The Phantom Tollbooth
by Norton Juster
Analysis: Plot Analysis
Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.
First, a warning. The Lands Beyond don't even make an appearance in our classic plot analysis. We haven't forgotten about them (they're the bulk of the book, after all), but we think the bigger issue it that of Milo's development as an awesome kid. So, we challenge you to write a second plot analysis for this book: one that takes place only in the Lands Beyond. You know you want to give it a shot.
In the opening pages of the book we're introduced to Milo and learn one important things about him: there's no excitement in his life. He's bored. Period. End of story. (Well, not end of story, but you get the point.)
Did We Mention He's Bored?
Yep, that's right. Shmoop thinks that the initial situation is the conflict. Sure, Milo runs into a bunch of little problems in the Lands Beyond, but those are just complications (see below) in a greater conflict. What's the conflict about being bored, you ask? Well, Milo just isn't enjoying life: he's not getting out of it what he could and should, and that's just not okay for a little boy.
Milo knows he has to go home, and he doesn't like it one bit. After all this excitement, going home will just make him even more bored. That's definitely going to complicate things, and throw a wrench into the possibility of Milo overcoming his conflict.
The Whole Stinkin' Journey
Okay, so there's not a clear-cut climax outside the Lands Beyond. We'll give you that. But could we maybe, just maybe, think of Milo's whole experience in the Lands Beyond as the climax? It's a little strange, we know, but the climax is the most exciting part of the book, right? It's the height of the action. And give how little action there was back home, the Lands Beyond seem pretty climactic to us.
Grounded for Life?
We don't know about you, but we were definitely on the edge of our seats when Milo passed back through the Tollbooth and into his house. What would be there? How long has he been gone? Will his parents be super mad? And will he ever go back through the tollbooth?
Back to Reality
Here's where we get all our answers. It turns out Milo has only been gone a few hours so his parents didn't even notice. He eats dinner, goes to bed, and goes to school the next day, just like normal. But when he comes back, the tollbooth isn't there. So nope, he'll never go back.
Triumph Over Boredom
Instead of bumming out about the disappearance of the tollbooth, Milo looks on the bright side: after his journey through the Lands Beyond, he now knows how make new adventures for himself. Boredom, be gone!