The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster

>> Friday, May 16, 2003

Based on a very intriguing review, I decided to read Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth.

"It seems to me that almost everything is a waste of time," Milo laments. "[T]here's nothing for me to do, nowhere I'd care to go, and hardly anything worth seeing." This bored, bored young protagonist who can't see the point to anything is knocked out of his glum humdrum by the sudden and curious appearance of a tollbooth in his bedroom. Since Milo has absolutely nothing better to do, he dusts off his toy car, pays the toll, and drives through. What ensues is a journey of mythic proportions, during which Milo encounters countless odd characters who are anything but dull.

As Milo heads toward Dictionopolis he meets with the Whether Man ("for after all it's more important to know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be"), passes through The Doldrums (populated by Lethargarians), and picks up a watchdog named Tock (who has a giant alarm clock for a body). The brilliant satire and double entendre intensifies in the Word Market, where after a brief scuffle with Officer Short Shrift, Milo and Tock set off toward the Mountains of Ignorance to rescue the twin Princesses, Rhyme and Reason. Anyone with an appreciation for language, irony, or Alice in Wonderland-style adventure will adore this book for years on end.
I found it to be a delightful book, one I think I could reread many times and always find new things to enjoy. I especially loved the wordplay, the strange characters Milo meets and the wonderful drawings.

Even though the story was actually a kind of quest, I was never compelled to keep reading just to find out what was going to happen. It's more a book you savour, chapter by chapter. My grade is an A-.

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