I just read The Phantom Tollbooth for the first time and was floored by its utterly hilarious wit. It made me wonder if it all would have gone over my head as a child. But then, children tend to get lost in the adventure of the story and it isn’t until much later that we realize all the wisdom we ever needed to gain was in books we read in elementary school. But, as an adult, all I could do was nod my head in agreement with his criticism of society, all the while laughing out loud at how clever and pun filled it all is (yes, I laugh at puns. I can’t help it.).
The main frame of the story is that the main character Milo begins as an incredibly bored boy. Then a tollbooth shows up in his bedroom and he goes on a crazy adventure in The Lands Beyond, where chaos seems to reign ever since King Azaz, ruler of the land of words and letters, and the Mathemagician, ruler of the land of numbers, have banished their sisters, the Princesses Rhyme and Reason (get it?). Every character he runs across builds Juster’s criticism (and wit) while being incredibly creative and entertaining for the average ten year old reader just looking for adventure. Here an example of one of kinds of characters that Milo encounters through the land of Ignorance that I thought was most clever:
The Terrible Trivium, demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs, ogre of wasted effort and monster of habit. In his own words, after he asked Milo and his friends to move a pile of sand using a tweezer, empty a well using a dropper and dig a hole through a cliff using a needle:
“Think of all the trouble it saves…if you only do the easy and useless jobs, you’ll never have to worry about the important ones which are so difficult. you just won’t have the time. For there’s always something to do to keep you from what you really should be doing.”
I felt as though the Trivium had called me out personally on this one.
My favorite part, after finishing the book and looking over my notes actually came from the very beginning: