Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Phantom Tollbooth

"A slavish concern for the composition of words is the sign of a bankrupt intellect. Be gone, odious wasp! You smell of decayed syllables. "
I have to admit that I love children's literature. There is just something so comforting and unexpecting about it. Perhaps it's the defined line of good verses evil, were good always triumphs. Or all the little lesson's taught throughout the grand adventures. Sometimes I feel like mature writers try so hard to create something for adults, something that is so far from children's literature, that more and more stories of depression, affairs, and complex and dysfunctional relationship between good and evil are crowding the bookshelves.
"And remember, also, that many places you would like to see are just off the map and many things you want to know are just out of sight or a little beyond your reach. But someday you'll reach them all, for what you learn today, for no reason at all, will help you discover all the wonderful secrets of tomorrow. "
I appreciate all types of books and authors, but sometimes it's just so great to indulge in the simplicity of a children's novel. This week I read The Phantom Tollbooth, written in the sixties by Norton Juster. This is the story of the awakening of a lazy mind. Milo, a young boy, who is bored with everything around him, who has no interest in learning, for he believe that there is nothing worth knowing, comes home one day to discover a phantom tollbooth. And so ensues the beginning of Milo's journey to The Lands Beyond. This is a fantastic world of imagination and mythic proportions, where Milo travels through Dictionopolis, the place of words, the Valley of Sound, Digitopolis, the land of numbers, and the Mountains of Ignorance. Along the way he encounters countless odd characters who are anything but dull. Through his encounters with characters in the Lands Beyond, Milo learns about imagination, using his time wisely, perspective, words, sounds, numbers and a host of other things. His ultimate goal is to find wisdom—both figuratively, through his education, and literally, by locating the missing princesses Rhyme and Reason. When he finally returns to the real world, Milo is forever changed. He realizes that he does not need the tollbooth to travel to exotic and magical places; he only needs to look around him. The once perpetually bored Milo is suddenly inspired and enthralled by practically everything. "...There was much much to see, and hear, and touch- walks to take, hills to climb, caterpillars to watch as they strolled through the garden. There were voices to hear and conversations to listen to in wonder, and the special smell of each day. There were books that could take you anywhere, and things to invent, and make, and build, and break, and all the puzzle and excitement of everything he didn't know- music to play, songs to sing, and words to imagine and then someday make real. His thoughts darted eagerly about as everything looked new- and worth trying."
"But it's not just learning things that's important. It's learning what to do with what you learn and learning why you learn things at all that matters."
"You must never feel badly about making mistakes, as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons. "
The Phantom Tollbooth is charmingly inventive, created almost entirely of puns, and the consequences of taking English language idioms literal. Juster frequently plays upon the dual meanings of words and expressions to create humorous situations. When Milo orders a "light meal" at Azaz's banquet, he is literally served light. When Milo catches a word on the tip of his tongue in the Soundkeeper's fortress, a word physically appears in his mouth. And When the Humbug jumps to the conclusion that nothing more can go wrong with the group's journey, he leaps out of the car and lands on the island of Conclusions. Juster uses puns both to amuse and educate, as these unusual situations often result in Milo learning an important lesson.
"... for one of the nicest things about mathematics, or anything else you might care to learn, is that many of the things which can never be, often are. You see it's very much like your trying to reach Infinity. You know that it's there, but you just don't know where-but just because you can never reach it doesn't mean that it's not worth looking for. "
During the week I spent reading this book, I found myself graving ice cream more often than usual, particularly mint chocolate chip, an old childhood favourite. I didn't think much of it, I though maybe it was in part due to the thawing ground, and the fresh air of spring, but now that I look a little more closely, I think it may be connected with the type of book I was reading. I think that the feelings and memories of childhood that The Phantom Tollbooth were stirring up, was also causing me to desire other things from my childhood. I personally think that it is great, and rather important to indulge in childhood treats, books, and activities. Those things keep us young and free spirited. I hope that in twenty years I still find myself on the swing set, with the air rushing past me as I get higher and higher.
 "Time is a gift, given to you, given to give you the time you need, the time you need to have the time of your life. "
"Expectations is the place you must always go to before you get to where you're going. Of course, some people never go beyond Expectations, but my job is to hurry them along whether they like it or not. "
Although I love reading a thick book, with a grand title, and a controversial plot, if only for the reason of feeling somewhat validated as a true adult and intellectual person, I often get just as much enjoyment from children's literature. I would suggest to everyone to read more kids novels. They are easy to read and understand, they are often filled with lovable characters, and true adventures. I have read books such as Harry Potter, Holes, and The Hobbit countless times, and will continue to go back to them over the years, for they truly bring joy to my heart.
" many things are possible just as long as you don't know their impossible."

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