Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"The Phantom Tollbooth" by Norton Juster

How did I ever make it out of American Childhood of the 70s without reading The Phantom Tollbooth? Somehow I'd never even heard of it until my friend BR mentioned it just a few years ago. (It was a favorite book from her schooldays! I missed out.) And then my parents gave a copy to Bookworm Child for her 8th birthday (trying to make up for not giving it to me for my 8th birthday?), so I decided it was time to read it.

Milo leads a ho-hum life. He is never content, and always wants to be somewhere he isn't. Nothing interests him, and he doesn't see the point of learning anything new. But he certainly perks up when he comes home one afternoon to find a strange, enormous package in his room. He opens the package to find ONE GENUINE TURNPIKE TOLLBOOTH: EASILY ASSEMBLED AT HOME, AND FOR USE BY THOSE WHO HAVE NEVER TRAVELED IN LANDS BEYOND.

So Milo sets off in his small electric automobile to explore everything there is to see between the Mountains of Ignorance and the Sea of Knowledge. Along the way, accompanied by a watchdog and a Humbug, he learns all kinds of interesting things and is subjected to loads of great puns and--gasp!--he actually enjoys it. The message of this book can be boiled down to this: See? Learning Can Be Fun! (And Funny!)

Unfortunately, I found it wasn't the right time for me to read this book. You would think that, for someone with a love of language and fun homonyms, any time would be a good time; but apparently I was distracted by the vicissitudes of life and I didn't give Milo the attention he deserved. I feel if I'd taken the time to savor this book (and it's short and swift, so that wouldn't have meant too much time) I might have enjoyed it much more.

Here's something odd: as I read I was thinking this book certainly couldn't be made into a movie (how would it work when Faintly Macabre tells Milo, "I'm not a witch, I'm a which"? and there are so many similar situations), but apparently I was wrong. Surprisingly, there has already been a movie made from this book (though it was a cartoon), AND a remake is in the works for 2013!


Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

This was one of my absolute favorite books when I was growing up. I remember watching the cartoon as well. It's a live action movie at the beginning and then it switches to a cartoon when he gets in the car.

Red said...

I loved! this book when I was younger. And still kind of love it now. Sorry you didn't enjoy it more. However you should see the cartoon if you get a chance. It's wonderful.

Enbrethiliel said...


This is one of my favourite children's books of all time! =D

Lesa said...

Don't worry-- this book wasn't on my radar as a kid either. I really just became aware of it last fall when I heard the NPR kids bookclub was reading it. I mentally marked it TBR then forgot about it.

I really didn't even know what it was about but I love puns and wordplay-- sounds like a book for me.

Kathy said...

Melissa and Red--I think I need to make a point of watching the movie/cartoon. I bet my kids would enjoy it, too.

Enbrethiliel--have you seen the movie too?

Lesa--I agree, I think this is a book for you!