A few days ago I went to the bookstore to get a stash of stories for my dear friend Sophia, who is just shy of 10. And one of the books I wanted to get her was The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. I’d read and loved it as a child and was delighted to find it was still in print.
But being a vile and selfish man, when I got it home I could not bear to give up my prize! So I sat down to read it before passing it along.
Now, I won’t say it was as wonderful as I’d remembered it, because that’s how memory is…everything gets either more amazing or more horrific as it receeds into the past. But it was an awful lot of fun. I’d really forgotten all the characters besides Milo. There’s Tock the Watchdog (who goes “TickTickTick” all day…his brother Tick goes “TockTockTock all day…it’s a long story and he’ll share it with you when you read the book) and the Humbug who’re Milo’s companions in his quest to free the Princesses Rhyme and Reason. Puns galore in the book, often in the form of the demons. For instance, The Senses Taker who tricks you with your sense of sound, sight and smell, but also robs you of you Sense of Purpose and your Sense of Duty. And he’s one of the more normal beings you’ll meet.
The other thing I’d forgotten, or more likely never noticed, is what the book is trying to instill on us, and that is a love of knowing things. Milo learns that Knowing Things is important and that you never know when knowledge will come in useful. It was a gentle enough lesson that I didn’t pick up on it when I was a child, but it makes me ever more happy to pass it on to my young friend.
I also should note that this edition still has the wonderful illustrations by Jules Feiffer. Towards the end of the book is a spread illustration showing all the demons chasing our heros. I remember staring at that picture for a LONG time as a kid, trying to identify each demon in it.
Finally, a trivia note. Years before anyone was talking about Chaos Theory and The Butterfly Effect, the Princess of Reasons explains to Milo how everything is connected, saying
Why, when a housefly flaps his wings, a breeze goes round the world;
If you’ve got a young reader to buy for, or if you’re just in the mood for a dose of nostalgia, pick this book up. Its wonderful.