The Phantom Tollbooth turns 50

By Ingrid Fetell Lee

And yet the fifty-year birthday of a good children’s book marks a real passage, since it means that the book hasn’t been passed just from parent to child but from parent to child and on to child again. A book that has crossed that three-generation barrier has a good chance at permanence. So to note the fiftieth birthday of the closest thing that American literature has to an “Alice in Wonderland” of its own, Norton Juster’s “The Phantom Tollbooth”—with illustrations, by Jules Feiffer, that are as perfectly matched to Juster’s text as Tenniel’s were to Carroll’s—is to mark an anniversary that matters.

The Phantom Tollbooth turned 50 a couple of months ago. I have a deep affection for this book. I will never fail to be moved by the image of the conductor who orchestrates the sunset, colors coming in at the flourish of a baton – it was my first understanding of synesthesia, and continues to be my reference point. It was the moment that art transcended medium for me – that I understood that to write was to compose was to paint – all equivalent creative processes, despite the differences in syntax.

The excerpt at the beginning of this post is from an excellent Adam Gopnik piece in the New Yorker about the impact of the book. There’s also a sweet documentary project that was just funded on Kickstarter. Read the book if you haven’t, or reread it if you have. It’s a treasure.

December 11th, 2011


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