Tuesday, March 25, 2014

'The Phantom Tollbooth' at 50: At Any Age, the Perfect Cure for Milovian Ennui

The Phantom Tollbooth 50th Anniversary EditionThe Phantom Tollbooth 50th Anniversary Edition by Norton Juster

I first read this book as a child and bought the 50th anniversary edition a few years ago. I finally read it - from cover to cover - in a single plane trip. My only disappointment was that I'd let it linger on the shelf so long.

While I loved revisiting Milo, the watchdog named Tock -- and all the residents of The Lands Beyond -- as much as(if not more) I thought I would, what caught me by surprise was how much the book helped shape my long-standing love of words and wordplay ("a tickle fight with the English language" I like to say).

Where else would a kid learn so indelibly about the Doldrums? Or the dangers of jumping to Conclusion (an island off the coast)? Or the dangers of a world full of words and numbers but without rhyme and reason?

Oh, as a kid I dreamed of spending all day at the word market snacking, as Milo did, on crispy, crunchy c's, or mull over picking up a few pounds of happys for a rainy day.

Even as a math averse I longed to stare all day into the 12 pairs of eyes on the 12 faces of the Dodecahedron. I envied Milo as he stepped in for Chroma the Great to conduct the colors of the day.

The great thing is, I know dropping a few coins in the coin box of the Phantom Tollbooth is as easy as taking the book off the shelf and cracking the cover.

A quick note about the 50th anniversary edition - it also includes a series of "appreciations" of the book by the likes of Suzanne Collins("The Hunger Games") and Michael Chabon (the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay") who has offered up a PT-derived phrase I hope upon hope eventually makes its way into the modern lexicon for good: "Milovian ennui."

Read this book and you'll learn what it means -- and never suffer from it for a single day of your life.

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