There are classics and there are classics, and for fifty years The Phantom Tollbooth has been delighting children, adults and, well... us (over and over and over again). Norton Juster made a rare UK trip at the end of April and spoke to the crowd at Foyles about the experience of writing this legendary book.
Mr. Juster confessed that The Phantom Tollbooth was an accident - a distraction, even. He had received a grant to write a children's book about the development of cities. Completely unprepared for the task, The Phantom Tollbooth was something he put together while procrastinating furiously. Jules Feiffer, his friend and neighbour, would hear Juster pacing around upstairs. Feiffer would come up, look over the latest pages, borrow them and create his (now-famous) illustrations.
The two had a respectful, if occasionally argumentative, relationship. Feiffer refused to draw backgrounds or settings, the greatest cause of argument between them. Nor would he draw a map - the map that's been in every edition of The Phantom Tollbooth was drawn by Norton Juster, and later retraced by Feiffer when its conclusion become inevitable. Juster also enjoyed putting traps into the book for his illustrator, including the "Triple Demons of Compromise – one tall and thin, one short and fat, and the third exactly like the other two". Feiffer declined to draw the Triple Demons, but got his own back by inserting a likeness of Juster as the "Whether Man".
The two delivered the book as a package: text and illustrations, and the publisher was delighted. (And who wouldn't be?!) The rest is history.
Illustrations by Jules Feiffer