The Phantom Tollbooth

ISBN: 0394820371
ISBN 13: 9780394820378
By: Norton Juster Jules Feiffer

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Children Children's Childrens Classics Currently Reading Fantasy Favorites Fiction To Read Young Adult

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

Shivani

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.

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?"

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.

Peter

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.

Everett Hanson

This is my favourite book that I have read so far. When I start reading, I just could not stop. One of my favourite parts is how creative the author is with the world Milo is in. My favourite character is Tock the watchdog; I like how he has a real clock mounted onto him. Another great thing about this book is that with a different type of world come perfect places to make hilarious jokes. For an example, the Mathmagician (the king of Digitopolis, the kingdom of numbers) got mad and started adding up anger and multiplying wrath.

Gaijinmama

This is an alltime favorite of mine.My fifth-grade teacher, Miss Shannon, read it to the class chapter by chapter and I was so absorbed in the story I cajoled my grandma into buying me a copy so I wouldn't have to wait for the next day's reading time. I recently re-read it with my kids and they loved it, too. The humor (downright Monty Python-esque in places) and vocabulary was a bit over their heads but they still got into it. Seriously, what's not to love about a talking dodecahedron?Highly recommended for adults and kids over perhaps age 8 or so.

David

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.”

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.

Snorkle

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: http://reviewsatmse.blogspot.com/2008...

Addie

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.)

Darren

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 :)

Joseph

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!

Heather

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!)

Ben Siems

Having spent much of this winter in less than wonderful health, I have been happily accepting donations of reading material from friends. One friend, on a lark, dropped off her copy of this old classic, which I last read probably at age 13 or so.In re-reading it, I was reminded of the ambivalence I had about it on my first read back then. The level of cleverness is indeed impressive, at times dazzling, and for certain there are some fantastically humorous moments. It is also nice to read a morality tale with a message not of piety or "thou shalt nots," but rather of the fundamental importance of knowledge and openness to the lessons the world has to teach. At that, there is no doubt that this book has a beautiful heart, and I can hardly imagine any youth being anything but positively influenced by it.That being said, more than once on this read, I was reminded of Edgar Allen Poe's famously ruthless critique of allegory as a literary style: "The best than can possibly be achieved is awakening in the reader a vague sense of being impressed by how well something was done that never should have been attempted in the first place." Certainly, there are times when Juster's allegorical style is strained and even forced to the point of being a tedious read. It is probably a price worth paying on a first read of the book for the many lovely things the story has to offer, but also a very good reason to read The Phantom Tollbooth only once in one's life.

Sarah

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

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