Top Ten Quotes: The Phantom Tollbooth

“There was once a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself, not just sometimes, but always.” This very feeling of boredom and not knowing what to do with myself happens to me every once in a while. Especially lately for some reason, I’ve felt like I wander around most of the day, wondering what I might enjoy doing. I sit down to read, and I no longer feel like reading. But, finally, I said to myself, I need to get to reading again. So many times, I picked up the Phantom Tollbooth without feeling any desire to do so. But then, was when this sort of enchantment happened. I’d begin to read the book and that lethargy went dwindling away. I’d become entranced by Juster’s wordplay. I’d follow Milo, Tock, and the Humbug on their hilarious yet somehow inspiring adventures. I kept thinking “I wonder where Milo’s little car will take them next…” And I learned that you only have to look at things from another point of view in order to see the excitement that the once-thought-“ordinary” could bring. So, thanks 52ivorykeys, for the suggestion. This book has a never-ending supply of lessons and morals hidden beneath cleverly placed words. Here are my ten favorite quotes from a novel I wish I would have read years ago…

“Expect everything, I always say, and the unexpected never happens.”

This is the quote from the Phantom Tollbooth that I started quoting ever since I read it. After reading that sentence, I looked up from the page, amazed at its simplicity and sincerity. It made so much sense yet seemed so simple. Be prepared, is what I got out of it. Mentally prepare yourself for anything. It’s funny because right now I’m sitting in the Quito airport after our flight was delayed by four hours due to bad weather. And yet, before we got to the airport my mind thought that there was no other option, no other possibility than that we were going to leave on time. Maybe fifteen minutes late, but it didn’t ever cross my mind that I wouldn’t get home until seven hours later than we had planned. I was quite disillusioned. So, I guess I still need to put what the Whether Man said into action.

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

I laughed for a solid minute when I read this line. The physical representation of this phrase was so smartly inserted into this story that I couldn’t help but fall in love with that line. A vehicle that moves with the power of silence. A car that goes without saying.

“Milo, full of thoughts and questions, curled up on the pages of tomorrow’s music and eagerly awaited the dawn.”

Doesn’t that line sound beautiful? I love the words, how they are woven together, how they fall softly, like flower petals in a summer breeze. They inspire and they calm. Often, I have pulled my comforter up to my chin, a smile spreading across my face as I close my eyes. Because I know that tomorrow something wonderful is going to happen. I fall asleep on the pages of tomorrow’s music, awaiting the marvelous unknown.

“I suppose there’s a lot to see everywhere, if only you keep your eyes open.”

My grandmother said to me once, as we were talking on the phone, something so similar to this quote. “If you keep your eyes open and you’re heart open, you can see so much. You won’t want to miss anything; you don’t want to forget anything. You just need to gobble it all up.” When I read the sentence, I wondered if she had read the Phantom Tollbooth a long time ago. I wondered if she had read it, and maybe she didn’t remember, but that quote stuck with her, somewhere deep within the workings of her mind. Or maybe she had heard it from someone who had read the book. Or maybe those who are amazed by the world have a way with expressing this feeling, maybe she and Norton Juster share a similar point of view.

“He paused again as a tear of longing rolled from cheek to lip with the sweet- salty taste of an old memory.”

Memories do have a taste, don’t they? When the tears roll down your cheeks and they find their way on to your tongue, those moments show themselves in your memory with a bittersweet display. It’s sweet and wonderful, but salty. It pulls at you, asking why those memories have become just that, memories.

“Every time you decide something without having a good reason, you jump to Conclusions.”

Another clever pun. Milo, Tock, and the Humbug get stuck in the wrong spot, because they quite literally jumped to Conclusions, without getting the facts. I know that so many times I assume things, time and time again, without knowing the truth. And that can hurt people, you and the people you make assumptions about. Jumping to conclusions can keep you from knowing the truth, and from enjoying it. This reminder most definitely helped me out. I just have to keep remembering that assuming things can get you stuck in the wrong place.

“There’s always something to do to keep you from what you really should be doing.”

The Terrible Trivium did at least teach us a valuable lesson, despite how creepy he is. It’s so easy to procrastinate, to make excuses, to postpone. But all those unimportant things can so easily cloud our judgement and make us thing that we simply don’t have the time to do what we really need to be doing. Whether it’s scrolling through Pinterest when we should be writing our blog or sleeping when we really should be up and eating breakfast, or reading when we should be washing clothes, there’s always something we are hesitating to do. But Nike does know what they’re talking about, if we all “Just do it!” we’d be a whole lot more efficient. And feel a lot more accomplished.

“What you can do is often simply a matter of what you will do.”

Fear is one of the most powerful things in the universe. It can hold us back from so much. If we are willing to at least try what makes us scared, we normally see that what we feared, is not as scary as we thought. That the impossible really can be possible. We only have to be willing to go for it. Like Mark Twain said, “the majority of my problems were all imaginary.” Much of what holds us back is all in our heads. Sometimes, we just have to act despite the fear we have, and then we will see how much we can do.

“He wanted very much to go back, yet somehow he could not bear the thought of leaving.”

I hadn’t identified with Milo so much as when I read this line. I thought “Yes! Finally, someone said it. I know exactly how you feel!” When I go on a trip or I make new friends, I’m left thinking how much I miss the old things. How much I miss home. But at the same time, I love these new people, I love this new place. And I can never seem to decide what is the prevailing emotion. I’m just left in between, wondering where it is that I really belong, or if maybe, I could belong to both.

“And in the very room in which he sat, 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.”

The moral of this novel in one sentence. We might feel like we have never been more bored. Like there is nothing to do. Like nothing is satisfying. But we only have to look to see. To know that the adventures that await us are never-ending if only we are open to them. If only we look for them. Excitement is everywhere, in the bookshelf, outside the window, behind the door, across the pond, and even through the looking glass. We just have to learn to look at things differently.

P.S. If you can, read the edition with the essays at the end of the book. Maybe it’s just me, but I love reading the experiences of other readers and authors. I loved seeing how this book made its way into many well-known people’s hands, what they loved about it, and how it molded their lives.

Let me know…

  • What’s your favorite Phantom Tollbooth quote?
  • How were you introduced to the novel?

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