A Childhood Favorite The Phantom Tollbooth, Juster

2018 Reading Challenge + FREE PRINTABLE

Disclaimer: I didn’t read this book as a child. I interpreted the “childhood favorite” prompt as a popular kids’ book, but after thinking about it, it probably meant a book I liked when I was younger.

PhantomTollbooth

So much clever wordplay and absurdity.

This road trip story hitches a ride with Milo, a young boy who enjoys nothing more than doing nothing. As required in all fantastical stories, a strange object- this time a mysterious tollbooth-opens the path to a new enchanted world that is both confounding and intriguing.

He acquires two traveling companions, Tock the Watchdog who has a clock for a body and the Humbug, a pessimistic bug with fluid loyalties. Together they take on the task of uniting two warring kingdoms, Dictionopolis ruled by King Azaz and Digitopolis, ruled by Azaz’s brother, the Mathemagician. The only way to stop the fighting is to bring back Azaz and the Mathemagician’s exiled sisters, Rhyme and Reason who reside in a castle in the air.

True to the fantasy genre, the story is peppered with bizarre characters like Faintly Macabre a Which (not to be confused with a Witch) whose past of abusing her choosing power has landed her in a dungeon. They meet up with Chroma and his orchestra who plays not music, but the beginning and end of the day as well as all the colors of in world. And they are guided by the floating Alec Bings, who comes from a group of beings that start at their full height and grow down, giving them an unchanging perspective of life.

My favorite, the Terrible Trivium, is equal parts hilarious and unsettling. A well-dressed gentleman with no face, Trivium seems to be the direct inspiration for Slenderman. With delighted detachment he assigns Sisyphean tasks that wastes the doer’s time. Milo, Tock and the Humbug find themselves moving grains of sands with tweezers, transporting water from one well to another via eyedropper and digging a hole through a cliff with a needle. If this story were updated to 2018, I imagine the tasks would be Candy Crush, arguing in comment sections and responding to every notification from a smartphone.

Many of the jokes are either puns or some sort of literal reading of common metaphorical phrases. Milo passes through the Doldrums, a place inhabited by the depressed and inactive Lethargarians on the way to a feast where everyone eats their own words.

But not all the wordplay is delightful. King Azaz’s cabinet consists of five members, who act as a living thesaurus, saying the same thing in five different ways. That got old, tiresome, annoying, irksome and boring really quick, fast, speedy, rapid and swift.

Other than that, I found this book to be entertaining. Great pacing, we never stay long in one place to get bored. I was excited to visit the next magical place and meet the crazy characters. I think fans of stories like Alice In Wonderland (Carroll) and Neverwhere (Gaiman) will enjoy it.

These are the things that still linger in my mind:

This is a difficult book to read aloud.

Kids today aren’t familiar with clichés like jumping to conclusions, mountains out of molehills or eating one’s words. I guess I don’t know when I became familiar with them either.

I’m glad I read this as an adult. I would not have liked this book when I was younger. I’m pretty sure I would have jumped out of the car in The Doldrums.

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