The Phantom Tollbooth | Study Guide

Norton Juster

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Norton Juster | Biography


Early Life and Career

Norton Juster was born on June 2, 1929, in Brooklyn, New York. He was an architect by training; he studied at the University of Pennsylvania and received a Fulbright Scholarship for work in urban planning. After serving in the U.S. Navy for three years, he opened his own successful architecture firm and moved from New York to western Massachusetts. He also worked as a professor of planning, architecture, and design at Pratt Institute in New York and Hampshire College in Massachusetts.


Juster's serious attempts at writing began during his time in the Navy. The Phantom Tollbooth was his first book and has been considered a classic since its publication in 1961. It was awarded the George C. Stone Centre for Children's Books Award. In addition, the book was adapted as a movie in 1969 and then a musical play. Some of Juster's other books include Otter Nonsense (1982), The Hello, Goodbye Window (2005), and Sourpuss and Sweetie Pie (2008). His book The Dot and the Line (1963) was made into a short film by famed animator Chuck Jones; it won an Academy Award in 1965. Subtitled "A Romance in Lower Mathematics," the book describes the romance between a dot and a line and the squiggle who tries to win Dot's love.

In an article published by National Public Radio (NPR) in 2011, Juster describes how his own childhood influenced his creation of Milo, the main character in The Phantom Tollbooth. He said he lacked interests, focus, and rhyme and reason. This need to escape the doldrums motivated his creation of Milo's fantasy journey to the Lands Beyond.

Jules Feiffer, Illustrator

Jules Feiffer, the illustrator of The Phantom Tollbooth, was born on January 26, 1929. Feiffer was working as a political cartoonist for the alternative newspaper The Village Voice when his friend Norton Juster showed him the unpublished manuscript of The Phantom Tollbooth. The two friends were sharing a house in Brooklyn, New York at the time. Feiffer began sketching the characters for fun. He then not only found a publisher for his friend's manuscript but agreed to illustrate it.

Most of the illustrations for The Phantom Tollbooth are rendered in a scratchy pen-and-ink style on a white background. The exception is a double spread in Chapter 19 showing the story's demons, said to have been inspired by the engravings of French artist Gustave Doré. While Juster loved the book's artwork, Feiffer has been quoted as saying, "I had very little regard for what I did on The Phantom Tollbooth." He thought he was "imitating illustrators who were better" than he was. Children's book scholar Leonard S. Marcus has remarked that Feiffer was indeed borrowing from numerous illustrators, including American humorist James Thurber and British author-illustrator Edward Ardizzone. Yet, over 50 years later, it is impossible to think of The Phantom Tollbooth's characters without picturing Jules Feiffer's expressive illustrations.

Feiffer is himself the author of two books for young readers, The Man in the Ceiling (1993) and A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears (1995), and picture books including Bark, George (1999) and I'm Not Bobby! (2001). He illustrated another children's book by Norton Juster in 2010, The Odious Ogre. His many cartoons, plays, and screenplays have won numerous awards, including a 1986 Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning.

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