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A book review by Steven Wu
March 04, 2002
|Rating: 7 (of 10)|
Unfortunately, some of the book's appeal has diminished, as I discovered upon rereading it. The Phantom Tollbooth is essentially a book about abstract concepts made concrete, a modern moral allegory in which the Terrible Trivium and the Gross Exaggeration are horrendous monsters, while Rhyme and Reason are beautiful princesses. It is also a book in which some truly terrible puns and an uncountable number of shaggy-dog stories are quite literally true--and I'm not just talking about Tock here, who is, of course, a watchdog. "It goes without saying," is one memorable pun, but Milo's catching a word on the tip of his tongue and the constant complaints about the kingdom "having neither Rhyme nor Reason" should give you an idea of the kind of jokes that Juster makes.
The problem is that there's nothing more to the book than what I just described. Juster is endlessly inventive, but the plot is nothing more than a tour that Milo takes across the kingdom. Indeed, Juster hardly hesitates to employ completely artificial plot devices to keep things going--notice how Milo, Tock, and the Humbug escape from prison. And by the nature of the characters' functions, they also serve as little more than embodiments of puns (with the notable exception of Tock, who is great).
I would highly, highly recommend The Phantom Tollbooth for children; the criticisms that I give above don't really apply to youngsters who will be dazzled by Juster's imagination (as I was). But adults who have had the misfortune of never reading The Phantom Tollbooth will likely find it a charming tale--but nothing more.
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