Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Wordy Wednesday: "The Phantom Tollbooth"

Over the weekend, we ate some words in celebration of an almost-birthday.
If this were Wordless Wednesday, I would only post this photo. But it's Wordy Wednesday. So...

Punning is one of the big amusements for a reader of Norton Juster's book The Phantom Tollbooth. The book employs a decently high level of puns (though I admit that I like puns even when they really make people groan). Some of the puns seem intended to be teaching opportunities or seem to promote little quasi-moral lessons (though I admit that I prefer literature pure and message-less).

Milo, the boy who never knew what to do with himself, enters a strange and unexpected land when he drives through a mysterious tollbooth one day, as you probably know. He drives in his little car with his friend Tock, a dog made partly out of a clock, and Humbug, a dressed up bug -- well, a humbug. They are visiting King Azaz, who says, "Now, why don't you and Tock come up here and sit next to me, and we'll have some dinner?"

Milo's mother had always told him to eat lightly when he was a guest, so he asks, "Why don't we have a light meal?" The result:
"The waiters rushed in carrying large serving platters and set them on the table in front of the king. When he lifted the covers, shafts of brilliant-colored light leaped from the plates and bounced around the ceiling, the walls, across the floor, and out the windows."
The Humbug suggests something "a little more filling," and Milo asks for "a square meal." Immediately the waiters bring "plates heaped high with steaming squares of all sizes and colors." These turn out not to taste very good, and almost choked the Humbug. They are told that it's time for speeches, and each one speaks very briefly -- listing real food like "Frankfurters, sour pickles, strawberry jam," or -- from the king -- "Pâté de foie gras, soupe à l'oignon, faisan sous cloche, salade endive, fromages et fruits et demi-tasse." The waiters return with "heavy, hot trays, which they set on the table. Each one contained the exact words spoken by the various guests, and they all began eating immediately with great gusto."
"I didn't know I was going to have to eat my words," objected Milo. 
"Of course, of course, everyone here does, the king grunted. "You should have made a tastier speech." 
Too late! Milo hadn't really said anything -- but they offer him some somersault, a rigamarole, a ragamuffin, a synonym bun and "just desserts." And eventually some pastry from the half-bakery, from which half-baked ideas are wheeled out on carts. Such as a cake with icing and nuts through which one could read "THE EARTH IS FLAT." Turns out they swallowed that idea for years... and so on.

King Azaz, illustration by
Jules Feiffer

Quite a meal! It takes place in the chapter titled "The Royal Banquet," between pages 86 and 91 of The Phantom Tollbooth.


Debra Eliotseats said...

Oh, I remember this! I also remember an animated special (70s). What a cute pic!

Kitchen Riffs said...

New book to me! Sounds like fun. Great way to eat your words. :-)

The Candid Cover: YA Book Blogger said...

It has been a long time since I have read this book, but it is up there with one of my favourites. I hope that your almost birthday celebration was enjoyable. Such a fun idea! :)

Beth F said...

One of my younger brother's favorite books when he was a kid. Cute cake.

Katherine P said...

Such a cute picture! I somehow missed this growing up and have been wanting to read it to my 7 year old as I know so many people who have such fond memories of the book. I love your descriptions of the food and the book itself. I think it will be a fun bedtime book read!

Claudia said...

Sweet pic, and hope she had a very merry unbirthday! The book sounds good too.

Heather said...

Great looking cake. I recall ordering one week cakes for both my children.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I never read this, but I think you have convinced me; I love puns!