on the enduring magic of The Phantom Tollbooth.
Norton Juster (Author), Jules Feiffer (Illustrator)
The Phantom Tollbooth 50th Anniversary Edition
Knopf Books for Young Readers, October 2011. 288 pp.
In her August 2004 article for the New York Times, “Why Teachers Love Depressing Books,” writer and critic Laura Miller wrote, “I decided that there were two types of children’s books: call it Little Women versus Phantom Tollbooth. The first type was usually foisted on you by nostalgic grown-ups. These were books populated by snivelers and goody-two-shoes … The people in the other kind of book, however, were entirely different. They had adventures.”
This October marked the 50th anniversary of Norton Juster’s story about a little boy named Milo, who is rescued from disenchantment by a magic tollbooth that transports him in his little car to the kingdom of Wisdom. There he meets Azaz the Unabridged, king of Dictionopolis, and the Mathemagician, ruler of Digitopolis, who charge him with the daunting task of rescuing the exiled Princesses Rhyme and Reason. Milo, a child who “didn’t know what to do with himself—not just sometimes, but always,” rises to the challenge, aided by his friends, the Watchdog Tock (who literally has a clock in his side) and the foolish, beetle-like Humbug. With buoyant, humorous drawings from artist Jules Feiffer, The Phantom Tollbooth is the kind of book you want to start over as soon as you finish.
Tollbooth didn’t win the big one (the John Newbery Medal), but it is a “classic” nonetheless. Critics have compared it to works as varied as John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories. In November 1962, the Times Literary Supplement said: “The Phantom Tollbooth is something every adult seems sure will turn into a modern Alice.”
We just reread the Tollbooth here in the Hutong. Or I did, anyway. Aaron read it for the first time. It never gets old.