The phantom tollbooth, p.1
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       The Phantom Tollbooth, p.1
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           Norton Juster
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The Phantom Tollbooth


  Text copyright © 1961 by Norton Juster

  Text copyright renewed 1989 by Norton Juster

  Illustrations copyright © 1961 by Jules Feiffer

  Illustrations copyright renewed 1989 by Jules Feiffer

  Introduction copyright © 1996 by Maurice Sendak

  All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Distributed by Random House, Inc., New York. Originally published by Random House, Inc., in 1964.

  KNOPF, BORZOI BOOKS, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

  This title was originally cataloged by the Library of Congress as follows:

  Juster, Norton: 1929- The phantom tollbooth.

  Illustrated by Jules Feiffer.

  New York, Epstein & Carroll; distributed by Random House

  [1961] 255 p. illus. 24cm.

  I. Title. PZ8.J98Ph 61-13202

  eISBN: 978-0-375-98529-4

  To Andy and Kenny,

  who waited so patiently



  Title Page



  An Appreciation

  1. Milo

  2. Beyond Expectations

  3. Welcome to Dictionopolis

  4. Confusion in the Market Place

  5. Short Shrift

  6. Faintly Macabre’s Story

  7. The Royal Banquet

  8. The Humbug Volunteers

  9. It’s All in How You Look at Things

  10. A Colorful Symphony

  11. Dischord and Dynne

  12. The Silent Valley

  13. Unfortunate Conclusions

  14. The Dodecahedron Leads the Way

  15. This Way to Infinity

  16. A Very Dirty Bird

  17. Unwelcoming Committee

  18. Castle in the Air

  19. The Return of Rhyme and Reason

  20. Good-by and Hello

  You know you’re in excellent hands when, in the midst of some nutty, didactic dialogue, the author disarms you.

  “I guess I just wasn’t thinking,” said Milo.

  “PRECISELY,” shouted the dog as his alarm went off again. “Now you know what you must do.”

  “I’m afraid I don’t,” admitted Milo, feeling quite stupid.

  “Well,” continued the watchdog impatiently, “since you got here by not thinking, it seems reasonable to expect that, in order to get out, you must start thinking.” And with that he hopped into the car.

  It’s what Tock, the literal watchdog (see the Feiffer illustration), says next that makes my heart melt, as it did on my very first reading way back when: “Do you mind if I get in? I love automobile rides.” There is the teeming-brained Norton Juster touching just the right note at just the right moment.

  The Phantom Tollbooth leaps, soars, and abounds in right notes all over the place, as any proper masterpiece must. Early critics responded enthusiastically, garnishing their reviews with exuberant Justeresque puns and wordplay. Comparison with Alice in Wonderland was inevitable, “for the author displays a similar ingenuity, bite, and playfulness in his attack on the common usage of words.” All well and good—wonderful, in fact—this miracle of instant recognition by contemporary critics. And nice—lovely, even—to be compared to Alice, though I suspect Norton Juster would have preferred, if his book had to be compared, The Wind in the Willows. It was even compared to Bunyan! “As Pilgrim’s Progress is concerned with the awakening of the sluggardly spirit, The Phantom Tollbooth is concerned with the awakening of the lazy mind.”

  All of the above would gladden the heart of any young writer, but comparisons to Carroll and Bunyan only begin to suggest the qualities that make Tollbooth so splendid. For me, it is primarily the heart and soul of Norton Juster—his menschkeit—that produced this marvel of a book. Another part of the marvel: even though Tollbooth is extraordinary fantasy, it is tightly hinged in the here and now, and conveys an urgent and vivid sense of reality. Jules Feiffer—that rare artist who can draw an idea—combines the same insistent reality and uninhibited fantasy in his superb scratchy-itchy pen drawings.

  Tollbooth is a product of a time and place that fills me with fierce nostalgia. It was published in New York City in 1961, that golden moment in American children’s book publishing when we lucky kids—Norton, Jules, myself, and many more—were all swept up in a publishing adventure full of risks and high jinks that has nearly faded from memory. There were no temptations except to astonish. There were no seductions because there was not much money, and “kiddie books” were firmly nailed to the bottom of the “literary-career totem pole.” Simply, it was easy to stay clean and fresh, and wildly ourselves—a pod of happy baby whales, flipping our lusty flukes and diving deep for gold. Tollbooth is pure gold.

