Fantasy Flashback: The Phantom Tollbooth

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Phantom Tollbooth
Norton Juster, 1961

I loved The Phantom Tollbooth growing up. It was on my shelf of favorite books for a very long time. I loved the wordplay, I loved the characters, and as a reader and an intellectual child, I loved the message and the whole idea.

Now, however, I read it, and it's good, but it feels just a little... thin.

I get some of the jokes that passed over my head as a child, and they're corny or on the edge of pedantic.

It's still a great book on a lot of levels. It's whimsical and charming. Honestly, I'd probably enjoy more of it if I hadn't read and re-read it to the point of memorization when I was young.

Comparisons with Alice in Wonderland are very apt, both in tone and subject, as well as a sense that a person needs to be in a certain mood to really enjoy it. The world through which Milo travels is made up of metaphor, and is very surreal.
“As you can see, that leaves almost no time for brooding, lagging, plodding, or procrastinating, and if we stopped to think or laugh, we'd never get nothing done.” 
“You mean you'd never get anything done,” corrected Milo. 
“We don't want to get anything done,” snapped another angrily; “we want to get nothing done, and we can do that without your help.”
It's cute, sweet, and smart, but I didn't enjoy re-reading it as much as I thought I would. I did enjoy it, just not as much as I wanted to.

All the ratings this week come with a caveat: every book discussed this week was a five star book to 11 year-old me. So please keep that in mind, this is not a universal judgement, but a personal one.  

29 year-old me gives The Phantom Tollbooth: 4 Stars - A Very Good Book

This is the end of Fantasy Flashback week. Normal reviews return tomorrow.

What's your favorite book you haven't read in years?

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