Norton Juster
The Phantom Tollbooth
Book Review by Author/Illustrator Ross Anthony

What a fun book! Imaginative, playful, very punny, and an encourager of both careful expression and boundless invention. It's squarely my kind of book. In fact, it's so my kind of book it's spooky. I'd never heard of "The Phantom Tollbooth" until after I'd finished writing my little novel "Rodney Appleseed in Nothing Happens." And, actually, Rodney is the reason I heard of Milo, or should I say the Tollbooth. This is because my readers would tell me that "Rodney Appleseed" was a lot like "The Phantom Tollbooth." In fact, they often counted "Phantom Tollbooth" among their favorite books – what a compliment to both books. Still though, I'd hoped to have written Rodney to be unlike any other book. That was one of my goals. Anyway, after writing the second book in the Rodney series, I decided to give this Tollbooth book a look. What did Norton Juster have to say that was so like what I was saying -- or more properly, visa versa?

Well, within the first few pages I became enlightened to the eerie similiarities. Though both are origin stories, there is a sort of parallel drive, rythmn and rhyme (or should I say rhyme and reason?). That said, Tollbooth’s events occur within an established world which even has the map sketched in the prelude pages. My Rodney tangents around an undefined universe and remains open, nor do I tie up my books with Wizard-of-Oz like endings. (Btw, that is not a knock of the Tollbooth – I like this book!)

Milo (The Phantom Tollbooth’s lead character) and Rodney share some likenesses as well. They are both boys that love to daydream -- though Milo doesn't start out so. That said, Rodney digs a bit deeper philosophically and emotionally. While there is a great deal of the surreal in Rodney, there is also a big real heart.

In Tollbooth, Juster delights in weaving in a message of expression. He seems to be teaching through this imaginative tale the lesson of good communication -- be it in writing or in conversation. He warns of the dangers of bad communication and of the value too, of silence.

I concur with my readers, "Phantom Tollbooth" is indeed a very fine book and it is indeed quite like "Rodney Appleseed" or more apropos again, visa versa.

Here are some quotes from the book:

"I'm the demon of insincerity,.. I don't mean what I say, I don't mean what I do, and I don't mean what I am. Most people who believe what I tell them go the wrong way, and stay there..."

"'And, most important of all,' added the Mathemagician, 'here is your own magic staff. Use it well and there is nothing it cannot do for you." He placed in Milo's breast pocket a small gleaming pencil..."

"'Have you ever heard a blindfolded octopus unwrap a cellophane-covered bathtub?' he inquired again as the air was filled with a loud, crinkling, snapping sound."

"…Being lost is never a matter of not knowing where you are; it's a matter of not knowing where you aren't – and I don't care at all about where I'm not.'"

Read more Book Reviews by Author/Illustrator Ross Anthony.

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Copyright © 1998-2023 Ross Anthony, Author - Speaker - Solo World Circumnavigator In addition to reviewing films and interviewing celebs at, traveling the world, composing great music, motivational speaking, Mr. Anthony also runs his own publishing company in the Los Angeles area. While traversing the circumference of the planet writing books and shooting documentaries, Mr. Anthony has taught, presented for, worked &/or played with locals in over 30 countries & 100 cities (Nairobi to Nagasaki). He's bungee-jumped from a bridge near Victoria Falls, wrestled with lions in Zimbabwe, crashed a Vespa off a high mountain road in Taiwan, and ridden a dirt bike across the States (Washington State to Washington DC). To get signed books ("Rodney Appleseed" to "Jinshirou") or schedule Ross to speak check out: or call 1-800-767-7186. Go into the world and inspire the people you meet with your love, kindness, and whatever it is you're really good at. Check out books by Ross Anthony. Rand() functions, Pho chicken soup, rollerblading, and frozen yogurt (w/ blueberries) also rock! (Btw, rand is short for random. It can also stand for "Really Awkward Nutty Dinosaurs" -- which is quite rand, isn't it?) Being alive is the miracle. Special thanks to Ken Kocanda, HAL, Jodie Keszek, Don Haderlein, Mom and Pops, my family, R. Foss, and many others by Ross Anthony. Galati-FE also deserves a shout out. And thanks to all of you for your interest and optimism. Enjoy great films, read stirring novels, grow.

Last Modified: Wednesday, 29-Feb-2012 13:28:26 PST