  Rereading it now (even Milo would be amazed at the quick whirling away of thirty-five years), I am touched all over again by the confidence, certainty, and radiance of a book that knew it had to exist. It provides the same shock of recognition as it did then—the same excitement and sheer delight in glorious lunatic linguistic acrobatics. It is also prophetic and scarily pertinent to late-nineties urban living. The book treats, in fantastical terms, the dread problems of excessive specialization, lack of communication, conformity, cupidity, and all the alarming ills of our time. Things have gone from bad to worse to ugly. The dumbing down of America is proceeding apace. Juster’s allegorical monsters have become all too real. The Demons of Ignorance, the Gross Exaggeration (whose wicked teeth were made “only to mangle the truth”), and the shabby Threadbare Excuse are inside the walls of the Kingdom of Wisdom, while the Gorgons of Hate and Malice, the Overbearing Know-it-all, and most especially the Triple Demons of Compromise are already established in high office all over the world. The fair princesses, Rhyme and Reason, have obviously been banished yet again. We need Milo! We need him and his endearing buddies, Tock the watchdog and the Humbug, to rescue them once more. We need them to clamber aboard the dear little electric car and wind their way around the Doldrums, the Foothills of Confusion, and the Mountains of Ignorance, up into the Castle in the Air, where Rhyme and Reason are imprisoned, so they can restore them to us. While we wait, let us celebrate the great good fortune that brought The Phantom Tollbooth into our lives thirty-five happy years ago. Mazel tov, Milo, Norton, and Jules!



  1. Milo

  There was once a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself—not just sometimes, but always.

  When he was in school he longed to be out, and when he was out he longed to be in. On the way he thought about coming home, and coming home he thought about going. Wherever he was he wished he were somewhere else, and when he got there he wondered why he’d bothered. Nothing really interested him—least of all the things that should have.

  “It seems to me that almost everything is a waste of time,” he remarked one day as he walked dejectedly home from school. “I can’t see the point in learning to solve useless problems, or subtracting turnips from turnips, or knowing where Ethiopia is or how to spell February.” And, since no one bothered to explain otherwise, he regarded the process of seeking knowledge as the greatest waste of time of all.

  As he and his unhappy thoughts hurried along (for while he was never anxious to be where he was going, he liked to get there as quickly as possible) it seemed a great wonder that the world, which was
so large, could sometimes feel so small and empty.

  “And worst of all,” he continued sadly, “there’s nothing for me to do, nowhere I’d care to go, and hardly anything worth seeing.” He punctuated this last thought with such a deep sigh that a house sparrow singing nearby stopped and rushed home to be with his family.

  Without stopping or looking up, Milo dashed past the buildings and busy shops that lined the street and in a few minutes reached home—dashed through the lobby—hopped onto the elevator—two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and off again—opened the apartment door—rushed into his room—flopped dejectedly into a chair, and grumbled softly, “Another long afternoon.”

  He looked glumly at all the things he owned. The books that were too much trouble to read, the tools he’d never learned to use, the small electric automobile he hadn’t driven in months—or was it years?—and the hundreds of other games and toys, and bats and balls, and bits and pieces scattered around him. And then, to one side of the room, just next to the phonograph, he noticed something he had certainly never seen before.

  Who could possibly have left such an enormous package and such a strange one? For, while it was not quite square, it was definitely not round, and for its size it was larger than almost any other big package of smaller dimension that he’d ever seen.

  Attached to one side was a bright-blue envelope which said simply: “FOR MILO, WHO HAS PLENTY OF TIME.”

  Of course, if you’ve ever gotten a surprise package, you can imagine how puzzled and excited Milo was; and if you’ve never gotten one, pay close attention, because someday you might.

  “I don’t think it’s my birthday,” he puzzled, “and Christmas must be months away, and I haven’t been outstandingly good, or even good at all.” (He had to admit this even to himself.) “Most probably I won’t like it anyway, but since I don’t know where it came from, I can’t possibly send it back.” He thought about it for quite a while and then opened the envelope, but just to be polite.

  “ONE GENUINE TURNPIKE TOLLBOOTH,” it stated—and then it went on:


  “Beyond what?” thought Milo as he continued to read.


  “One (1) genuine turnpike tollbooth to be erected according to directions.

  “Three (3) precautionary signs to be used in a precautionary fashion.

  “Assorted coins for use in paying tolls.

  “One (1) map, up to date and carefully drawn by master cartographers, depicting natural and man-made features.

  “One (1) book of rules and traffic regulations, which may not be bent or broken.”

  And in smaller letters at the bottom it concluded:


  Following the instructions, which told him to cut here, lift there, and fold back all around, he soon had the tollbooth unpacked and set up on its stand. He fitted the windows in place and attached the roof, which extended out on both sides, and fastened on the coin box. It was very much like the tollbooths he’d seen many times on family trips, except of course it was much smaller and purple.

  “What a strange present,” he thought to himself. “The least they could have done was to send a highway with it, for it’s terribly impractical without one.” But since, at the time, there was nothing else he wanted to play with, he set up the three signs,




  and slowly unfolded the map. As the announcement stated, it was a beautiful map, in many colors, showing principal roads, rivers and seas, towns and cities, mountains and valleys, intersections and detours, and sites of outstanding interest both beautiful and historic.

  The only trouble was that Milo had never heard of any of the places it indicated, and even the names sounded most peculiar.

