Review: Phantom Tollbooth

In Arts & Entertainment

With all the literary elitism out there, it’s easy to assume that all things worth knowing are written down in gigantic leather-bound anthologies and epics, placed high above reach on the floors of the library you never go to. Things were easier when we were young. Every book elicited new and exciting information that we stored in our spongy little brains. The words were small and the diction was underdeveloped, but the pictures were vivid and the messages were clear. As we got older, we completely disregarded the stories that kept us so entertained as children. We moved up to more challenging and worthwhile texts, or we abandoned reading entirely. Instead of recommending and reviewing a book with a lot of words and very little to say, I’m going to do the opposite. I’m recommending that you dust off your fourth grade bookshelf and pull out Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth.

Juster’s 255-page (with pictures) children’s novel focuses on the adventures of a boorish young boy named Milo as he navigates a world highlighted by literal interpretations of math and language. Through a set of inexplicable circumstances, Milo pairs with Tock, a “watchdog,” to rescue princesses “Rhyme” and “Reason” and bring peace to the ever-disputing kingdoms of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis. The story is both familiar and absurd, with every page filled to the brim with heavy ethical and hard-to-answer questions. As children, we read this story with very little intellectual involvement. As adults, the story is worth a second look for its coy questioning of the status quo and simple interpretation of the human condition.

The Phantom Tollbooth can be easily brushed aside as a silly children’s book by those with prides heavier than their philosophy textbooks, but is worth your time if you have a burning desire to re-live your childhood in a new, more knowledgeable, light. Juster’s vision is still as relevant as it was when he first wrote it in 1961 and is a perfect fit for “simple wisdom” junkies who don’t have enough time (or energy) to read War and Peace.

I promise not to be offended if you want to cover your quick read with the book jacket from Atlas Shrugged.

I won’t tell.

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