I was 8 years old when my grandfather read The Phantom Tollbooth to me. I was 9 when he passed. Re reading this book, alone this time, was hard, but I was determined to do it. As a young girl, this book didn't make much sense to me and I didn't really get the play on words, but it was something to have a laugh over with my grandfather. It was the last real thing we did together. Reading it now though, through the eyes of a 13 year old, it meant more than a laugh to me. Of course, I also enjoyed this book for that reason, but it also resembled the human nature in a sense that was so true to itself and I really loved that."If you don't pay attention to the world, it will disappear". You have to learn to accept different people and open your eyes to the world, learn about different cultures and appreciate them, learn a new language and speak to the world...
The characters were so real, I found myself thinking that I actually knew Milo. And in a way, I do. Milo was a boy who had not yet opened his eyes to the world. He hadn't learned the gift of accepting new and different people or things. This reminded me of my father, who is so old fashioned its scary. Luckily for Milo though, he receives the tollbooth and goes on journey which forces him to see the world for the adventure it really is. So I'm guessing the tollbooth just hasn't gotten around to my father yet?
The Humbug is another character I know in real life. In the book, he agrees with anything and everything and can really get nasty at times. I thought this is how most little kids will act. My cousins son will agree with you no matter what it is. He thinks like this: if she's older than me, then she's smarter than me, and I gotta agree with her because she's right. I blame this on the fact that he's still young and hasn't exactly developed an opinion about the world yet. The Humbug though, for that matter, looks like an adult. To see this in an adult though, well, that just kind of scared me. I would be lying if I said this world does not have those sort of people because they do, but I just think it's about time people opened their eyes.
Officer Shrift, although he had a somewhat smaller part, was definitely another character that I think most people will know. "He likes to put people in prison, but doesn't care at all about keeping them there." People will do a lot to appear, and even feel, like they have power and are in control, but in the end, it's all really about image though. Even if they don't have that power, you can still feel it and feel good. And it's probably not a good thing, but hey, it's true.
Not only were the characters realistic, but the ideas were as well. The following is an excerpt found on page 1 from when we are first introduced to Milo.: When he was in school he longed to be out, and when he was out he longed to be in. On the way he thought about coming home, and coming home he thought about going. Wherever he was he wished he were somewhere else, and when he got there he wondered why he bothered. Nothing really interested him- least of all the things that should have. This paragraph captivated me because it was so unbelievably true. We may not realize this, but as a human nature, we never seem to be truly satisfied with our lives. We'll keep pushing and pushing whether or not we know what's waiting for us. We never seem to be content at the place we are in life which is exactly what Milo is portraying in his character.
You know, Norton Juster is just amazing at creating places! "Welcome to Expectations!"... "Expectations is the place you must always go to before you get to where you're going. Of course, some people never go beyond Expectations, but my job is to hurry them along whether they like it or not." We have all visited Expectations at least once in our lives. It is the place we must go to before we get to where we are going. Whether we realize it or not, we will make assumptions, or expect, certain things of other things, places or people. If we stayed behind those expectations and never looked beyond what meets the eye, we would get nowhere as a human race. We would likely all end up in the "Doldrums".
And on that note, "The Doldrums, my young friend, are where nothing ever happens and nothing ever changes"... "That's why you're here. You weren't thinking and you weren't paying attention either. People who don't pay attention often get stuck in the Doldrums". When we don't pay attention to life and we don't give it our fullest, we aren't necessarily working as hard as we could be. We then get "stuck" in this nowhere land of nothing. Nothing ever changes because we aren't trying to change it to get to where we want to be. And nothing will ever happen because you aren't working hard enough. You probably don't want to end up there.
There's more to the Phantom Tollbooth than meets the eye. It is definitely a book worth re visiting from time to time, which I will do. Although younger kids will not understand it completely, they will have a laugh as I once did with Abuelo. And maybe, when they're older, they will re read it and hopefully see it through more sophisticated eyes. It will also be a key to the door of the world. So take out that key ring and unlock the door. Welcome to The Phantom Tollbooth...