Reading: The Phantom Tollbooth

  • Authors: Norton Juster, Jules Feiffer (illustrator)
  • Book: Phantom Tollbooth
  • Publisher: Random House
  • Genres: children’s fiction, fantasy, allegory, visual fiction

It’s one thing to be exposed to this story as a child. It was in the form of a play done at my American elementary school in Japan when I was in fourth grade. It was bizarre and entertaining and a lot of the concepts flew over my head. It would be several decades later that I’d pick this up as an adult and the conceptual stuff was fun. I got these personifications and representations the protagonist Milo and his friends for the journey encounter because they were things I picked I gained in my knowledge over the years.

It’s fantasy and clever allegory where the rift between the King Azaz of words and ideas and the Mathemagician, king of the numbers, can only be resolved by a quixotic mission taken on by Milo, Tock, and Humbug to rescue Rhyme and Reason, the princesses who bring harmony and order to everything. Milo starts off as an ordinary boy who doesn’t know much to overcoming his ignorance in his quest.

It’s very instructive for young readers, but it has a lot for adult readers too because nagging doubts, distractions, or getting caught up with ignorance don’t go away after childhood.

I really enjoyed the images by Jules Feiffer. They are deceptively simple, looking as if the narrator could have sketched them himself, but with more value than he could have done. The heavy lifting in the story is done by Norton Juster’s text and storytelling, but the images add greatly like they do for Alice in Wonderland or Shel Silverstein’s Where The Sidewalk Ends.

It’s a good book to start the year and I’ll take its lessons to heart.

This was originally posted on The Shindoverse Notebook.

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