I’m still impressed by rainbows, and this despite knowing about light, and refraction, and the unlikelihood of the existence of pots of gold. I see a rainbow and my heart soars. And for me, if a rainbow ever fell to earth and became a book it would be The Phantom Tollbooth (1961) by Norton Juster. It is a thing of light, and wonder, and beauty.
Which being the case, by far the most sensible course of action for you right now would be to stop reading this article, go and buy the book and start reading it instead.
Oh well, I suppose I’d better tell you some more. And seeing that I’ve started by singing the book’s praises maybe it’s time to mention the deeply annoying thing about it, or rather about its author. It’s that he was not even a real writer. He was an architect. In 1959 he just happened to start writing The Phantom Tollbooth as a way of distracting himself when he was bored with doing something else, the ‘something else’ in question being writing a book on Urban Planning and Perception.
To put this into perspective, imagine if Beethoven’s real job had been as a plumber, but he had decided to write his fifth symphony one day when he got bored with clearing yet another blocked U-bend. Obviously, while the world at large would rejoice at the existence of the symphony, every other composer working at the time would have been ever so slightly pissed off. As someone who, in the past, has tried to write books that make people both laugh and think, that’s exactly how I feel about Norton Juster. His book is so good that it’s not a case of me wishing I’d written it, more that I wish he hadn’t. He just set the bar too damned high.
The story starts with a boy called Milo who doesn’t know what to do with himself – not just sometimes, but always. Wherever he is, he wishes he were somewhere else. Whatever he is doing, he wishes he were doing something else. As Milo goes on to explain,
The full version of this article is only available to subscribers to Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly. To continue reading, please sign in or take out a subscription to the quarterly magazine for yourself or as a gift for a fellow booklover. Both gift givers and gift recipients receive access to the full online archive of articles along with many other benefits, such as preferential prices for all books and goods in our online shop and offers from a number of like-minded organizations. Find out more on our subscriptions page.Subscribe now or Sign in