Artboard Created with Sketch. Close Search Dialog
! Error Created with Sketch.

The Phantom Tollbooth

Chapters 1–2

Summary Chapters 1–2

Analysis

In Chapters 1 and 2, Juster sets out the major theme of the book in two forms, one general and the other more specific. Milo's character represents all bored children; note that Juster gives us no specifics about Milo's classes, friends, or parents. Milo is generic, and thus can be seen as representing a whole category of character, or an archetype. In this case, the traits Milo symbolizes are boredom and laziness.

Juster sets up the premise so that there is a drastic contrast to Milo's moping around the house-something has to happen to shake up Milo's world. That something is the anonymous package. The gift-giver does not have a name, which makes him or her as nonspecific as Milo. Here Juster sets out the theme of the book on the first, broader level: The Phantom Tollbooth is largely about discovering and appreciating what is interesting in everyday life. Milo finds something—in the most common place, his bedroom&mdashthat at first seems nondescript but then, once opened, reveals a gateway to a magical land.

It is also important to notice that Milo's feelings of boredom disappear as soon as he leaves his old world behind. Instead of being frightened by the sudden transportation from his bedroom to a country highway in an unknown land, Milo is so busy noticing what a beautiful day it is that he forgets to be scared. His brief stop in Expectations highlights the excitement he feels and Milo becomes eager to see more. To linger in Expectations, Milo realizes, is pointless since all one can do is wonder (asking "whether" questions) about where he can go next and what he can do.

When the distance between Expectations, where he comes up with ideas about the land he is about to tour, and the city of Dictionopolis proves to be very long and winding, Milo loses interest and begins to daydream. Here we see Juster's more specific theme: Milo allows his mind to wander, and so he physically wanders into the Doldrums, the land of ultimate boredom and laziness. The physical and the mental become one. Not only do Milo's physical surroundings jump-start his mental process, but here his mental processes change his physical surroundings. Juster suggests that a person can affect one with the other, exciting a boring place by thinking exciting thoughts or getting excited by finding an exciting place. The introduction of the watchdog—who eventually becomes Milo's closest friend in the Lands Beyond—and his suggestion that Milo can escape the Doldrums simply by putting his mind to work, underscores Juster's larger theme of finding interesting things everywhere, including seemingly boring places. All Milo has to do is use his imagination to get him back on track and speeding towards a more exciting and interesting place.