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The Phantom Tollbooth

A children's adventure novel and a modern fairy tale published in 1961, written by Norton Juster and illustrated by Jules Feiffer.

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Read it when you're young

  • Oct 23, 2002
I think the buildup that I got for this book was too high to allow me to enjoy it fully. Had I not read the voluminous streams of unabashed praise from r.a.b.bers (that is the rabble that inhabits rec.arts.books) as well as recommendations from my First Impressions subscribers, I might have been pleasantly surprised by this book. As it was, I read it with an uncommonly sharp critical eye, thinking "it can't be that good," and unfortunately the book wasn't able to overcome my, admitedly, unreasonable bias.

Milo is just your average kid that receives a magic tollbooth in the mail and then proceeds to discover how to view the world differently by saving a magic kingdom. Hmmm, a few shades of Narnia? Yes, but no. Juster loves wordplay, and, while I admit some of it is incredibly clever, he tends to sacrifice story for puns. The disjointed movement between "scenes" reminded me of another clever book of wordplay, Silverlock (in which the wordplay is allusions rather than puns), in that Juster moves the characters to different realms solely to pun more rather than a smooth movement of characters to their goal. The book becomes almost dull in the areas between encounters, and definitely feels segmented.

But, to return to my beginning, I'm probably being unfair. I cannot say that The Phantom Tollbooth isn't clever, and some of the bits are simply wonderful, like the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping). I would have thought the wordplay would be too esoteric for kids, but given this book's popularity, I think I'm selling youth short.

If you haven't read this, you probably should. Perhaps my unfavorable tone will cancel some of the more shameless paeons for it, and you will be able to evaluate it without bias.

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More The Phantom Tollbooth reviews
review by . June 21, 2010
In terms of structure and basic plotline, this novel is very comparable to Lewis Carrol's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.  Both revolve around a child protagonist who makes an epic journey through an imaginary world.  Additionally, both include a cast of fantastical characters who represent to a certain degree different philosophical concepts or embody various worldviews.  However, as much as I view Alice as a classic, I've always been more …
Quick Tip by . October 07, 2010
Extensive vocabulary to stretch young readers and still an entertaining fantasy adventure for older readers
Quick Tip by . July 15, 2010
I read this years and years ago, but there are a ton of scenes from it that stick with me, which must mean that there's something to it!
Quick Tip by . July 01, 2010
This was one of my favorite books when I was a kid! Everyone should read it! :)
review by . June 27, 2010
This book was incredibly formative for my early literary years. It tells the tale of a young boy travelling through fantastical and fascinating landscapes, of time and alphabet and number. With a faithful companion and a perilous quest, this journey cannot help but engage and attract the reader. I have yet to be able to find this book again, as I'd love to read it now that I've grown up.
Quick Tip by . June 25, 2010
An interesting read for kids. I liked it as a kid and just devoured it within days.
Quick Tip by . June 16, 2010
I think I liked this more than my kids did.
Quick Tip by . June 14, 2010
a great read for children
Quick Tip by . June 14, 2010
Such a classic!
Quick Tip by . June 12, 2010
Probably my favorite children's book ever. I recommend it to everyone everywhere.
About the reviewer
Glen Engel-Cox ()
Ranked #323
Glen is a forty-something communications professional living near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He grew up in Texas and has also lived inLos Angeles, Colorado, Washington State, and Washington, DC. Glen also … more
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The Phantom Tollbooth is a children's adventure novel and a modern fairy tale published in 1961, written by Norton Juster and illustrated by Jules Feiffer. It tells the story of a bored young boy named Milo who unexpectedly receives a magic tollbooth  one afternoon and, having nothing better to do, drives through. He finds himself in the Kingdom of Wisdom. There he accepts a quest to rescue the princesses of the kingdom, acquires two faithful companions, and has many adventures. The book is full of puns, and many events, like Milo's sudden jump to the Island of Conclusions, are the consequences of taking English language idioms literally.

Juster claims his father's fondness for puns and The Marx Brothers' movies were a major influence. The Phantom Tollbooth was an "instant classic" when it was first published in 1961. Critics have compared it to Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in terms of classic appeal and importance.

The book has been translated into several languages.
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ISBN-13: 978-0881036961
Author: Norton Juster
Genre: Juvenile Fiction
Publisher: Bt Bound
Date Published: October 01, 1999
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