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


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.


Milo is bored with living, he rushes to get places but once he is there he wonders why he even bothered. He can't seem to help that he finds everything so droll. That changes when he finds a mysterious tollbooth kit and decides that since he has nothing better to do he will build it, and that is when the real adventure begins.From the very first sentence of this book I was hooked. I knew that this was exactly the sort of book that I would enjoy and I absolutely loved all the phrases and sayings that when taken literally cause hysterics in the reader. I had been seeing this book everywhere lately, it was referenced in books, recommended to me by friends and finally I got the hint and checked it out from the library. What I was expecting was remarkably different from what I read, but it was oh-so-much-better. Every page had a little piece of wit that if you weren't carefully watching out for, you'd miss entirely. The Phantom Tollbooth was a book that taught you why things were important all the while cleverly hiding them in a seemingly harmless story tale. This was the sort of book that when reading you would burst out laughing and have an urge to find someone, anyone so that you could read them the clever little line that was so spectacular. The Phantom Tollbooth is a supremely awesome book, far superior to a lot of the rubbish they publish nowadays.*Taken from my book reviews blog:


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!)


A wonderful book based on a world of pure imagination that yet can be compared to your own day to day basis. This magnificent story is basically about a boy named Milo who will always be willing to quit school and can't help surviving all of those boring afternoons in his house doing exactly what is called nothing. Until one day he gets to his tedious room and finds a little car that will take him to a place that will soon become his only paradise. This world helps him escape from his dull reality but yet helps him learn new things that will help them survive if he ever does get back to his lifeless actuality. He faces a huge variety of problems meanwhile he makes new friends and starts noticing how much he really did miss all the things he did have in his real life. This is a book that I would definitely reccomend if you like adventures full of passion and discovery. Norton Juster is an author that wil make you feel like you are really taking place in the story! A marvelous world awaits if you like fantasy and adventure books. I think this story was wrote to help children finally enjoy reading! I would personally reccomend this book to kids from 10-12 years of age because it does have kind of a high reading level but you will only adore it and love it as much as I did if you have a world full of imagination right above your head!


I wasn't as impressed with this book as many of my friends. Perhaps that is because of my high expectations for the book or perhaps because of my preferences in writing style. So those who love this book can use one of those two reasons to blow off my review. However, the fact remains that I was not very interested from page to page, and if not for a commitment to a book group, I am afraid I would not have had any desire to finish it.In style the book seems to be written for a particular age group ranging from 8-11, depending on the vocabulary and maturity of the reader. And, for the preteen sense of humor, the wordplay was appropriate and would be quite funny to the intended audience. However, the wordplay was really the only interesting aspect to the book, and I'm tempted to say as much for the joke books my niece reads to me. The plot was simple and was secondary to both the wordplay and the multiple morals of the story. In fact, a new moral was introduced with every chapter (some chapters containing more than one moral), and each chapter was only a few short pages long. This was the main drawback to the book. Not to say that morals aren't important in a work, but too many morals are detracting. Introducing, then immediately leaving a moral behind decreases the likeliness that it will be remembered once the book is finished. My other main problem with the book was the lack of description to help the reader enjoy the fantastical and quite creative world Juster introduces. Here one moment, and there the next, the reader is left wondering...How did Milo find his car again (he was lost only a moment ago)? Where are they? What do they see? This book, whose main moral is to teach a child to notice the world around them, simply forgot to take a look around. (The spectacular scene with Chroma and his orchestra being the exception.)Overall, an interesting book, leaps and bounds above the other children's literature of Juster's contemporaries, but not my favorite.


The adventure of Milo and Tock, who is a watchdog - literally! Great play on words, makes you think about the word you use and how they're used. Loved the drawings by Jules Feiffer, too!Some of my favorite quotes:"Expectations is the place you must always go to before you get to where yoy're going" - Whether Man"The Doldrums are where nothing ever happens and nothing ever changes." - the Lethargarians"You weren't thinking and you weren't paying attention either. People who don't pay attention often get stuck in the Doldrums." - the Lethargarians"Killing Time!" roared the dog, so furiously that his alarm went off. "It's bad enough wasting time without killing it.""Help you! You must help yourself." the dog replied."History is full of humbugs." - Humbug"A slavish concern for the compostion of words is the sign of a bankrupt intellect," roared the Humbug, waving his cane furiously."Brevity Is the Soul of Wit" - Official Which "An Ill-chosen Word Is the Fool's Messenger" "Silence is Golden""Things which are equally bad are also equally good. Try to look at the bright side of things." - Humbug"I didn't know that I was going to have to eat my words" objected Milo."Of course, of course, everyone here does," the king AZAZ the unabridges grunted. "You should have made a tastier speech.""There's nothing to it," said the Mathemagician "if you have a magic staff.""But it's only a big pencil," the Humbug objected, tapping at it with his cane."True enough," agreed the Mathemagician,"but once you learn to use it, there's no end to what you can do.""But why do only unimportant things?" asked Milo, who suddenly remembered how much time he spent each day doing them."Think of all the trouble it saves," the man explained, and his face looked as if he'd be grinning an evil grin - if he could grin at all, "If you only do the easy and useless jobs, you'll never have to worry about the important ones which are so difficult. You just won't have the time. For there's always something to do to keep you from what you really should be doing, and if it weren't for that dreadful magic staff, you'd never know how much time you were wasting." - Terrible Trivium, demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs, ogre of wasted effort, and monster of habit.Very imagnative read! The book felt like it was Dr. Seuss for tweens, young adult or just the young at heart!

