I now only own two physical objects bearing the name I changed because I loathed it. I kept the two because they illuminated the Sign-for-Me in ways that were tremendously useful and important. The other one is my Harvard AM diploma.
A bored little boy goes on an adventure through the living people and places of knowledge itself, and he stops being bored.
Well gosh. Who'd want to read that? (For what it's worth, I also really liked the book about the guy who slept with a cannibal and then went looking for a whale.)
And now that I think of it, they have some stuff in common–or maybe all they have in common is me. Both took me to very special places; both fed my innermost desire for an accelerative infosuck.
It's just What One Does to mock Moby Dick; and everybody loves Phantom Tollbooth . . . but canons are canons; fame is fame–and altars are altars.
That portrait of Melville on the cover of the Penguin edition hangs in the Houghton Library at Harvard. I've stood before it and silently . . . what? Communed? No; I've been saying thank you. A whole lot.
Several years ago, I was visiting the Museum of Children's Art. (I think. I'm not going to Google. Indulge yourself.) Anyway, they had Norton Juster speaking.
Afterwards, as almost everybody had filed out, I gathered every nerve I had, and I went up to him, and trying more or less successfully not to cry, I said:
"Mr. Juster, Phantom Tollbooth is probably the most important book I ever read. It taught me to look at learning things, and knowing things, and it encouraged me that it was fun. I'm getting my PhD in English at Harvard right now, and it's partly because of your book."
Sappy. Yeah. But I meant it, every word, and he knew it. He said something gracious–and his eyes got just a little bit teary. I knew that he had heard me say thank you.
I just got up and went to look for the copy he signed for me–and at first I couldn't find it. The book on Tarot I hunted for two days ago–sure. (Thanks, gremlins.) The copy of The Dot and the Line similarly signed for my son (and unmailed for five years or so now)–yep.
When I found it, I realized why it had been so difficult. For one thing, my Scholastic paperback copy had had the cover blue on its spine.
And for the other, I was looking for a book about twice as thick as it actually is.
When I was very little, I thought the twelve-year-old upstairs was an adult. It's like that when you're small: Everything is bigger.
I've stopped hugging the knees of giants–but Phantom Tollbooth will always be really, really thick. My bookshelf groans beneath it; it and Narnia and Oz and Lord of the Rings. But only Phantom Tollbooth is signed to *me*–
and it's the only one for which I got to say, "Thank you."