  “I don’t think there really is such a country,” he concluded after studying it carefully. “Well, it doesn’t matter anyway.” And he closed his eyes and poked a finger at the map.

  “Dictionopolis,” read Milo slowly when he saw what his finger had chosen. “Oh, well, I might as well go there as anywhere.”

  He walked across the room and dusted the car off carefully. Then, taking the map and rule book with him, he hopped in and, for lack of anything better to do, drove slowly up to the tollbooth. As he deposited his coin and rolled past he remarked wistfully, “I do hope this is an interesting game, otherwise the afternoon will be so terribly dull.”

  2. Beyond Expectations

  Suddenly he found himself speeding along an unfamiliar country highway, and as he looked back over his shoulder neither the tollbooth nor his room nor even the house was anywhere in sight. What had started as make-believe was now very real.

  “What a strange thing to have happen,” he thought (just as you must be thinking right now). “This game is much more serious than I thought, for here I am riding on a road I’ve never seen, going to a place I’ve never heard of, and all because of a tollbooth which came from nowhere. I’m certainly glad that it’s a nice day for a trip,” he concluded hopefully, for, at the moment, this was the one thing he definitely knew.

  The sun sparkled, the sky was clear, and all the colors he saw seemed to be richer and brighter than he could ever remember. The flowers shone as if they’d been cleaned and polished, and the tall trees that lined the road shimmered in silvery green.

  “WELCOME TO EXPECTATIONS,” said a carefully lettered sign on a small house at the side of the road.


  With the first sound from the horn a little man in a long coat came rushing from the house, speaking as fast as he could and repeating everything several times:

  “My, my, my, my, my, welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome to the land of Expectations, to the land of Expectations, to the land of Expectations. We don’t get many travelers these days; we certainly don’t get many travelers these days. Now what can I do for you? I’m the Whether Man.”

  “Is this the right road for Dictionopolis?” asked Milo, a little bowled over by the effusive greeting.

  “Well now, well now, well now,” he began again, “I don’t know of any wrong road to Dictionopolis, so if this road goes to Dictionopolis at all it must be the right road, and if it doesn’t it must be the right road to somewhere else, because there are no wrong roads to anywhere. Do you think it will rain?”

  “I thought you were the Weather Man,” said Milo, very confused.

  “Oh no,” said the little man, “I’m the Whether Man, not the Weather Man, for after all it’s more important to know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be.” And with that he released a dozen balloons that sailed off into the sky. “Must see which way the wind is blowing,” he said, chuckling over his little joke and watching them disappear in all directions.

  “What kind of a place is Expectations?” inquired Milo, unable to see the humor and feeling very doubtful of the little man’s sanity.

  “Good question, good question,” he exclaimed. “Expectations is the place you must always go to before you get to where you’re going. Of course, some people never go beyond Expectations, but my job is to hurry them along whether they like it or not. Now what else can I do for you?” And before Milo could reply he rushed into the house and reappeared a moment later with a new coat and an umbrella.

  “I think I can find my own way,” said Milo, not at all sure that he could. But, since he didn’t understand the little man at all, he decided that he might as well move on—at least until he met someone whose sentences didn’t always sound as if they would make as much sense backwards as forwards.

  “Splendid, splendid, splendid,” exclaimed the Whether Man. “Whether or not you
find your own way, you’re bound to find some way. If you happen to find my way, please return it, as it was lost years ago. I imagine by now it’s quite rusty. You did say it was going to rain, didn’t you?” And with that he opened the umbrella and looked up nervously.

  “I’m glad you made your own decision. I do so hate to make up my mind about anything, whether it’s good or bad, up or down, in or out, rain or shine. Expect everything, I always say, and the unexpected never happens. Now please drive carefully; good-by, good-by, good-by, good ... ” His last good-by was drowned out by an enormous clap of thunder, and as Milo drove down the road in the bright sunshine he could see the Whether Man standing in the middle of a fierce cloudburst that seemed to be raining only on him.

  The road dipped now into a broad green valley and stretched toward the horizon. The little car bounced along with very little effort, and Milo had hardly to touch the accelerator to go as fast as he wanted. He was glad to be on his way again.

  “It’s all very well to spend time in Expectations,” he thought, “but talking to that strange man all day would certainly get me nowhere. He’s the most peculiar person I’ve ever met,” continued Milo—unaware of how many peculiar people he would shortly encounter.

  As he drove along the peaceful highway he soon fell to daydreaming and paid less and less attention to where he was going. In a short time he wasn’t paying any attention at all, and that is why, at a fork in the road, when a sign pointed to the left, Milo went to the right, along a route which looked suspiciously like the wrong way.

  Things began to change as soon as he left the main highway. The sky became quite gray and, along with it, the whole countryside seemed to lose its color and assume the same monotonous tone. Everything was quiet, and even the air hung heavily. The birds sang only gray songs and the road wound back and forth in an endless series of climbing curves.

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