If ever there were a twentieth-century children’s book that deserved an annotated edition, it’s Juster and Feiffer’s masterpiece, first published fifty years ago. Filled with wordplay, math puzzles, social satire, and irony, it’s a book that many young readers have returned to at different life stages, each time finding something new. In his introduction, Horn Book columnist Marcus provides biographical sketches of the author and illustrator, whose lives first intersected when they shared a duplex in Brooklyn and began to collaborate on a creative effort that would become The Phantom Tollbooth. Marcus frequently refers back to their creative process in meticulous margin notes that accompany the text. He also uses them to define and explain selected words and expressions (dillydally, toe the line); make connections between the text and the author’s life (Juster’s own toy car at age six, for instance, was a more modest version of Milo’s electric car); and point out references to literary works such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. Also included in the marginalia are photographs and illustrations by artists who inspired Feiffer; for example, conductor Arturo Toscanini served as the model for Chroma, and a crowd scene that appears at the end of chapter eight shows the influence of Edward Ardizzone. Marcus’s insightful and often wry observations take us far beyond what we’d get from a careful and informed reading, as he had access to the book’s early drafts through Lilly Library at Indiana University, and he frequently includes original passages in the marginalia so that we can see how the story evolved. In-depth interviews with the author and illustrator further inform and elucidate the text. (Juster answers a burning question that’s puzzled readers for years: there is no secret code to be broken in the Mathemagician’s letter to Azaz.) Feiffer also gave Marcus access to many character sketches that are published here for the first time. With all the care and attention to detail that obviously went into this work, it’s unfortunate that the source materials aren’t cited with more specificity. Citations such as “N.J. Notes I, p. 35” aren’t linked with accompanying back matter; thus the note is as cryptic as the one written by the Mathemagician himself. But even with this shortcoming, the annotated edition is a welcome and important contribution to the field of children’s literature.
From the November/December 2011 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.