Kathryn's Reviews > The Phantom Tollbooth

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
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Aug 23, 11

bookshelves: annie-and-katie-bookclub, children-s-novels, spirituality-philosophy-religion, middle-grade
Read from July 27 to August 23, 2011

My feelings about this book were all over the map as I read; sometimes, I found myself annoyed, sometimes I was giggling and completely delighted, sometimes I was bored, sometimes I marveled at Juster's genius. So, it's a very difficult book for me to assign a rating to as some parts I loved and some parts I didn't. Overall, though, I understand why this is such an enduring classic and I'm very glad I read it.

Even so, I'm not exactly sure who the audience for this book is meant to be; or maybe just that there are many different levels to appreciate it, enjoying different elements at different ages? We have a child protagonist, but for most of the book I didn't find him particularly interesting or easy to relate to; he seemed almost a blank slate, and perhaps this was the point, so that we could all be Milos, wandering through the marvelous lands on the other side of the Phantom Tollbooth. But, I think that children (at least, today's children) are more used to books with a strong character that we root for and that has a very clear personality. (Maybe I shouldn't generalize about all kids, though, and just talk about those like me; I think my mom, so good about exposing us to great literature, tried reading this to me as a kid and I didn't get into it.) Also, I am not sure that most children today will grasp all of the wordplay going on in this book (the Senses Taker, for example) nor all the various deeper meanings and how and why they are so relevant to our real world (such as all the demons like Gross Exaggeration and Hopping Hindsight). Not that any of this is the fault of the book, but I did wonder a bit at it being known as a children's classic when, I think, adults will get more out of it. I am interested to hear from those who read it as a child what they related to; maybe the quest for the princesses or the fun side characters like Tock and the Humbug? Or maybe some lucky children were able to appreciate all the wordplay, too. I agree with the New York Times review that stated, "Juster's amazing fantasy has something wonderful for anybody old enough to relish the allegorical wisdom of 'Alice in Wonderland' and the pointed whimsy of 'The Wizard of Oz'."

I really loved some of the chapters and characters; they were so funny and amusing and I found myself nodding in agreement at all the little life lessons they so skillfully and subtly conveyed. Some characters were just plan delightful, such as all the members of the cabinet. And Tock was so endearing! Some, however, were more frustrating or annoying for me, such as the Confusion in the Marketplace, and the Silent Valley (I wonder what deaf people think when they read that chapter?). A few of the little side scenarios were very fun, like the Jumping to Conclusions (hilarious!) but the little bit with the man who was a Giant/Midget/Fat/Thin etc. just bored me.

As I read, I wished I had bought the book rather than got it from the library so I could highlight the many parts I loved and the fabulous quotes; so wise and witty! I think, though, that was part of my occasional frustration with the story in that sometimes I felt too much like I was being taught and not enough that I was fully involved in a story that really captivated me and wound me up in its magic. I think, though, this is party due to my taste in books as I'm not usually one to enjoy the little segments like this (admittedly, I was not a huge fan of Alice in Wonderland and the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, either (though I loved the movie!)) and usually prefer a stronger plot.

Minor frustrations aside, I still really enjoyed the book overall, even if I wasn't super compelled to pick it up each day. And I loved the ending; the chapters beginning with Castle in the Air were just lovely and brought together all the plot and character dynamics I had been hoping for throughout the book. And the last two pages; wow! I think I should copy those out to look back at them often, any time I am feeling less than inspired with life, and remember how glorious it all is!
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Reading Progress

08/09/2011 page 92
34.0% "love the king's cabinet and had quite a good time at the banquet"
08/17/2011 page 110
40.0% ""...being lost is never a matter of now knowing where you are; it's a matter of not knowing where you aren't--and I don't care at all about where I'm not.""
08/17/2011 page 110
40.0% ""...being lost is never a matter of not knowing where you are; it's a matter of not knowing where you aren't--and I don't care at all about where I'm not.""
08/23/2011 page 213
78.0% ""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...""
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Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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message 1: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Oh, great review, Kathryn, though I wished you'd liked it even more than you did. I've never been much of an Alice or Oz fan, though I loved this from the beginning. When I was on the cusp of 8 years old my mother had to explain some of the above things to me. By the time I was 10 I was getting everything on my own. And I do like nearly blank slate Milo as I do think it's fun to take the journey in his place, or at least alongside him, and think about what's presented in the book. Interesting point about wondering what that Silent Valley section would be like for deaf people.


Kathryn Lisa wrote: "Oh, great review, Kathryn, though I wished you'd liked it even more than you did. I've never been much of an Alice or Oz fan, though I loved this from the beginning. When I was on the cusp of 8 yea..."

Thanks! I know how much you and other loved the book, and I really did love parts of it. I wish I had loved it as much as you, Abigail, and others because it does sound like a "magic" book if you read it at the right time. But, I definitely appreciated it and I think it will stay with me. Maybe I will even reread it someday :-)


Kathryn Chandra wrote: "I'm about half way through Kathryn and having a very similar reaction. I'm definitely enjoying it, but also my adult-self is getting in the way at times."

I'll be so curious for your final review, Chandra. I think I liked the last 1/3 the best ;-)


Kathryn Chandra wrote: "That's good to know! Although the book is on my kindle and my husband has co-opted the kindle to read something else! So, I've been having to sneak times to read it when he's not using the kindle..."

;-)


message 5: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan I loved the wordplay, and I loved the quirkiness of the places & characters, and I loved the messages re philosophy of life. And I loved the pictures and the map. And I recall being riveted by the adventure itself. There's more...


message 6: by Ann (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ann Great review, Kathryn! You always say things so much clearer than I'm able ;) Thanks for reading this together!

And thanks, Lisa, for bringing it to our attention :D


message 7: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Ann, and Kathryn, I'm glad you at least liked it, even though you didn't love it. It's so special to me. I think (as Abigail has said) that it might be one of those "the right books at the right times" books.


message 8: by Ann (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ann I completely, agree, Lisa! I did like it, but I don't think I have that deep love that you and Abigail have - but I do think it's due, in large part, to reading it for the first time at the right time. Even though I didn't "love" it, I can see where others would.

And I'm so glad to have finally read it - so thank you for bringing it to my attention again after all these years :)


Kathryn Ann wrote: "Great review, Kathryn! You always say things so much clearer than I'm able ;) Thanks for reading this together!

And thanks, Lisa, for bringing it to our attention :D"


I love your reviews; they are great!!! :-)


Kirei I read this as a child several times--it was my favorite book. My friend and I used to act out scenes from it.
It is true that Milo doesn't have a strong personality, but I felt that was on purpose. He just wanders through life without noticing anything, and his adventures teach him to wake up and take charge.


Kathryn Kirei wrote: "I read this as a child several times--it was my favorite book. My friend and I used to act out scenes from it.
It is true that Milo doesn't have a strong personality, but I felt that was on purp..."


I'm glad you enjoyed the book so much, Kirei. Thanks for sharing your perspective about Milo. I think you are right about the reason for his personality; I guess it just wasn't my favorite sort of character to go through a story with. But, I know this is really well loved by many and I'm very glad I read it! :-)


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