Photos by G.
From a young age, I’ve been an avid reader. One of the books that influenced my childhood (and has carried over into my adult life) is “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster and illustrated by Jules Feiffer. To celebrate the book’s 50th anniversary, Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer attended the New Yorker Festival to screen the film “The Phantom Tollbooth: Beyond Expectations” and participated in a Q&A session after the movie. October 6, 2013 started off with Norton and Jules signing books at McNally Jackson Books in SoHo. At the signing I had the chance to tell them how much this book meant to me (more on that in a few), and several hours later, I went to see a movie about their lives, which is filled with stories of how this classic book came about. What an experience! By the end of the film, you will be so in love with Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer, you will wish you were related to them so you could basque in their presence on a regular basis.
“The Phantom Tollbooth” is an “Alice In Wonderland” type story that follows the adventures of Milo, a bored, know-it-all kid who doesn’t really see the value of learning. After he is transported (via tollbooth) into another space and time, his mission is to return the princesses (Rhyme and Reason) to the Kingdom of Wisdom. The book is filled with word plays, puns and the message that learning can be fun and that you should want to learn for the sake of acquiring the knowledge instead of feeling forced to learn. If you read this book during your formative years, you’ve loved it dearly for your whole life and if you are just discovering the book, you’ll wish your teachers would have clued you in sooner! “Beyond Expectations” goes into the fact that Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer lived in the same building, which is how their collaboration came to be, and you learn about their pre and post-Tollbooth lives (Juster was an architect and Feiffer drew political cartoons). The banter between the pair will remind you of the uncles you wish you had and your appreciation of this book will grow exponentially by the end of the film.
Earlier in the day, Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer signed copies of “The Phantom Tollbooth” at McNally Jackson Books in SoHo, and it was such a thrill to meet the men behind a book that shaped my life. As I was taking a picture with Norton, he told me he was in the market for a camera and liked mine, so we talked about cameras for a bit. By the end of the conversation, he sincerely thanked me for my advice in this matter and shook my hand! I told him that for the advice he gave me in the “Phantom Tollbooth,” it was my absolute pleasure to ‘pay him back’ so to speak. WOW!
Jules revealed that the Whether Man is his caricature of Norton and that the character Milo was named after the actor Milo O’ Shea (who played Durand Durand in ‘Barbarella,’ one of my favorite movies! It all makes sense now!) A brief video will be coming soon from the Q&A session where someone asked, “who gets the tollbooth next?” Stay tuned to hear the answer. Thanks a million to Norton Juster for Jules Feiffer both for being so gracious in person and as well as writing a book that has made such a lasting impact on my life!