The Phantom Tollbooth Norton Juster

Default Sharky This is another one of those.
Default Smiles YES IT IS.
Default Sharky A book version of Smiles.
Happy Smiles YES IT IS.
Default Sharky I swear. The amount of puns in this book is… breathtaking. This isn’t like in Horrible Science where puns are there to make the explanations fun. In this book, the whole concept is based on puns and wordplay. The characters. The world. The whole. Damn. Thing.
smiles-intensifies I LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH.
Default Sharky I’m not dealing with this.
Shocked Smiles What, are you telling me you hate the book because it has puns?
Surprised Sharky 2 What? Nah, the story’s great. The puns are this great mix of really dumb and really clever and I can’t stop grinning at them. You, on the other hand, become unbearable after these kinds of books.
Quiet Smiles Well we’re not reading Winnie the Pooh anymore so it makes sense I’d be unbear-
Angry Sharky 3 Get out.
Default Smiles Ha! Now where were we? Imagine. Imagine life is dull and bland. You don’t know what to do with yourself. Not just sometimes but all the time. Spending your idle time wanting to be busy, spending your busy time wanting to be idle. When you’re walking somewhere you want to get there already. When you’re there you want to be gone. Sound a little close to home? This is your life. But imagine you come home and there’s a package for you.
Confused Sharky Instantly suspicious.
Default Smiles You open it and it’s a child-sized, bright purple tollbooth model set for you to assemble. You set it up, get in your little driveable car out of bored curiosity, and end up driving through it into a strange world. There’s a very Alice in Wonderland sense of wackiness and wordplay and colour to it all. But it grabs its own direction and runs with it hard. Add an overarching goal, a few actually helpful characters, and up the wordplay to 147%. And of course the time-honoured children’s book plot of casually endangering children, in this case by sending the kid off on an impossible quest against things that everyone else is afraid of?
Happy Sharky2 It’s actually pretty fantastic. It’s wildly imaginative and full of imagery and quotes you want to come back to again and again. Creative imagery and setting’s a massive plus point for me. I’m kind of mad I didn’t know about this book as a kid.
Happy Smiles And it has a MAP.
Happy Sharky2 Maps are always nice.
Default Smiles The whole land is based on concepts being physical places and people. Letters are sold at the market like fruits and vegetables, numbers are dug out of mines. In Dictionopolis you have to literally eat your words. In Digitopolis, the fastest way to travel is the shortest way between two points. There’s a castle where sounds take physical shapes as soon as they’re made, a man who conducts all the colours of the world with a huge orchestra, a doctor who lives to collect and make horrible noises. There’s a man who’s the smallest giant, tallest midget, thinnest fat man and fattest thin man all at once. And a woman named Faintly Macabre because she’s not very spooky, which is frankly hilarious. And of course there’s the Mountains of Ignorance and all their demons.
Happy Sharky Oh man, those mountains. The whole chapter with the demons of Ignorance is one of the most entertaining things I’ve read in a while. Trivial time-wasting tasks, compromise, insincerity, fear of ideas, and best and most dangerous of all there’s the Senses Taker.


Surprised Smiles … you know for such a small book it really has a LOT packed into it. But it never really feels rushed or overwhelming.
Surprised Sharky What I don’t like is the author doesn’t seem to think he can let the message stand for itself. There’s a couple of places where the message doesn’t so much stand over your shoulder as it starts beating you over the head with a stick. I’ll be fair, it’s only a few lines each time that ram the point home but I’d have been happier without them.
Surprised Smiles Mm. I don’t know. I think it all does need to be said the way it is. Like I said the whole premise of losing interest in enjoying life can hit pretty close to home for some people and kids.
Sad Sharky I guess…
Default Smiles Don’t mind Sharky. He gets a little tough on books he really likes.
Sassy Sharky Heh. Don’t mislead them. I’m tough on books I don’t like too.
Sassy Smiles Being annoyed gives you energy. But you do like it.
Happy Sharky2 Yeah yeah. And it’s  a pretty touching moment when he has to go back home, because he really made friends with the people he hung out with instead of it just being him running from one amazing set piece to the next.
Default Smiles I will say it really cracks me up that the tollbooth that claims it’ll solve his ‘bored with life’ problems comes with the message ‘Results are not guaranteed, but if not perfectly satisfied, your wasted time will be refunded.’ Every book or movie or game needs to come with that sticker.
Sassy Sharky Especially if it comes with an abundance of puns?
Surprised Smiles Did you say-
Surprised Sharky 2 Uh oh.
Default Smiles A
Angry Sharky 3 NO.
Happy Smiles BUN
Angry Sharky 4 I SWEAR-
smiles-intensifies DAAAAAAAANCE?


4 thoughts on “The Phantom Tollbooth Norton Juster

  1. Where was this book when I was a kid?

    …probably on the ‘impossible to translate because of puns’ pile of some publisher. But Sharky likes it, so I suppose there’s a chance sarcastic grownups can enjoy it too.

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