemagician transports our heroes to the Mountains of Ignorance by carrying the three?Like Milo, I can easily fall into apathy and I like to think that my various enthusiasms were sparked by his example.


Not only do I love this book, but I just finished reading it to my seven and five and ahalf year old, who now adore it as well. As a matter of fact, instead of beginning another "big kid" book tonight, as planned, they have requested that we start Tollbooth again, which is high praise from two little kids with rather short attention spans. We broke it up into litter sections, sometimes stopping in the middle of a chapter, and it helped to be able to say "Oh, guess what, Next, Milo gets to visit the Valley of Sound..." and get them excited. I highly reccommend this book, whatever your age... I dind't read it first until COLLEGE, when a dear and treasured friend (guy, of course) would call me in the evenings and read me "bedtime stories." We became best friends later on, and the book became one of my favorites. (And my husband and his wife don't hate either of us for being such good friends then either, which is wonderful, considering they have replaced our best-friendness in our hearts, but it was great to have a caring, non-boyfriend guy at that time especially!)


This book is: Fantastic! Marvelous! Fabulous! Stupendous! Incredible! Thus would be the reaction of the cabinet of King Azaz the Unabridged of the Kingdom of Dictionopolis. In The Phantom Tollbooth, we find the meaning of such statements as “It goes without saying”, and “Half-baked ideas”. We learn what might be the best kind of sentence you can get from a police officer. We are taught the rules of The Doldrums: one being that you’re only allowed to smile slightly every other Thursday. And perhaps most importantly, we find out that you really do have to eat your words—so be careful what you say! The characters are fantastic! There’s a ‘Watch’ Dog, a ‘Which’, ‘Lethargians’, a Senses Taker, and many more! Milo, our ‘hero’, takes a ride through this strange land and tries to save Rhyme and Reason (did you know they were people?) from the Castle in the Air (don’t we all have one of those?). Fun for all ages, although you may not want to read this at bedtime, as I did, as it made us giggle more than yawn! From 2010:Josh is actually reading this one to himself right now, but I thought I'd add it anyway... Maybe I'll even put his review up! :)Josh's Review:You SHOULD read this one! It has all kinds of situations, like when the main character got a little gift. It was called The Phantom Tollbooth. It was magic and could take you to countries you would never know about!

Christy Stewart

I think this is the only school book I liked.Puberty had just taken effect and so I was tripping my balls off on hormones: "My boobs hurt. There is blood on my panties. I hate everyone. Does that dog have a clock on it?"


The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton JusterAges 8-12A classic fantasy that will keep any child from becoming “lost in the doldrums.”Young , ever- bored Milo, upon finding a child sized tollbooth in his room one day after school, sets out on a surreal adventure into another dimension. Full of puns and double speak, this journey into the imagination is both charming and entertaining. Along the way, he meets such interesting characters as the “Which,” Half-Boy, The Whether Man, and the Mathemagician. I had read this book as a child, and remember loving it, but a second time through as an adult, I had a whole new appreciation for the cleverness and wit of the language play. The characters are original, and Milo, as a protagonist is oddly appealing. A true classic in the children’s fantasy genre, this book holds broad appeal, much in the way of Roald Dahl. The imaginative dialogue and inventive descriptions bring the story to life and make me wish there were a sequel. Silliness, humor and delightful nonsense fill each chapter, but there remains an undertone of seriousness as we realize there is more going in this story than what meets the eye. A treat for the imagination.From the PublisherIllustrated in black-and-white. This ingenious fantasy centers around Milo, a bored ten-year-old who comes home to find a large toy tollbooth sitting in his room. Joining forces with a watchdog named Tock, Milo drives through the tollbooth's gates and begins a memorable journey. He meets such characters as the foolish, yet lovable Humbug, the Mathemagician, and the not-so-wicked "Which," Faintly Macabre, who gives Milo the "impossible" mission of returning two princesses to the Kingdom of Wisdom. This is more a description than a review.Children's LiteratureHero Milo "didn't know what to do with himself-not just sometimes, but always." One day he returns from school to find an easy to assemble tollbooth and when he drives through it, Milo finds wild adventures in Dictionopolis, the land of words; Digitopolis, the world of numbers, and many locations in between. He is on a quest in this nonsensical land to bring back the Princess of Sweet Rhyme and Pure Reason. The book is filled with wild characters like the Spelling Bee who spells more than he speaks. There are silly word plays like the time Milo makes a speech at dinner and is surprised to find out how he has to eat his words. Life philosophy is mixed with tons of punny, funny humor. He is so changed by his travels that when he returns home he is only momentarily disappointed when the tollbooth disappears. As Milo says, "there's just so much to do right here." A children's classic for parent and child to enjoy together. Yes, this book does teach a lesson on how to cure the doldrums. I like the description here, but it barely touches on the books magical quality.


