Book Review: The Phantom Tollbooth

It may seem like there are a whole lotta books that I have been enthusiastically looking forward to reading. It would seem that way because it is that way. I have always been an avid reader and a curious individual, and there are so many books that I haven’t quite got around to yet, including the growing list of new publications. I have now gotten around to The Phantom Tollbooth.

PHANTOM TOLLBOOTHThere are timeless stories. The Phantom Tollbooth doesn’t seem to me to be one of them. I believe that it is more popular in England than in the States, where it’s more a part of their cultural vernacular. However, there was nothing about this book that didn’t feel dated to me. Now, I sometimes give great reviews to books that fall into a more historical category (like Jane Eyre or Shakespeare), or even to those (like Beverly Cleary or Little House on the Prairie) that feel nostalgic or quaint. Those books still felt relevant to me. Tollbooth felt more like a moderately interesting cultural oddity.

You could put it in some category somewhere, I suppose, and enjoy reading it. Maybe in the same category as Half Magic. But Tollbooth is more psychedelic and allegorical than even Alice in Wonderland. It’s definitely got a lesson to teach. And I can’t see modern children relating very well to all the wordplay. Certainly, my fifth grader did not love it. (He didn’t hate it, either. The best word for it might be tolerance.) There have been other complaints: it lacks plot. The characters are not very interesting or fleshed out. Etc.

It’s also not what you expect when you pick up a book from the local bookstore, anymore. I guess I was expecting more of a traditional sci-fi/fantasy, but this is something much more primitive and, in some ways, more sophisticated. It’s early, yes, but it’s also high-brow. For kids. From a different time and place.

I dunno’. If you have been dying to read it, then do. It won’t take you long and you can see what all the fuss is about. It would make a fine beach read. Expect a quirky, old-fashioned story with lots of allegory and word play and an unconventional plot and papery characters. On the other hand, if you like literature like The Little Prince, this might be the perfect book for you. But unless they are obsessed with vintage speculative lit (like A Wrinkle in Time), I wouldn’t hand this one to a modern kid and expect them to fall in love with it.

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