The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

★★★★★ (5/5)

There was once a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself—not just sometimes, but always. When he was in school he longed to be out, and when he was out he longed to be in. On the way he thought about coming home, and coming home he thought about going. Wherever he was he wished he were somewhere else, and when he got there he wondered why he’d bothered.

Sometimes a children’s classic is all you need to sit back and re-evaluate your adult life. It gives one a much needed break from everyday chaos, driving the Reader towards quiet contemplation of the inner self in context of the external world. The Phantom Tollbooth was an absolute delight to read for the very first time, that too as an adult. I doubt I would’ve been able to appreciate its weighty content as a child.

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

The Road and the Journey

  • There are no wrong roads to anywhere.
  • Whether or not you find your own way, you’re bound to find some way. If you happen to find my way, please return it, as it was lost years ago. I imagine by now it’s quite rusty.
  • The road, finally making up its mind, plummeted down, as if anxious to renew acquaintance with the sparkling blue stream that flowed below.
  • The most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what’s in between

On Expectations

  • 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
  • Expect everything, I always say, and the unexpected never happens.
  • Every time you decide something without having a good reason, you jump to Conclusions whether you like it or not.

On Thinking and Perception

  • “The Doldrums, my young friend, are where nothing ever happens and nothing ever changes.”
  • Each one looked very much like the other (except for the color, of course) and some looked even more like each other than they did like themselves.
  • “Well,” continued the watchdog impatiently, “since you got here by not thinking, it seems reasonable to expect that, in order to get out, you must start thinking.”
  • “Come now, if you don’t have a reason, you must at least have an explanation or certainly an excuse,” interrupted the gateman.
  • “What a silly system.” The boy laughed. “Then your head keeps changing its height and you always see things in a different way? Why, when you’re fifteen things won’t look at all the way they did when you were ten, and at twenty everything will change again.”

On Reality

  • It’s just as bad to live in a place where what you do see isn’t there as it is to live in one where what you don’t see is.
  • The more you want, the less you get, and the less you get, the more you have.
  • Everybody is so terribly sensitive about the things they know best.
  • For there’s always something to do to keep you from what you really should be doing
  • Many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.

On Learning

  • You often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.
  • 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.
  • From off on the right, his heavy bulbous body lurching dangerously on the spindly legs which barely supported him, came the Overbearing Know-it-all, talking continuously. A dismal demon who was mostly mouth, he was ready at a moment’s notice to offer misinformation on any subject. And, while he often tumbled heavily, it was never he who was hurt, but, rather, the unfortunate person on whom he fell.

Beautifully Constructed Sentences

  • A soft glow filled the air with the kind of light that made everything look sharp and clear and close enough to reach out and touch.
  • As if understanding his signal perfectly, a single piccolo played a single note and off in the east a solitary shaft of cool lemon light flicked across the sky.


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