The air was thick and heavy, as if it had been used several times before. -- The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
"A slavish concern for the composition of words is the sign of a bankrupt intellect." -- The Humbug to the Spelling Bee
"So many things are possible just as long as you don't know they're impossible." -- King Azaz and the Mathemagician to Milo
The Phantom Tollbooth (by Norton Juster) is, quite simply, my hands-down untoppable favorite childhood book. My copy is much used, tattered, yellowed with age. My name is written exuberantly in the front cover (evidently from the era when I dotted my i with a star), proof of my early and undying love for this story.
When I first picked it up, I had no idea what I was getting into. The word phantom was so full of mystery, and my experience with tollbooths was fairly limited.
What I found was a crazy adventure story that takes Milo, a terribly bored ten year old, through the Doldrums, Dictionopolis, the Forest of Sight, Digitopolis, and into the Mountains of Ignorance on a dangerous quest.
There's a score of unforgettable characters--the Humbug is always my favorite, no matter how maligned he is by the other characters. Juster's language is packed with wordplay (the conversation with the Everpresent Wordsnatcher still sends me into hysterics) and idioms unfolded (of course you have to jump to the island of Conclusions).
I reread Phantom Tollbooth recently, curious to see if I loved it as much as I used to, and found it even better than I'd remembered. I raved about it to anyone nearby, and I'm not sorry. I'd hand out The Phantom Tollbooth tracts on a streetcorner if I could. (Hmm. Not a bad idea.)
... And, honestly, if you haven't read it yet, for heaven's sake stop reading this blog and get your hands on a copy. It's a book that sticks with you. After all, once you've heard of Subtraction Stew or witnessed the conducting of a sunrise, can you ever go back? Would you even want to?
Recommendation: A childhood classic deserves a childhood classic. I would read this near a sun-filled window, with tomato bisque and a grilled cheese sandwich. It doesn't get much better than that.