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    Delighting in Norton Juster

    January 16, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    We are currently reading Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth as our family read aloud. This is a unique book because Juster is so very clever with his use of language. While A. is enjoying the story for its own sake {and nothing more}, our son E. is awake enough to nuances in the English language to catch a number of the plays-on-words that Juster utilizes.

    And of course Si and I catch them all and delight in the fact that a children’s book can be so much fun for adults.

    Wasn’t it C.S. Lewis who said that this was the mark of a great children’s book, that it could be read and enjoyed by adults as well?

    We have just finished the part where the hero Milo learns the history of the land in which he has found himself. He now knows that two brothers, Azaz the Unabridged, king of Dictionopolis, and the Mathemagician, ruler of Digitopolis, had been so engrossed in their own sibling rivalry that when their adopted sisters, the princesses Rhyme and Reason {who rule the city of Wisdom}, declared words and numbers to be of equal value, the brothers agreed on one thing, and that was to banish their sisters:

    “And so they were taken from the palace and sent far away to the Castle in the Air, and they have not been seen since. That is why today, in all this land, there is neither Rhyme nor Reason.”

    “And what happened to the other two rulers?” asked Milo.

    “Banishing the two princesses was the last thing they ever agreed upon, and they soon fell to warring with each other. Despite this, their own kindgoms have continued to prosper, but the old city of Wisdom has fallen into great disrepair, and there is no one to set things right.”

    We have already entertained agreeable meetings with Juster’s colorful characters, including a Watch Dog named Tock, the Spelling Bee, the Wicked Which, Officer Shrift {who is so short he is only two feet tall}, the Lethargians {who live in the Doldrums}, and so on.

    My favorite laugh-out-loud incident so far is when King Azaz’s cabinet members arrive to escort Milo to The Royal Banquet. Milo doesn’t understand how they are going to get there:

    “But what about my car?” he asked.

    “Don’t need it,” replied the duke.

    “No use for it,” said the minister.

    “Superfluous,” advised the count.

    “Unnecessary,” stated the earl.

    “Uncalled for,” cried the undersecretary. “We’ll take our vehicle.”








    “Shandrydan,” they repeated quickly in order, and pointed to a small wooden wagon.

    “Oh dear, all those words again,” thought Milo as he climbed into the wagon with Tock and the cabinet members. “How are you going to make it move? It doesn’t have a–“

    “Be very quiet,” advised the duke, “for it goes without saying.”

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