Course Hero. "The Phantom Tollbooth Study Guide." Course Hero. 18 Jan. 2018. Web. 20 Sep. 2020. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Phantom-Tollbooth/>.
Course Hero. (2018, January 18). The Phantom Tollbooth Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved September 20, 2020, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Phantom-Tollbooth/
(Course Hero, 2018)
Course Hero. "The Phantom Tollbooth Study Guide." January 18, 2018. Accessed September 20, 2020. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Phantom-Tollbooth/.
Course Hero, "The Phantom Tollbooth Study Guide," January 18, 2018, accessed September 20, 2020, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Phantom-Tollbooth/.
The Phantom Tollbooth is a modern fantasy, and, as such, it is sometimes seen as inappropriate for children by some people, who think, as Juster puts it, that "fantasy is bad for children because it disorients them." But despite the dire predictions of its failure when it was published—its fantastical nature and its vocabulary and wordplay were deemed too difficult for children—it gained and maintains its status as a classic.
As a fiction genre, fantasy often includes these elements:
The Phantom Tollbooth has been compared and contrasted with another classic of children's fantasy literature, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by English writer Lewis Carroll, first published in 1865. Both books are read by children and adults, in part because they are filled with memorable characters and strange adventures. They share the theme of the importance of education and learning, and they both create verbal humor using nonsense words and clever wordplay. For readers today Alice's Adventures in Wonderland may seem difficult to read because of the 19th-century language and references. The Phantom Tollbooth is much more accessible for contemporary readers, and younger readers especially can relate to Milo's bewilderment when he finds himself in an adult world where he realizes how much more he has to learn. Modern readers can also understand the issues of too much noise and loud music as these are a part of daily life.
Alice and Milo, the main characters in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and The Phantom Tollbooth, respectively, both begin their stories in the real world and then embark on playful journeys of discovery in imaginary worlds. Alice falls through a rabbit hole, and Milo travels through a magic tollbooth. Both characters meet humorous and unusual characters along the way, and both learn lessons and make discoveries about themselves. A white rabbit befriends Alice, and Milo shares his journey with a dog. Alice is a guest at a mad tea party, while Milo is invited to dine at the royal banquet. At the end of her journey, Alice wakes up from her dream and tells her sister the whole story. When Milo drives back through the Phantom Tollbooth, he returns to his room. He probably keeps his story to himself for fear of not being believed. Both Alice and Milo are changed by their respective experiences.
The Phantom Tollbooth is what a critic in The New Yorker called "an old-fashioned moralizing allegory, with a symbolic point at every turn." In the genre of allegory, an author uses symbolism and imagery to bring abstract ideas to life. For example, in Italian poet Dante's Inferno (1472), Dante's journey through hell symbolizes his desire to live a virtuous life and earn everlasting life in Heaven. He is tempted along the way by animals that represent various vices that could distract him from his virtuous path.
In The Phantom Tollbooth, Milo journeys from boredom to wisdom. The path to wisdom involves not only opening his eyes to the wonders all around, but embracing the need for opposites and resisting the impulse to choose an extreme viewpoint. The opposites are represented in the novel by words and numbers, with their respective lands of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis. To bring the kingdoms together, Milo must scale the Mountains of Ignorance and rescue Rhyme and Reason.
Juster pointedly uses abstract nouns to underscore the novel's allegorical content. Abstract nouns name things that are not concrete and exist only as concepts. Examples abound: Wisdom is a kingdom, Ignorance is a mountain range, Knowledge is a sea. The effect is saved from an instructive tone by its fast pacing and witty wordplay.