We are amazed at how often we return to The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster’s classic kid’s book that is celebrating 50 years of stunning popularity. It’s the story of Milo, a bored ten-year-old who comes home to find a large toy tollbooth sitting in his room. In his rarely-used kid’s-size car, he embarks on a surprising journey through a mysterious landscape, beyond Expectations through Mountains of Ignorance, The Forest of Sight, Illusions, Reality and Dictionopolis to the Sea of Knowledge. Rich with strange, true wisdom, it’s way more than a kid’s book. Our ancient copy is dappled with post-its marking many bits of brilliance that curiously resonates with ‘the improvised life’, like this from the gateman of Dictionopolis addressing Milo as he tries to enter the city:
“You can’t get in without a reason.” He thought for a moment and then continued. “Wait a minute; maybe I have an old one you can use.”
He took a battered suitcase from the gatehouse and began to rummage busily through it, mumbling to himself, “No…no…no…this won’t do…no…h-m-m-m…ah, this is fine,” he cried triumphantly, holding up a small medallion on a chain. He dusted it off, and engraved on one side were the words “WHY NOT?”
“That’s a good reason for almost anything — a bit used perhaps, but still quit serviceable.” and with that he placed it around Milo’s neck, pushed back the heavy iron gate, bowed low, and motioned them into the city.
“How can you see something that isn’t there?” yawned the Humbug, who wasn’t fully awake yet.
“Sometimes it’s much simpler than seeing things that are,” [Alec] said. “For instance, if something is there, you can only see it with you eyes open, but if it isn’t there, you can see it just as well with your eyes closed. That’s why imaginary things are often easier to see than real ones.”
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