I tried…I really tried…
🙂 🙂 🙂
Milo is an irritating kind of child – finds school boring, can’t quite see the point of learning maths, doesn’t pay attention to the things around him and is eternally bored. Irritating but normal, I’d say. Then one day he discovers a mysterious package in his bedroom which turns out to be a magical tollbooth that transports him to another world. And soon he is on a quest to return Rhyme and Reason to this strange land…
Oh, dear! I tried so hard to like this. A lot of it is quite imaginative – the conductor who plays the colours of the day, the numbers’ mine, some of the wordplay. But most of the ‘quirky’ characters are thinly-disguised teachers, banging home their unsubtle message that we must all learn how to read and count, and pay attention at school etc etc. At first, I assumed my negative reaction was because I was just too old for it (and I’m sure that is a large part of the reason). But then I remembered my childhood reaction to the dreaded The Water Babies, with its hideous pair of monstrous horrors, Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby and Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid – a book I thoroughly hated and despised when I was young for its preachy and patronising tone (while I’m pretty sure I missed most of the satirical elements of it). Although The Phantom Tollbooth is undoubtedly more fun, I realised it follows the same pattern of unsubtle moralising and lesson-teaching all the way through.
“That’s why you’re here. You weren’t thinking, and you weren’t paying attention either. People who don’t pay attention often get stuck in the Doldrums.”
“You must never feel badly about making mistakes,” explained Reason quietly, “as long as you take the trouble to learn from them.”
“For always remember that while it is wrong to use too few [words], it is often far worse to use too many.”
Then there are the bits that I’m sure grated with me far more as an adult than they would as a child. But I do feel if an author sets out to preach about how important education is, then he has some responsibility for getting his facts right, even when he’s aiming for humour – else how is a child to learn properly? (The same criticism applies to the grammatical errors in the book…)
“We offer you the hospitality of our kingdom.”
“Do all those words mean the same thing?” gasped Milo.
“Yes,” they replied in order.
Clever, isn’t it? Of course, it’s also completely
and did I mention wrong?
However, I recognise from all the comments made at the time of the poll that many people adore this book, as children and as adults, so I’ll stop criticising it now. This is one of those cases where I’m happy to admit that my reaction might be a bit unfair – I can see much to admire and enjoy in the book, but in the end it just didn’t quite work for me. There’s no doubt that some of the jokes are quite clever and it did make me laugh a few times. So I’ll end the review on a more appreciative note with one of those bits…
“Why, did you know that if a beaver two feet long with a tail a foot and a half long can build a dam twelve feet high and six feet wide in two days, all you would need to build the Kariba Dam is a beaver sixty-eight feet long with a fifty-one foot tail?”
“Where would you find a beaver as big as that?” grumbled the Humbug…
“I’m sure I don’t know,” he replied, “but if you did, you’d certainly know what to do with him.”
Thanks to all of you who voted to add this book to my TBR – I’m sorry to be so unenthusiastic about it. Better luck next time!