The Phantom Tollbooth

“Why, when you’re fifteen things won’t look at all the way they did when you were ten, and at twenty everything will change again.”

The Phantom Tollbooth, a children’s story in the tradition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, tells about the adventures a young boy named Milo had, when he found nothing of interest in the world. Written by Norton Juser and illustrated by his friend Jules Feiffer, Milo and his friends’ mission to bring Rhyme and Reason back to Wisdom has entertained countless children and adults alike since the book’s publication in 1961. Through a parade of puns, The Phantom Tollbooth emphasizes the importance of education in everyone’s development, but especially yours.

The Elevator Synopsis:

Milo, a bored little boy who found the whole world uninteresting, came home from school one day to discover a mysterious tollbooth sitting in his room. How it came to be there, he had no idea. However, he sat in the car which came with it, deposited a coin, and set off on an adventure that would take him all over the Kingdom of Wisdom. A once flourishing nation, Wisdom has fallen into decay with the banishment of princesses Rhyme and Reason. It is up to Milo, with the help of a watchdog named Tock and an insect named Humbug, to rescue the princesses from their Castle in the Air and put the kingdom to right. Along the way, they encounter, among others, Canby, the Island of Conclusions, and the Senses Taker, and Milo learns to see the fun that is all around him and the power that is contained in a little pencil.

My Thoughts:

The Phantom Tollbooth’s intended audience may have been elementary school children. However, after reading it for the first time during my freshman year at college, it immediately became a favorite. I’ve always loved learning, but in a land of never ending deadlines and essays, I began to lose my sense of purpose. By my junior year, I had lost my passion for learning. The world became for me, as little Milo had put, “small and empty.”

The feeling came back after I graduated. I was sitting in my apartment, getting ready for grad school, searching desperately for jobs so I could pay rent, and disillusioned by a series of bad dates. Overwhelmed and dejected, I wanted nothing more than to sleep the next year away. What was the point? And again, I thought of a little boy who had once asked the same question.

Both times, The Phantom Tollbooth played a part in my recovery. I dove into the pages, met new perspectives, and fought ignorance and demons, all in the hopes of finding my rhyme and reason. I became a child again, and in every reread, I slowly put my world back together. To speak directly and honestly. To use laughter as an armor. And to know that impossible is possible, if we only think it so.

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