The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Posted December 22, 2014 in Book Review / 0 Comments

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton JusterThe Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
Illustrator: Jules Feiffer
Published by Random House Bullseye Books on 1996
Genres: Adventure, Middle Grade, Young Adult
Pages: 256
Format: Paperback
Source: Borrowed
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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.

Main Points
Writing Style:
The writing was simple enough.
I do believe this book is the next Alice in Wonderland, and I cannot contain my excitement. It has the same battle of logic and wordplay, but I also feel that Juster’s style is more adapted for kids than Carroll’s was. It felt more like a kids’ book, but one I really enjoyed nonetheless. And it had a more concrete theme/message, while Alice in Wonderland seemed composed of a number of little random messages.
Can’t say I cared for Milo- he seemed a little simple and uninterested- but the other characters were terribly interesting. Tock was helpful and Humbug was decidedly unhelpful, but hilarious. For instance, he was the sort to agree with everyone so he never argues with anybody, even when two people are arguing with each other.
Each city- Dictionopolis of words and Digitopolis of numbers- was fascinating in its own way.
I really can’t say much else here other than that it was ruddy brilliant on logic alone. Look at the quotes section for examples.
The Kingdom of Wisdom- every place was cleverly named and served a clever purpose. And there was a handy map at the beginning.
Good vs. Bad
  • logic play
  • plot
  • characters
  • setting
  • writing
  • theme
Less than perfect:
  •  Milo
There are so many. I’ll try not to quote the whole book. Here we go:

“While he was never anxious to be where he was going, he liked to get there as quickly as possible.”
-p. 11 (this sums up Milo in one sentence)
“Whether or not you find your own way, you’re bound to find some way. If you happen to find my way, please return it, as it was lost years ago. I imagine by now it’s quite rusty.”
-The Whether man, p.20

“Expect everything, I always say, and the unexpected never happens.”
-The Whether man, p. 20
“Each one looked very much like the other (except for the color, of course) and some looked even more like each other than they did like themselves.”
-p. 24 (this can’t possibly make sense)

“Once there was no time at all, and people found it very inconvenient. They never knew whether they were eating lunch or dinner, and they were always missing trains.”
-Tock, p. 34 (how can you even have trains without time? haha)
“‘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 grunted. ‘You should have made a tastier speech.'”
-p.88 (more literal than expected)

“Things which are equally bad are also equally good.”
-the Humbug, p.95 (wise words indeed)
“‘And you are almost never right about anything,’ he said, pointing at the Humbug, ‘and, when you are, it’s usually an accident.'”
-Alec Bings, p.106

“As long as the answer is right, who cares if the question is wrong? If you want sense, you’ll have to make it yourself.”
-The Dodecahedron, p. 175 (the entire conversation with the Dodecahedron is really worth quoting)
“‘FAMINE!’ roared the anguished humbug. who suddenly realized that that was exactly what he’d eaten twenty-three bowls of.'”
-the Humbug, p. 186

“‘Seventeen!’ shouted the bug, who always managed to be first with the wrong answer.”
-the Humbug, p. 188 (and the wrong answer is usually seventeen)
“Infinity is a dreadfully poor place. They can never manage to make ends meet.”
-the .58 child, p. 193

“Just because you can never reach it doesn’t mean that it’s not worth looking for.”
-the .58 child, p. 197
 “So many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.”
-King Azaz and the Mathemagician, p. 247
I think the Humbug is my favorite character.
Bottom Line
This book was magical and very much the next Alice in Wonderland. There was a marvelous amount of wordplay and logic play. Every place was so cleverly named and the characters were wonderful, especially the Humbug, who is absolutely never right. There are so many nice themes and quotes in this book. Would I read more by this author? Yes. Would I recommend this book to others? Yes, especially kids.

About Norton Juster

Norton Juster is an architect and planner, professor emeritus of design at Hampshire College, and the author of a number of highly acclaimed children’s books, including The Dot and the Line, which was made into an Academy Award-winning animated film. He has collaborated with Sheldon Harnick on the libretto for an opera based on The Phantom Tollbooth. The musical adaptation, with a score by Arnold Black, premiered in 1995. An amateur cook and professional eater, Mr. Juster lives with his wife in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Overall: five-stars


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