Reading "grown-up" literature is excavating the human soul, the adult soul: a mangled mess of contradictions and self-deceptions, screwy motives and the odd self-adherent logic of artistic creation. But Literature (capital ell) is a pyrrhic battle between message and evasion: one must avoid moralizing outright, must avoid overt allegory, but must never be too subtle, too veiled, lest you be resigned to snobby undergrabs and many rubbish bins. The Phantom Tollbooth is a strange beast: decidedly accessible to children, but remains lovable to adults. It's championing of the struggle against moral short-cuts, boredom, and mental waste is timeless, ageless, and remains prescient, even to me: a grown person 52 years after it's publication!My grandmother has always said: "only boring people get bored" - I am guilty of sometimes serving this packaged wit cold when a friend laments "I'm bored!" but I think forcefully throwing this book at them would be a better remedy. What is signifed in my grandmother's aphorism is that interested people are interesting, and more importantly are never idle. My family (paternal side) is a hard-working, conservative, New Englander family: we don't watch much television, we read lots of books, we listen to NPR and read the Wall Street Journal, we somewhat self-indulgently talk about the cultural decline in literacy and how we are not a part of it. But the story of Milo is one which is both entertaining, lovable, but also cautionary. By no means is Milo a bad child, a dull idler, but rather he has not found passion yet. He is bored because his urban living, his deadening routine has stayed access to the bliss of potentiality. The only thing you can do easily is be wrong, and that's hardly worth the effort. We are plagued, as a modern, urban society by the two-headed monster of routine. Routine comforts us, it gives us an escape into the dull and Terrible Trivium: the small tasks which comfort us and distract us from important, difficult work and choices. Our society is filled with spineless and indecisive people (the Gelatinous Giant) and those who feed us half-truths, who coddle us into a mire, into a trap (Monster of Insincerity): they are not villains, and these flaws do not define all people, but are characteristic in turn. Our weaknesses, our daemons, are our horrible defenses, our cozy citadels in the mountains of Ignorance. It is not the absence of bad habits (hours of dull television, bad reading or no reading) that marks an individual's decline, but rather the presence, the support, of our defenses. The demons of the mountains of Ignorance are impotent without our compliance, they feed on our weakness for what is easy. If we allow the glittering sovereigns of Rhyme and Reason to go fugitive in their empyrean prison, we lose our grip on true happiness, we become boring, we become easily bored. Thankfully, there is nothing boring in The Phantom Tollbooth: its play with language is unrivaled certainly in children/young-adult literature, and rivals even the masters of play (Joyce, Nabokov, etc) in the grander schema. With a dual reverence for words and numbers, rhyme and reason, and a prevailing apotheosis of time, beyond the value of currency: something never to be wasted, Juster champions all forms of mental activity and cerebral play. I can imagine no better way to introduce a bored student, particularly one ahead of his class, to the ever-infinite vistas of imagination and invention than to hand him or her this book. “It has been a long trip," said Milo, climbing onto the couch where the princesses sat; "but we would have been here much sooner if I hadn't made so many mistakes. I'm afraid it's all my fault.""You must never feel badly about making mistakes," explained Reason quietly, "as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.”


Anyone who has a passion for words and wordplay will enjoy reading The Phantom Tollbooth. In this charming children's book, author Norton Juster takes us on an adventure with his main character Milo, a young boy who enters a chaotic place called the Kingdom of Wisdom and finds that to restore order in the kingdom, he must save the banished princesses Rhyme and Reason.When the story begins, Milo gets home one afternoon expecting to go through the same humdrum after-school routine he always goes through. But on this particular day, he arrives home to find a tollbooth waiting to transport him to a faraway place. Soon, Milo is traveling through the Kingdom of Wisdom, seeking to rescue Rhyme and Reason with the help of his companions, Tock the Watchdog and the Humbug.Along the way, Milo meets some interesting and clever characters, such as the Whether Man (not to be confused with the Weather Man, "for after all it's more important to know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be") and Kakofonous Dischord, Doctor of Dissonance, whom Milo meets on the outskirts of the Valley of Sound. Page after page, Juster's clever puns and witty plays on words make his characters memorable and his storyline entertaining.On his journey, Milo travels to several places within the Kingdom of Wisdom, learning useful things along the way. In Dictionopolis, for instance, he discovers the abundance of words and the importance of choosing the right word for the right occasion. On his way to Digitopolis, a land ruled by numbers, Milo ends up on the Island of Conclusions. There, he decides to himself, "From now on, I'm going to have a very good reason before I make up my mind about anything," and he learns that "you can lose too much time jumping to Conclusions."Armed with the knowledge he has gathered on his journey through the Kingdom, Milo finally reaches the Mountains of Ignorance, where he and his faithful companions dodge and outwit various demons and ultimately save the princesses Rhyme and Reason. In the end, Milo is transported back to the present with a newfound curiosity about the world and a greater appreciation for learning.Juster's humor throughout the story is at times subtle, at times downright silly, but often clever and thought-provoking, making this book an enjoyable read for young and old alike. They say there's a child in all of us, and The Phantom Tollbooth truly is a children's book for all ages.


