The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster; Rainn Wilson, narrator (Listening Library 978-1-98488701-6, $25.00, 4 CDs, 4.75 hr., unabridged [also available as a digital download]) March 2019.
There’s plenty of humor and wisdom for the adult listener to discover in this new recording of the classic Phantom Tollbooth, one of the most beloved books from my childhood. Young Milo finds most things that adults want to teach him dull, silly, or confusing. He gets a major shift in perspective when someone mysteriously gifts him with what he thinks is only the model of a tollbooth. Milo assembles the tollbooth, gets into his toy car, and drives through into a wordplay-studded adventure in Dictionopolis, Digitopolis, and the other lands that make up the kingdom of Wisdom, on a quest to restore order by rescuing the Princesses Rhyme and Reason.
People who know Rainn Wilson from his iconic stint as Dwight Schrute on The Office, or perhaps more recently as interplanetary grifter Harry Mudd on Star Trek: Discovery, might not immediately seize on him as a potential narrator for a children’s book, but his gravelly and yet somehow caressing tone is committed utterly to the charming prose. You can’t help but sense that he’s reading with love. I miss the gloriously wacky Jules Feiffer illustrations and the puns that involve spelling (the Awful DYNNE and Dreadful RAUW, for example), but listening to the book only showcases just how great a storyteller Juster is, even if, as per the introduction that he voices himself, he considers himself an architect first.
I am not sure that this should be the only way of experiencing this iconic work, but it’s certainly a worthy one.
This review and more like it in the April 2019 issue of Locus.
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