The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth

Written by Norton Juster, Illustrated by Jules Feiffer

Annotations by Leonard S. Marcus

Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth is a marvelous romp through a jungle of wordplay. Main character, Milo, finds a mysterious package in his room one day that turns out to be a tollbooth. Bored with life at school and home, Milo gets in his toy electric car, pays the toll, and begins his journey into the kingdom of Wisdom. He befriends Tock, a watchdog who has a large timepiece on his body and Humbug, a bug that says “bah.” Two brothers govern different portions of Wisdom. King Azaz of Dictionopolis feels words are more important than numbers and the Mathemegician of Digitopolis values numbers over words. This has led the two to warring over years that drove their sisters and the princesses, Rhyme and Reason, from the land. Milo, Tock, and the Humbug’s goal is to return Rhyme and Reason back to the kingdom, without whom Wisdom would wither.

Juster plays with the reader with his wit and banter. Milo first goes to Expectations then goes beyond Expectations. He travels The Doldrums and the Foothills of Confusion, climbs the Mountains of Ignorance and finally finds the princesses in the Castle in the Air. Along the way they meet Short Shrift, Chroma, Dischord and Dynne, and Dodecahedron, a character with ten faces, and a host of others.

This is a light, fun read that I highly recommend especially for adult readers. Milo is an upper elementary school boy, but readers that age may not comprehend all the deeper meanings of Juster’s smartly worded story.

Review by Bruce Luck, Granite Elementary School Technology Specialist
Rating: ★★★★½ (4.5 stars)
Interest Level: Grade 6 and Up

Note About the Annotated Edition:

This is a large-size hardback that includes an extensive introduction with archival photos, as well as page-by-page commentaries including quotes from Juster, explanations of allusions in the text, and other bonuses. These materials would be very helpful for a teacher who is using this book in the classroom, and they would greatly interest the many fans of this classic book who want to learn more about it. Although every library should have a copy of this book available for students, because of this edition’s larger size and the possible feelings of “too-much-information” that it might engender for potential and newbie Tollbooth readers, I would not recommend this edition as the first choice for regular library circulation of this book.

— Josh Whiting, Granite Educational Technology

The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth
Written by Norton Juster, Illustrated by Jules Feiffer, Annotations by Leonard S. Marcus
Alfred A. Knopf
284 pages
Release Date: October 25, 2011 (reprint; new annotated edition)
ISBN: 9780375857157 (large-size hardcover annotated edition)

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4 thoughts on “The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth”

  1. We have a teacher at Rosecrest who reads this with her class every year. She would be thrilled if we had this book in our library!

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