The Phantom Tollbooth

It’s a bit Alice, this book I was telling you about last week. The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster, so loved by Lucy Mangan that she owns three copies, just to be on the safe side.

Or maybe it’s the Marx Bros, or possibly the Wizard of Oz (which I haven’t read…).

First published in 1961, it forgets to talk down at children. It was written by not-an-author, so that could be why. And it was illustrated by his neighbour, Jules Feiffer, on not very good paper, because he had no idea this might become a classic.

Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer, The Phantom Tollbooth

Just as well, or they could both have got so full of themselves that the book would have been ruined.

The story is about a boy called Milo, who is bored by life and can’t be bothered with most things, until one day he finds a tollbooth in his room and takes his toy car and drives through it, as you do, discovering a whole new, very strange, world.

There is a deliciousness about the language. I mean, did you ever think about jumping to conclusions? There is an island called Conclusions, which you get to by jumping. Milo’s quest is to find Rhyme and Reason (now would be a good time to go looking for these two ladies again), and he and his companions Tock and Bug have many adventures in the oddest of places, while they search.

Strange they may be, but I found all the odd people a lot less odd than those in Alice. I could relate better to the Mathemagician, for instance. And Short Shrift? Obvious, really. And I am always in the Foothills of Confusion. Unless in The Doldrums.

I came to the book as an adult, so can’t see what the young Lucy Mangan saw. I do hope it’s not too late for the children of today to read something like The Phantom Tollbooth. We, and they, and Milo, need stories to engage, and to impart a little learning and to have some fun with language.

(But I imagine it would be hell to translate.)

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