The Phantom Tollbooth

“Don’t be too sure,’ the child said patiently, ‘for one of the nicest things about mathematics, or anything else you might care to learn, is that many of the things which can never be, often are. You see,’ he went on, ‘It’s very much like your trying to reach Infinity. You know that it’s there, but you just don’t know where – but just because you can never reach it doesn’t mean that it’s not worth looking for.” (The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster)

This book serves a harsh wake-up call to anyone who has wandered into the Doldrums, decided to live in Ignorance, or banished Rhyme and Reason. Yes, The Phantom Tollbooth discloses solutions for each of these problems: if one’s life has grown pale and dull, one must think, and keep thinking – in order to destroy ignorance, simply call out the soldiers of wisdom, and, most importantly – if all Rhyme and Reason have fled, go out immediately and save them (even, or maybe especially, if it is impossible).

When I was a kid I used to fear growing up above all things. Grown ups seemed so boring to me – they always had to go to the store, go to work, talk to millions of people on the phone, and fold clothes. Now, on the brink of being one myself, The Phantom Tollbooth has finally explained that old fear to me: “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…” There are always dishes to wash, floors to sweep, books to straighten and merchandise to merchandize – but what about the sound of laughter? The crawling of a caterpillar? All the many things to build, invent, write, paint? These are the things, the important ones, that are so easy to forget when you are in the clutches of that terrible daemon Trivium. The Phantom Tollbooth reminds us all, adults maybe especially, of the delights of a curious, inquiring mind. A+

Beverage: This book makes me want to try (or even invent!) a drink I’ve never had before. One might try getting a few kinds of loose-leaf tea and patenting a new blend, or maybe drinking an old favorite with a newfound sense of concentration and interest.

Reminds me of… A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’ Engle because both of their worlds have a sketchy quality to them, like the ideas are more important than the scenes or even the characters. And, sometimes, they are.


3 thoughts on “The Phantom Tollbooth

  1. This is quite a strong recommendation! I haven’t thought about this book in a long time but may very well have to give it another spin.

  2. Pingback: Children’s Literature | Book Lion

  3. Pingback: God Help the Child | Book Lion

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