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.

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.


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.


When he left the Navy, Norton Juster began writing a non-fiction book about urban planning. As an outlet from the grueling work, though, he spent his free time concocting the imaginative scenes that later became The Phantom Tollbooth. One publisher’s advance later, he gave up on the scholarly work and finished The Phantom Tollbooth instead. And we’re all better off for it.Part Alice in Wonderland, part secular Pilgrim’s Progress, The Phantom Tollbooth takes ten year-old Milo on a journey out of boredom and into a wild world of Watchdogs (dogs made from big watches), the Mathemagician (who rules over the city Digitopolis), King Azaz the Unabridged (who rules over Dictionopolis), and creatures like the Awful Dynne, who collects the noisy sounds of the world, and the Lethargarians, who sit around and do nothing all day. It’s a bright adventure into the creative possibilities of the mind. In Dictionopolis and Digitopolis Milo discovers the value of words and numbers; on the Mountain of Ignorance he learns that knowledge can fight off inattention and indulgence; in the Doldrums, he avoids ennui by thinking; and through it all, he discovers that a little attention reveals wondrous details in everything around him. All told it’s an episodic allegory that feels like the whole wonder of grade school in a few hundred pages. But the real pleasure of it is the whip-smart wordplay. We barely catch it as children, but Juster’s physical representations of intangible things—like the very short Officer Shrift, who arrests people without giving them a chance—introduce young readers to multiple layers of meaning. And as adults, there’s a laugh, a groan, or a tickled “huh!” in every paragraph.The Phantom Tollbooth isn’t perfect, however. The opening chapters are electric with wit, but the mystery and momentum of the early pages fade into a string of sometimes cumbersomely connected scenes, as if Juster’s clever ideas were simply lined up in a row. And, not all puns are created equal. (Still, they're puns, and we have to love them). But these are tiny complaints. Every child should read The Phantom Tollbooth; it’s a bit of a lesson book on how to live. In the interview at the end of the audiobook (read by David Hyde Pierce), Juster says that many of the demons in the story—like the terrible Trivium, who waylays us with inane tasks—reflect the challenges that he struggles with in his writing. And if we all do as well as Milo does, then we’ll surely live happier, fuller lives.Do I recommend it? Yes. Read it at different times over the course of your life. You’ll notice different things.Would I teach it? It would be fun. It’s young in spirit, and it might serve as fresh contrast to texts exploring allegory or the image of the road. Lasting impressions: I first read The Phantom Tollbooth in the third grade, and though I only remembered excerpts from it before revisiting it recently, looking back at it now, I wonder if it was the most formative experience of my childhood.


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!


"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.


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.


