Knopf is going to publish a fiftieth anniversary edition of the classic chapter book The Phantom Tollbooth in October. Sometimes I read aloud to Carol before we go to bed, and we just finished with The Phantom Tollbooth. Carol thought it was a little slow, and she kept falling asleep in the middle of chapters. And I realized that it’s really not a good book to read aloud — it’s a book that’s meant to be read to yourself, so you can stop and appreciate all the word play, and think about the story. I also realized that it’s one of those books that if you read it for the first time as an adult, you’ll never like it as much as if you read it for the first time as a child or teenager — I first read The Phantom Tollbooth when I was ten, when I stumbled across a copy in the Ripley School library.
But whatever you adults think of this book, I maintain that it’s one book that religious liberals simply must give to the children in their lives. The Phantom Tollbooth inculcates some of the highest liberal religious values — there are no discussions of God or religion, but the whole point of the book is that in order to be truly wise, in order to live a truly good life, you need wisdom that goes beyond math and science, you need poetry and delight in language, and you need a sense of wonder at the world. The book also points out that when it is your turn to take on the Demons if Ignorance, you just have to do it, even if it is an impossible task. I won’t go so far as to say that anything else we manage to teach our liberal religious kids is icing on the cake, but I will say that if I can inculcate these values in a liberal religious kid, I will feel as though whatever religious education I’ve done has been pretty successful.
And if you want to read what Michael Chabon says about The Phantom Tollbooth, you can read his essay about it in The New York Review of Books. (Thanks for the link, Carol!)