18 October, 2021

The Fictional Places We’d Love to Call Home

The Phantom Tollbooth
Norton Juster, illustrated by Jules Feiffer

Because in fourth grade I found myself adrift in doldrums of my own, the idea of spending time in Dictionopolis held special appeal to me. It was my first year of real math — long division, the multiple steps and extended ciphering kind of math — a scourge that wracked my brain until it spun. That may have been the reason The Phantom Tollbooth made such an impression on me. It lent my number-addled existence a world in the throes of conflict between language and numbers. Where the despots King Azaz and the Mathemagician dispute the decision of Princesses Rhyme and Reason, that letters and numbers must have equal stead, and so banish them. No wonder I put aside my math homework and devoured the book. I obsessed about Subtraction Stew (the more you eat, the hungrier you get), and developed my first literary crush on the slightly depressed, winsome hero Milo. I would have gladly spent the rest of that year abiding in Dictionopolis, where words are bought and sold, where guests at banquets are made to eat their words, and where a girl lacking a head for numbers could hide from the inevitable a bit longer.

~Lauren Alwan

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