The last half of Phantom Tollbooth was extremely different than the first from a reader’s perspective. Its main focus was on sensory pleasures, specifically sight and hearing. Initially, Juster draws in an interesting complex when the characters are in the land of Reality. With no buildings or roads visible, Alec explains that they don’t exist as the residents, “can never see what they’re in too much of a hurry to look for.” (118) This is an everyday occurrence for many people today as the sense of urgency in completing tasks often distracts people from the true purpose of their mission or their life. I also began to question the notion of reality’s true existence. Is our rush necessary? Is it logical to ignore the logistical components of our lives in order to accomplish various goals?
These questions have a broader meaning that is also directly relevant to our class. Juster discusses the issue of point of view (seeing the world versus one’s beliefs) and I saw this as also polarizing an adult’s point of view from a child’s. Is reality only filled with adults while children fill some sort of self-created existence? This concept is brought up by Alec when he says, “there’s a lot to see everywhere, if you only keep your eyes open.” (131) Sight, in this context, is used to explore the true meaning of existence while also contrasting growing up and restricting one’s own point of view through ‘getting caught up in one’s own reality’.
This concept is mirrored with the discussion of sound as well. When Milo arrived in the Valley of Sound, he is learning about their current situation and reads, “everyone was so busy with the things that had to be done that they scarcely had time to listen at all.” (148) In this discussion, it seems bizarre to think that humans, children especially, do not appreciate sounds. Getting to the end of the book, I then realized that one of the aims of this novel is to get children to indulge and enjoy sensory pleasures, no matter how everyday or ordinary they may be. One of my favorite passages relating to this was when Milo conducts Chroma’s orchestra. Here, Juster juxtaposes coloring your own world with rushing through your own reality.
For children’s literature it seems clear that sensory details (colors, pictures, different fonts) are ingrained within the plot but it is extremely rare for an author to acknowledge a lack of appreciation for such obvious phenomena. In the age of technology dependence, it will be interesting to see whether children will take Juster’s advice and indulge in their surroundings both in a visual and an auditory sense.