Take a trip back to your 7th grade Language Arts class. If your experience was like mine, the books were always chosen for you and nine times out of 10 they were the most boring reads you have ever come across.
However, looking back nine years later, “The Phantom Tollbooth” comes to my mind as one to remember. The bright blue cover emblazoned with a picture of a clock is stuck in my memory even after all of these years and for good reason; it is one of the only assigned books I actually enjoyed reading.
This imaginative story tells the tale of Milo, an ordinary boy, who travels through a tollbooth to a new world called the Kingdom of Wisdom which is filled with strange people and places. On his journey, Milo meets the spelling bee, the Lethargarians, and the Whether Man as well as many other peculiar characters. However, no matter how unusual these new acquaintances are, they make him rethink how he views the world. The clever thing about “The Phantom Tollbooth” is that the older and more worldly the reader is, the more they understand about the plot and characters. There are three plot points that specifically speak to this point.
The Giant- On Milo’s journey through the Kingdom of Wisdom, he meets someone named The Giant. This man spends his days under the disguise of four different personas: The Midget, The Tall Man, and the Thin Man.
His reason for tricking unsuspecting visitors is all based on perspective. To a really tall person, he could be considered a midget and the opposite could be true for a short person. This character speaks to the point of how every person sees the world differently than the person next to them.
To relate to the seventh grader, the man portrays four different people of obvious physical differences. The older reader knows, however, that people who are physically identical also have contrasting views of the world.
The Cities of Reality and Illusions- There are two cities that catch Milo’s eye in his travels. One is the city of Reality. In this city, the people move very quickl
y with their heads bent towards their toes at all times. They can’t appreciate the city around them because they are too focused on getting to their next destination.
The second city is called the city of Illusions. This is a beautiful place that is only a figment of the character’s imaginations. When Milo asks why this city mirrors the city of Reality, his guide says “Sometimes it’s much simpler than seeing things that are.”
These twin cities speak to one’s desire to live in a world of imagination and dreams instead of living in one filled with hard decisions. At one point or another, everyone has this desire.
Princesses of Rhyme and Reason– Milo’s entire trip in this book ends when he brings the Princesses of Rhyme and Reason back to the Kingdom of Wisdom. After being separated from their home for many years, they can finally bring understanding and peace to their people.
The book closes with this line from the princesses: “Whenever you learn something new, the whole world becomes that much richer.” This is true for even the wisest of readers and sums up why I chose to revisit “The Phantom Tollbooth:” I never want to stop learning.