This is such a sweet book, but full of genuinely profound lessons. I read this on the recommendation of my 14 year old daughter who remembers it fondly from grade school. I thank her for the suggestion -- I loved the story of Milo & his friends Tock & the Humbug. I would recommend this for any child reading independently (younger readers may need some gentle guidance with some of the concepts & humor, which isn't dumbed down in the least), but also for any adult looking for a quick read that is also meaningful.


I've never read a more quotable children's book. Brimming with wisdom and wordplay, my paperback copy is absolutely filled with underlined sentences and dog-eared pages. What more could anyone want from a story?(I've "read" this book many times, but never front-to-back, all the way through, until now. Not even in sixth grade when I was introduced to this book for a class assignment. All I remembered until I bought the book years ago was Milo getting lost in The Doldrums, Tock the Watchdog who went Tick, and Alec Bings suspended in midair and growing downwards instead of upwards.)


One of the greatest childhood books ever. I still enjoy it.

Marie Lu

I don't remember much about this book, except that I loved it to pieces, and that the subtraction stew always made me really hungry.


When I was a kid I used to read and re-read the Phantom Tollbooth like it was going out of style.Flash forward to 2010, and here I am, finally reviewing one of the most precious books of my childhood. I'm sure it's been said once, but I'll say it again, this book is no children's book. Sure, it has many elements of a child's book, and at first glance it may seem as such, but upon re-reading it for the umpteenth time I realized how enjoyable the book can be to anyone. It simply doesn't matter how old you are, it's a great great great book.The word play made me smile and shake my head countless amounts of times. The sheer simplicity of it contributed to its beauty.I think it also helps that I relate so closely with Milo, the protagonist. I sometimes have to remind myself of the beauty of the world amidst all the negativity floating around the air.To me, there will never be a book as touching as The Phantom Tollbooth. Not very many books, if any can do that for me. Cheers Mr. Juster, your writing is a true inspiration!


This book deserves all the praise it gets… and then some. I added The Phantom Tollbooth to my shelf (thanks to some great recommendations from the Goodreads community) thinking that it'd be a great story to read to my son (now 11 months old). But first, I figured I should probably read it myself in order to see what all the hype is about. I can't count how many times I had to read passages - and even entire chapters - out loud in order to appreciate the rhythm of the language Juster uses. It's outstanding… similar to what Dr. Seuss does (significantly advanced for novel length/readers) but with an entire plot arc. The clever use of character and turns of phrase - one in particular was the description of the demons chasing Milo at the end of the book - is woven throughout the fabric of the story. AND what's more, it takes a rather universal theme and puts an uplifting spin on it.What a ride! Now… my son just needs to get older, quicker, so I can read the whole thing aloud to him :)


"In this box are all the words I know," he said. "Most of them you will never need, some you will use constantly, but with them you ask all the questions which have never been answered and answer all the questions which have never been asked. All the great books of the past and all the ones yet to come are made with these words. With them there is no obstacle you cannot overcome. All you must learn to do is use them well and in the right places.""And remember also," added the Princess of Sweet Rhyme, "that many places you would like to see are just off the map and many things you want to know are just out of sight or a little beyond your reach. But someday you'll reach them all, for what you learn today, for no reason at all, will help you discover all the wonderful secrets of tomorrow." When I started to re-read The Phantom Tollbooth a few weeks ago, I was very excited, but I was also a little bit nervous. I have a special, uncritical reverence for this book, the sort that you can only really have for books you read when you were very young. I remember every picture in this book, and I remember it being filled with words and numbers and quite a lot of joy. It was lovely. I was afraid that a re-read as an adult would leave me feeling as if it wasn't as good as I remembered (or, maybe worse, that I've just grown up into a grumpy cynic). But instead I was greeted with the pleasant surprise that The Phantom Tollbooth is still wonderful, and - without me realizing it, really - I think it had a huge determining course on who I wound up being as a person. I can't tell you how many times I came across sections that I probably didn't even entirely understand the first time through, but which are now really central and important to me. The second quote up there is pretty much a longer version of one of my absolute favorite quotes as an adult.The Phantom Tollbooth is funny and sad and hopeful. There are loads of puns that should be kind of dumb, but instead are endearing and fun. It's full of reverence for words and their potential power, and its just imbued all the way through with a wonder for absolutely everything in the world. Go read it! It's the best.

Lisa Vegan

My mother got this for us when I was 8 and it was first published in 1961. I still own that original edtion and it is not in great shape due to multiple readings. This is as much an adult as a children's book. Although I loved the story right away, it was more meaningful as I got older and I understood all the plays on words and deeper messages. Still worth rereading every decade or so as an adult, and it remains one of my favorite books. It's a very witty book. I'm a sucker for maps, however basic, and there is a map (of the pretend world written about) in the inside covers of the book. A very good fantasy with a very real heart.

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