Review: The Phantom TollBooth by Norton Juster


In this classic children’s tale, Milo sets off through the tollbooth he finds in his bedroom and away on a magical journey to such places as the Land of Expectation, the Mountains of Ignorance and the Castle in the Air. He meets the weirdest folk, such as the Threadbare Excuse, who mumbles the same thing over and over again.


As part of my Middle Grade kick, I’ve been recommended a few books from friends and the OH and this was one of them.  I bought a second-hand copy quite cheap online and it arrived swiftly enough that I managed to squeeze it in  between some other current reads I had on the TBR pile.  

Milo is a boy who seems to be a very bored and discontent with the day-to-day humdrum of his life.  He can’t seem to find the joy in life anymore, until he comes home to find a box for him in his room.  Inside is the Phantom Tollbooth which leads to a world of adventure, trouble and madness.  From Kings of words and numbers, mad doctors of noise and a dog with a clock on his side.

Written in the 1960s, this book has been compared to the likes of Alice in Wonderland, though for me I think it’s similar in premise and madness but it just didn’t work as well for me as I hoped.  I think it was a lot of lovely ideas and moments collected together without enough logic and reason.  I can imagine that a younger reader might like the crazy characters and questing for missing princesses, avoiding danger and eating actual words but, for me, it was fun but not quite a classic I’d reread again and again.  The use of double meanings for words and phrases like ‘eating your own words’ or ‘time flies’ was very amusing and clever but there were used quite a lot and lost their element of surprise after a while.

The characters were fantastic and worked so well as complements to Milo and my favourite moment was Milo, Tock and Humbug meeting Kakofonous Dischord as he is in charge of the sunrise and sunset with his orchestra that has the power to change the light, colour and sound of that magical moment when the world awakens and sleeps.  It was a great idea and so excellently executed.

Overall, I liked The Phantom Tollbooth and the messages it had within it but it was almost a few too many ideas and madness in one book without enough logic to keep it all working together.  Fun but not one of my favourites.

Published by Harper Collins Children’s Books and is available online and in bookshops now

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