Tag Archives: Jules Feiffer

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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Plus a phantom Phantom

And another thing I discovered at Waterstones. Book, I mean.

After reading Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm, I knew I needed to read her beloved The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster, illustrated by Jules Feiffer. I put it on my Christmas wish list and the Resident IT Consultant sourced a copy and gave me.

Because it was an ex-library copy, he took the liberty of first reading it himself, and he seemed a little confused as to why I’d want it. Well, I didn’t know, did I? Except if it was life-changing for Lucy, then…

Anyway, I was astounded to discover this very book for sale at Waterstones on Thursday. Seemed like the same cover and everything. It was – apparently – a 50th anniversary edition. Made sense to me.

Except, when I got home and searched, I could not find such a cover, and the only 50th edition seems to be from 2011 [book first published in the US in 1961].

Did I hallucinate this Phantom?

Reading it, I can understand how the book had such an impact on Lucy, experiencing it at school where an enlightened teacher read it to the the class. It’s perfect for reading aloud. Although I wonder about the many illustrations by Jules Feiffer. Did the teacher show them every page?

I like the quote [in Bookworm] from Jules, about how he’d have used nicer paper to draw on, had he known it was going to be a classic!

And dear Lucy owns at least three copies of this book. It’s reassuring to find someone who understands about safeguarding against a lack of books at some ghastly point in the future.