The Phantom Tollbooth: The Discovery of Knowledge

The Phantom Tollbooth is written by Norton Juster. It was published in 1961 by Random House.


“Through the Phantom Tollbooth lies a strange land and a series of even stranger adventures in which Milo meets King Azaz the Unabridged, the unhappy ruler of Dictionopolis; the Mathemagician; Faintly Macabre, the not so wicked Which; Alec Bings, who sees through things, and the watch-dog, Tock, who ticks, among a collection of the most logically illogical characters ever met on this side or that side of reality.

In his quest for Rhyme and Reason, Milo helps settle the war between words and numbers, visits the Island of Conclusions (which can only be reached by jumping), and ventures into the forbidden Mountains of Ignorance whose all too familiar demons menace his ever step.”


The Phantom Tollbooth is part Alice in Wonderland, part Oz. It’s deliciously fun, and Juster is a genius at showing the embodiments of phrases, words, sounds, ideas, and the like. Things like Milo literally having to eat his words, the stairway to Infinity, and the Island of Conclusions are simply wonderful. This is, essentially, a story about a boy discovering (or rediscovering) his imagination and the wonder of the unknown.

This book would be great to give to kids, but I think the real charm in it lies in its ability to communicate even to adults. I chuckled at Short Shrift and loved the image of the “But” that Milo keeps in his mouth. Everything about the way Juster depicts ideas just makes sense, and his descriptions or embodiments of things like triviality or din are so imaginatively rich. And the fact that Milo, rather than continuously yearn to return to that land, suddenly realizes that, with all the other places he could go and all the other things he can discover, he doesn’t know if he will have the time to return, is so great. Rather than be forever stuck in one place or stuck on one idea, Milo seeks knowledge and enrichment. He wants to broaden his experience, not limit it. That’s a great message for a book for children.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Children’s


“Are you ready with the menu?” reminded the Humbug.

“Well,” said Milo, remembering that his mother had always told him to eat lightly when he was a guest, “why don’t we have a light meal?”

“A light meal it shall be,” roared the bug, waving his arms.

The waiters rushed in carrying large serving platters and set them on the table in front of the king. When he lifted the covers, shafts of brilliant-colored light leaped from the plates and bounced around the ceiling, the walls, across the floor, and out the windows.

“Then with whatever Azaz agrees, you disagree.”

“Correct,” said the Mathemagician with a tolerable smile.

“And with whatever Azaz disagrees, you agree.”

“Also correct,” yawned the mathemagician, nonchalantly cleaning his fingernails with the point of his staff.

“Then each of you agrees that he will disagree with whatever each of you agrees with,” said Milo triumphantly; “and if you both disagree with the same thing, then aren’t you really in agreement?”

Overall Review:

The Phantom Tollbooth is a tale of imagination and wonder, and of obtaining knowledge and constantly learning new things. It’s as wonderful for adults as it is for children, for sometimes even adults need the adventure and the lesson that Milo learns.

You can buy this here: The Phantom Tollbooth


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