Norton Juster’s Phantom Tollbooth is a comical exploration of wordplay through the eyes of child. Bored of life, Milo receives a package containing a make believe tollbooth which transports him to the Lands Beyond in a world of imagination. Joined by companions including Tock, a time-keeping watchdog and the reluctant Humbug, who is hardly ever right about anything, Milo explores Dictionopolis, where they are asked to eat their words for dinner with King Azaz the Unabridged, who presides over the letters and words. King Azaz explains that in order to restore order in the chaotic Kingdom, Milo must rescue Princess Rhyme and Princess Reason from imprisonment in the Castle in the Air. Milo and friends embark on an adventure based on the literal translation of common figures of speech and playful puns, so they head for the city of Digitopolis, the land of numbers where they hope to persuade the Mathemagician to release the Princesses. Adventures along the happen at such places as at the Point of View and the twin cities of Reality and Illusions. Chance meetings take place with Chroma, who conducts the orchestra through the colours of sunset in the Valley of Sound and the Senses Taker, who slows them down with meaningless questions and demands trivial information. Swimming back to shore through the Sea of Knowledge, they reach Digitopolis, where Milo convinces the Mathemagician to release the Princesses. Flying over the Mountains of Ignorance, they are supported by armies of Wisdom to protect them from demons and ensure a safe return. Adventure over, Milo finds himself back home and the magical Tollbooth gone. In its place is a note explaining that he has learned so much, daily life is far from boring and there are lots of adventures to have, even in his own bedroom. Just as captivating now as when it was written fifty years ago, Juster’s use of subtle and sometimes silly humour takes the reader on a thought-provoking and philosophical adventure, using an ‘Alice In Wonderland’ concept on a journey of language discovery. Every chapter contains an important life lesson. For example, the trio lose precious time after a short detour to the Island of Conclusions, which they jump to after making assumptions about their trip. Throughout the story, Milo learns that the more he pays attention to his new surroundings, incredible detail is revealed in the world around him. Aimed at at an older, primary age range between eight and eleven years old, some of the vocabulary and literary devices may be hard to understand, but serve as a good first introduction to linguistics and can be followed up with a variety of games and activities to develop English language skills. Good for either individual or guided reading in the classroom, the inclusion of a detailed map of the Kingdom of Wisdom on the inside cover is a good visual aid for children to keep track of the storyline which has a tendency to move around. Dianna Wynne Jones‘ introduction provides a supportive analysis for readers who maybe unaware of Norton Juster’s previous work. Many children’s movies include subtle humorous references to keep parents entertained too and this book is the literary equivalent. Begging to be re-read time and time again, “The Phantom Tollbooth” has automatic appeal to anyone with a playful nature or lover of the intricacies of the English language. Any teacher should consider this tale as an exploration of literature in the purest form with many possibilities to exercise the imagination and if you haven‘t, what are you waiting for?

Sean DeLauder

Main character Milo is an unfortunate child weighed down by the burden of a tedious existence, flitting reluctantly from one state of ennui to another, which says something about himself. To wit, in the words of Harvey Danger, "If you're bored, then you're boring." So it's unlikely he would have a safety net of friends who might help him out of this state, and parents seem largely absent.Where a contemporary cure for the unfortunate Milo would probably involve expensive medication prescribed by the expensive psychiatrist receiving gratifying kickbacks for the medication prescribed, Milo is miraculously blessed instead by the fantastic. And thank goodness, because the likelihood of the former solving anything (for Milo, anyway) seems doubtful.And herein lies the wonderment of children's literature--the ability to escape to a place where they can heal themselves of the injuries they receive in reality and patch up the holes in their hearts from errant arrows. Childhood isn't so far removed that I can't remember the sense of safety that came from escaping into a fantasy world where the resolution to problems came with the turn of a page. This book is not only for Milo, it's also for the children suffering in the same fashion as Milo.Literature that can hide something profound within a shell of simplicity always gets my approval. Children's literature is predisposed to this possibility based solely upon its audience. But a smart author like Juster knows a clever work can succeed on multiple levels, pretending to be a work directed solely at children while having a pertinent message they can take with them to adulthood, and The Phantom Tollbooth does so by giving meaning to the innumerable cliches and patterns of behavior that make up our world, and shining a light on their absurdity and the ridiculous caricature one becomes when they exist for a singular purpose or belief. By pointing out the ridiculousness of a world built out of cliches, turns of phrase turned literal, and puns come to life, one ought to see how silly it is to view the world from a singular perspective or as one that exists in black and white, right and wrong, and all the other false dichotomies zealots and equally ignorant people believe in, as well as the problems it creates. Notably, the absence of Rhyme and Reason.All the myriad dullnesses of the educational process that bore Milo in reality are brought to fascinating life in a fantasy world that invigorates him and rekindles his curiosity--the very spark of life.Milo takes the transition from reality to fantasy very much in stride and with characteristic glumness, and we get a glimpse of just how far he has fallen from engaging in the world. Gladly, Milo regains his sense of wonder in starts and spurts, until it has been completely restored. This is, to my mind, a fabulous recovery, and a resurrection in its own right worthy of praise and relief. There is nothing more depressing than a child lost to depression, and few things more gratifying than seeing a sense of purpose restored.The story is rife with puns (though, as stated, not without purpose), something acceptable for younger audiences but something I find appalling and corny, but the story itself is compelling and never sits still long enough for the reader to become bored, maintaining a continuous train of thought despite its restlessness. In this, the story has an advantage over me.Despite never having read this as a child, even though I should have, I feel confident in assuming I would have liked it then, probably more than I do now. As it stands, I feel obliged to deduct 0.01 stars for each year I am removed from childhood, which, ultimately and as designed, shouldn't have any sort of effect for a good long time.If you're looking for an equally good feeling story of redemption and self improvement, but in a much shorter form, I strongly suggest Juster's The Dot and the Line.

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