The Phantom Tollbooth is a children’s fantasy adventure novel written by Norton Juster, with illustrations by Jules Feiffer, first published in 1961. The story follows a bored young boy named Milo who unexpectedly receives a magic tollbooth that transports him to the once prosperous, but now troubled, Kingdom of Wisdom. Along with a dog named Tock and the Humbug, Milo goes on a quest to the Castle in the Air seeking the kingdom’s two exiled princesses, named Rhyme and Reason. As Milo learns valuable lessons, he finds a love of learning in a story full of puns and wordplay, such as exploring the literal meanings of idioms.
In 1958, Juster had received a Ford Foundation grant for a children’s book about cities. Unable to make progress on that project, he turned to writing what became The Phantom Tollbooth, his first book. His housemate, Feiffer, a cartoonist, interested himself in the project. Jason Epstein, an editor at Random House, bought the book and published it. The Phantom Tollbooth received rave reviews and has sold in excess of three million copies, far more than expected. It has been adapted into a film, opera, and play, and translated into many languages.
Though the book is on its face an adventure story, a major theme is the need for a love of education; through this, Milo applies what he has learned in school, advances in his personal development, and learns to love the life that previously bored him. Critics have compared its appeal to that of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and to L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Additionally Maurice Sendak, in his introductory “An Appreciation” included in editions of the book since 1996, quotes a critic as comparing The Phantom Tollbooth to Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress: “As Pilgrims Progress is concerned with the awakening of the sluggardly spirit, The Phantom Tollbooth is concerned with the awakening of the lazy mind.”