The Phantom Tollbooth
February 26, 2018 9:36 PM - by Norton Juster - Subscribe

“There was once a boy named Milo who didn't know what to do with himself — not just sometimes but always. When he was in school he longed to be out, and when he was out he longed to be in ... Nothing really interested him — least of all the things that should have.”
posted by roger ackroyd (16 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
The Valley of Sound chapter was in a textbook when I was in grade school and I found it fascinating. I didn't wind up reading the whole book until maybe high school but I loved it. I need to get a copy of it.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 9:58 PM on February 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

My younger son and I are reading this right now!
posted by Chrysostom at 10:10 PM on February 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

Not sure exactly what age I was, but at one time, that book and Charlie & the Chocolate Factory were battling for my attention and my love. The Tollbooth won. Sorry Roald. (And both movie versions didn't come out until I was supposed to be "too old for that kind of thing"... what? You don't remember the movie? Animated by Chuck Jones with an all-star voice cast: Mel Blanc, June Foray, Daws Butler, Hans Conried and Butch "Eddie Munster" Patrick as Milo)
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:38 PM on February 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

I think I was the only kid in my gifted elementary school class who didn't love this book, and I suspect I'm similarly alone among mefites. I couldn't relate to Milo, I didn't like the pictures, and the book felt preachy or moralistic or something to me when I tried to pick it up. My only really fond memory of it is that it taught me the word "doldrums."

In reading some of these essays, I'm beginning to suspect that my seven-year-old reaction was in the vein of "why would I read this when I could be rereading the Alice books instead," and honestly, 32-year-old potrzebie feels about the same. It was very hard for me to get excited about a book with a male main character at that age, especially one that seemed to assume I had to be convinced to like school.

I'll probably pick it up soon to see if my kids might like it, though. If you really love this book, how old were you when you read it?
posted by potrzebie at 11:59 PM on February 26, 2018

I think I was 10, give or take. I never particularly related to or cared about Milo, though. He was just the price I paid to read about all the other characters I loved.
posted by Stacey at 5:00 AM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Milo is just the straight man for wacky things to happen to. Which is pretty much the same role that Alice plays.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:20 AM on February 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

I never really thought of it as a character book at all -- I was there for the puns and the sideways skew-world, and the preachy bits slid off me like water from the duck's proverbial back. I remember being particularly fascinated by the idea of division dumplings and subtraction stew.
posted by inconstant at 6:45 AM on February 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

I wish Feiffer's drawings had been used the way they were for Munro.

The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth includes a note about Thomas Wilfred's Clavilux and Lumia (my uncle and brother collect and restore them) in the A Colorful Symphony chapter.

Feiffer modeled the conductor on Leopold Stokowski, who owned one (coincidence).
posted by brujita at 8:12 AM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

This was a wonderful book, which, like Alice and Narnia, amply repaid repetitive reading. I first read it when I was about Milo's age (it was one of the books that first turned me on to the joys of reading), but I still quote from it, 55 years later. My favorite:
"Why, did you know that if a beaver two feet long with a tail a foot and a half long can build a dam twelve feet high and six feet wide in two days, all you would need to build Boulder Dam is a beaver sixty-eight feet long with a fifty-one-foot tail?"

"Where would you find a beaver that big?" grumbled the Humbug as his pencil point snapped.

"I'm sure I don't know," he replied, "but if you did, you'd certainly know what to do with him."

"That's absurd," objected Milo, whose head was spinning from all the numbers and questions.

"That may be true," he acknowledged, "but it's completely accurate, and 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.”
Please avoid the movie.
posted by ubiquity at 8:13 AM on February 27, 2018 [9 favorites]

I read this book first when I was a kid. I think I was about 7 or 8. I particularly remembered the exchange about being lost (ie how can you NOT know where you are. That scene stayed with me for decades.

I reread about a decade ago as an adult and was charmed by it. I bought a copy at the Strand for like 50 cents on a whim wanting to see if it held up. I carried it about with me as I read it. The really striking thing is how many people stopped and spoke to me about it. It was a book that really resonated with people and they were so excited to share that.
posted by miss-lapin at 9:29 AM on February 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

Movie's not great. Treacly, with uninspired songs that make "Cheer Up, Charlie" sound like "Pure Imagination." The book definitely rewarded re-reads. I first encountered it when I was 9? 10? as an excerpt in Childcraft, a kid's encyclopedia supplement. I was getting to the point where the rules and logic behind algorithms and formulas and their real-world uses interested me greatly, so the Mathemagician and the Dodecahedron really intrigued me.

I did not know about The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth and shall have to seek it out. Thanks, brujita!
posted by infinitewindow at 10:16 AM on February 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

In the audio version the dodecahedron speaks with various accents: iirc Spanish, French, German and Russian.
posted by brujita at 6:42 PM on February 27, 2018

Don't say there's nothing to do in the doooooooldrums.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:29 PM on February 27, 2018

My love for this book knows no bounds. I don't know how many various copies I own, or how many times I have read it, or how many times I have gifted it.

Dear Milo, You have now completed your trip, courtesy of the Phantom Tollbooth. We trust that everything has been satisfactory, and hope you understand why we had to come and collect it. You see, there are so many other boys and girls waiting to use it, too. It's true that there are many lands you've still to visit (some of which are not even on the map) and wonderful things to see (that no one has yet imagined), but we're quite sure that if you really want to, you'll find a way to reach them all by yourself. Yours truly,

The signature was blurred and couldn't be read.

*sigh* I am still in search of lands to visit and wonderful things to see. Thank you Norton and Jules for setting my imagination on fire! I wish I could give a copy of THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH to every 7-10 year old on the planet! Thank you roger ackroyd for this wonderful post.
posted by pjsky at 10:19 AM on February 28, 2018 [6 favorites]

I very much love this book and had to hold myself back from reading it to my kids before they were old enough for it. But it's definitely a favourite. I should probably re-read it again now that my kids are on the verge of being completely gone from our house.

I think the best line in the book is when Milo gets shushed getting into the car shortly after arriving. Because it goes without saying.
posted by GuyZero at 10:25 AM on February 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

what? You don't remember the movie? Animated by Chuck Jones with an all-star voice cast: Mel Blanc, June Foray, Daws Butler, Hans Conried and Butch "Eddie Munster" Patrick as Milo)

I remember the movie! And I actually really liked it. In fact, I think I saw the movie first. I distinctly remember the dodecahedron. I had never heard of a shape with that many sides and as an 8 year old with a love of big words, I was completely mesmerized.
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:23 PM on February 28, 2018

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