My first experience with The Phantom Tollbooth (as with so much else that made a lasting impression on me) came from Childcraft. In the supplemental “Mathemagic” volume there was an excerpt of Milo’s visit to Digitopolis, land of numbers, where he encounters the Dodecahedron and the Mathemagician. The episode includes Milo’s attempts to find infinity, as he bounds up the never-ending staircase two steps at a time … and then the excerpt ended.
It was just a taste, but I was hooked. I soon got a copy of the book itself and loved it — the wordplay, Milo’s journey through Dictionopolis and the Forest of Sight and Valley of Sound, his constant companions Tock the watchdog and the ridiculous Humbug. I’ve since read it to my daughter twice, and just last summer finally replaced my old copy, whose pages were all falling out.
Knopf is printing a new edition this fall to celebrate its 50th anniversary, and it will include several essays from authors and artists. Michael Chabon’s introduction for the upcoming edition was printed recently in The New York Review of Books, and his essay celebrates the same magic that captured my mind so many years ago:
Milo’s journey into the Lands Beyond (beyond the flyleaf, that is, with its spectacular Jules Feiffer map), was mine as a reader, and my journey was his, and ours was the journey of all readers venturing into wonderful books, into a world made entirely, like Juster’s, of language, by language, about language. While you were there, everything seemed fraught and new and notable, and when you returned, even if you didn’t suffer from Milovian ennui, the “real world” seemed deeper, richer, at once explained and, paradoxically, more mysterious than ever.
Head over to read his essay. And if you haven’t read The Phantom Tollbooth yourself, what are you waiting for? As for me, I’m looking forward to this fall to see what other writers have to say about one of my favorite books.