The Phantom Tollbooth is a children’s fantasy novel written by Norton Juster and Illustrated by Jules Feiffer. The story is about a bored child named Milo, who travels to the fantastical Kingdom of Wisdom, where he makes friends, goes on quests, and learns valuable life lessons.
The moral of the story is overt: Milo goes in apathetic toward everything and gradually acquires a healthy appreciation for reading, math, thinking, and learning in general. There are obvious parallels between The Phantom Tollbooth and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and Tollbooth is, in a way, a Pilgrim’s Progress for thought and learning.
Juster’s story is based on wordplay, and is heavily pun-driven. But Juster’s writing is so clever that this nearly always works without becoming tiresome, and the book is so humorous and entertaining that even adults should not get bored.
Feiffer’s illustrations are sloppy-looking pen scratchings. They aren’t great, but they get the job done. Ultimately, though, in the almost fifty years since The Phantom Tollbooth was published, Fieffer’s art has been indelibly intertwined with what this book is. In other words, The Phantom Tollbooth is not a book that could ever be re-released with a different set of illustrations.
The Phantom Tollbooth is a classic of children’s literature, a book that has held up well over time, and one that can be enjoyed by adults as well.