Book Review – The Phantom Tollbooth

4 stars. The Phantom Tollbooth is the tale of Milo, a young boy who embarks on an adventure in a strange land when a mysterious tollbooth appears in his room. What follows is a rollicking journey through two kingdoms abandoned by Rhyme and Reason.

Norton Juster’s wordplay is the main star of this book. He is a master of both the literal (Milo lands on the Island of Conclusions after he makes an unfounded statement) and the pun (Milo’s faithful companion Tock is a watchdog–a dog with a clock face on his side). The dialog rewards attentive readers with a love for words with witty and pithy observations, making it a delight to read. Even when the book is at its silliest, there are plenty of subtle jokes to be found.

If I have a small complaint about The Phantom Tollbooth, it’s that the story is definitely secondary to the wordplay. Occasionally it felt like characters and events were contrived to make the next joke, sometimes making it feel like it was an endless string of “go here, have a witty conversation, repeat” events.

There’s plenty here for both adults and children. I’m sure I would have adored this book had I read it as a kid; instead, I merely enjoyed it for the razor-sharp wit.

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5 thoughts on “Book Review – The Phantom Tollbooth

  1. I agree with you that the story is second to the word play. I appreciated it for its playfulness (the island of conclusion part was my favorite) but didn’t like the story itself much. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I’d read it as a kid and was returning to it now.

    1. Totally agree! Had I found this in my Lewis Carroll phase I would have loved it, and nostalgia would have kept it great. I loved the part about the Island of Conclusions, and how swimming the Sea of Knowledge was the antidote. This book was at its best when it was most “meta”!

  2. I read this book as a kid but actually didn’t enjoy it or remember much about it at all until I re-read it fairly recently! I love the word play but I can see what you mean about it.

    1. It’s a very nuanced book, and I think it would reward reading it a chapter at a time. That would prevent the “clever overload” I started to feel partway through! I think the word play benefits from reading and reflecting; perhaps I’ll try it again soon and limit myself to just reading a bit at a time.

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