Recently I bought myself the Kindle edition of The Phantom Tollbooth.
I am happy to say that the kindle edition is a well done one, carefully duplicating the formatting of the original and containing Jules Feiffer’s beautiful illustrations.
It is, for me, a magical book. I can’t remember the first time I read it–I can’t remember a time when I hadn’t read it. I suspect that my mother must have read it to me, but that’s not what I remember. What I remember is being curled up in a chair with the battered blue paperback in my hands and going on that journey with Milo T.
I realize now how many of my basic ideas were shaped by Norton Juster’s classic. The idea that learning is an adventure, and there is always something new to discover, just over the next hill, is something that I still believe.
Also, I suppose, that one learns best when one travels one’s own road.
That’s not true for everyone, I realize. Some people can sit in a classroom and listen to a teacher and walk out of the room knowing more than they did when they sat down. I rather envy that.
I, myself, have had a very troubled relationship with educational institutions. I never liked school, and school never liked me. I don’t understand things by having someone tell me about them. I understand things by getting my hands dirty, tearing things apart, trying to put them back together, and seeing what happens when you get the parts all out of place. I’m a messy learner.
That’s why I love Milo and his little electric car. He drives around and gets lost, makes bad decisions, does some foolish things, but in the end he saves the day, not by being right, but by being willing to be wrong.
That’s how the real world works. It’s not neat and clean, and you don’t get to write down the right answers on a test and be done with it. Most of the time none of the answers are the right one, and you have to figure out which wrong answer is the best of a bad lot.