Review: The Phantom Tollbooth

Phantom Tollbooth, TheNorton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

This classic children’s book tells the story of a bored little boy named Milo who comes home one day to find a mysterious package in his bedroom. The package turns out to be a toy tollbooth, and when he assembles it and drives through in his little electric car, he is transported to a new world. Milo visits a variety of unusual places, including the hostile cities of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis and the island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping). He also receives an important mission: to rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason from where they are imprisoned in a castle in the air. Along the way, Milo encounters many dangers, including the land of Illusion, the Doldrums, and the demons of Ignorance. Luckily, with the help of his friends Tock and Humbug, he is finally able to rescue the princesses and restore them to the Kingdom of Wisdom. Ultimately, he learns that his “boring” life is actually more interesting than he ever imagined.

For some reason, I never read this beloved children’s classic when I was growing up. If I had read it around age 7 or 8, it probably would have been one of my favorite books. But even as an adult reading it for the first time, I found a lot to enjoy and admire. I’m a sucker for puns and wordplay, and this book is chock-full of it, from the watchdog with a clock for a body to King Azaz of Dictionopolis. There’s also a hint of satire, as when the Humbug explains that several family members have occupied prominent positions in history; for example, many kings have been Humbugs. The book is quite didactic, though, which I wasn’t expecting. Nearly every creature and situation Milo encounters is designed to teach him (and the book’s young readers) a lesson. I did find these constant “teaching moments” a little tedious, but luckily the book has a lot of whimsy to make up for them. Overall, I definitely think this is a great book for children, but if you missed it as a kid, it’s not too late to enjoy it as an adult!

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2 thoughts on “Review: The Phantom Tollbooth

  1. DoingDewey says:

    I think I read this in high school and really enjoyed it, but I feel like I might still get more of it and would certainly still enjoy it if I read it again. I remember it being a lot of fun 🙂

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