The Underground Railroad tells the story of a slave who escapes a Southern plantation and makes her way North, facing a variety of tension-filled challenges, cultural observations, and threats from both well-meaning and ill-intentioned people.
I wanted to like this novel so much more than I did. But I got really hung up on the way the author distances the narrative from any sort of lived experience. Most every aspect is told, not shown. The most pivotal, dramatic moments—including the violent climax—exist through flashbacks after the reader already knows the outcome. And it’s not a dialogue-heavy flashback, in which one character explains his or her first-person experience, full of emotion and reflection. It’s more of a textbook description of the action. The only emotion comes from the horror of the action itself, not from any connection to the characters experiencing it.
And, okay. The railroad. I try hard not to read any other reviews (just the book-jacket-type summaries) before I start a book. So when Cora and Caesar climb down into a tunnel and end up on a subway platform… what? I had to ask someone. “Have I misunderstood this my whole life? It *is* a metaphor, right?”
The literal railroad underground throws this novel into a different category, at least for me. It’s no longer historical fiction. Something closer to fantasy fiction. And then I don’t know how much to believe from the rest of the story. That might not have bothered me so much if the novel was on a topic besides American slavery. But there are so many untold stories on this topic already—dramatic, emotional stories that need to be shared, even as fictionalized accounts—that I can’t find a place where this horrific fantasy version fits.
I can see why so many people liked this novel. Obviously, take it all with a grain of salt—although I have no idea how big a grain to recommend. And if you find you’re not engaging with the main character in the first few chapters, it’s okay to give it up, because that’s not going to get much better.
Episode 1: Telemachus
Ulysses opens on a sunny morning in June with the talkative, funny, and jovial Buck Mulligan getting ready for the day with his surly, rather emo roommate, Stephen Dedalus. Stephen’s cranky because Buck’s friend kept them up late last night, but also because Ireland is controlled by England, because the Catholic church exists, because he can’t make a living as A Great Poet, because he no longer lives in Paris, and because months ago when Stephen’s mother died, Buck said something thoughtless in Stephen’s earshot. And probably some other reasons. Stephen’s kind of a drag. Buck gives Stephen clothing and shoes, tries to cheer him up, forgives his overdue rent payment, and barely comments on the fact that Stephen hasn’t bathed since last October, and Stephen still acts like Buck is beneath him. Unfortunately, we follow Stephen, not Buck, for a significant portion of the narrative. But at least we’re still in a section that can be called a “narrative”!
Episode 2: Nestor
Remaining in a pretty straight-forward narrative style, Stephen heads to his day job shaping young minds. He’s a pretty terrible teacher, spending most of the class thinking about how clever he is. And it’s a half day, so after about an hour, he’s done. He talks with the school principal for a bit to collect his pay, and it’s exactly like talking to a conservative today who wants to tell you how everything really is and should be and would be if it weren’t for these uppity women or Jewish people or whatever. At this point, you’re thinking my dislike of this book is too harsh. But hang in there.
Episode 3: Proteus
This is the chapter that causes most people to walk away from Ulysses. And with good reason. The entire thing is Stephen wandering on a rather dingy beach, being self-pitying and snotty and composing poetry in his head. And, of course, still thinking about how clever he is. He remembers living in Paris, which seems to have been the highlight of his life, and he bitterly blames his family for pulling him back and keeping him in Ireland. He also ponders obscure Catholic philosophy and imagines himself debating fine points with dead scholars, then picks his nose. Take a moment to consider: is it worth continuing? If you found this chapter infuriating, give up all hope. There’s no reward for you here. Take back your time and read something more fulfilling.
Episode 4: Calypso
Okay, you get a short relief here. We’ve switched to Leopold Bloom’s point of view and, while not entirely relatable, he at least understands reality as something that exists beyond his own noble head. His relation to people and things around him seems maybe a little odd, but they develop him as a character. Then Joyce ends the chapter with a detailed first-person account of Bloom taking a shit, because we can’t have nice things.
Episode 5: The Lotus Eaters
Bloom wanders around the neighborhood, killing time before going to a funeral. He gets a suggestive letter from a woman he’s not really having an affair with. He stops by a church and a drug store. He gets a bath. We learn that he’s a bit kinky in a submissive way. The beat goes on.
Episode 6: Hades
Bloom becomes more vulnerable here. We see him interacting with acquaintances who don’t treat him particularly well, although he doesn’t have much reaction. This is setting a pattern—Bloom tends to let things happen to him, and doesn’t react much to others in his own defense. Personally, I find this frustrating in fiction.
Episode 7: Aeolus
The first chapter where the writing style takes a turn. No longer are we diving in and out of characters’ consciousnesses in the same way. Now, we’re keeping up with the headline-driven bustle of a newspaper office, curated by an outside hand. It doesn’t seem too flashy yet, but Joyce is going to show off his versatility a lot more throughout the rest of the book. In this chapter, the characters talk over each other, bump into one another, mock and admire each other, and ultimately head off to the bar—before noon on a Thursday. This seems like a good idea to everyone but Bloom, who is, of course, marginalized.
Episode 8: Lestrygonians
Bloom thinks about food a lot. He stops in one tavern and decides the people eating are too disgusting. So he goes somewhere else and has a sandwich and a glass of wine. People talk about him, kind of like they already have been, but different people. He also pees. You’re less than halfway done.
Episode 9: Scylla and Charybdis
You’ve been doing well. You’ve made it this far. You’re making connections—sometimes slippery—between Ulysses and The Odyssey. Welcome to an interminable analysis of Hamlet! On the recording, this chapter lasts more than three hours. Yes, fathers and sons and the life of a poet. We get it.
Episode 10: The Wandering Rocks
It took me a while to get into this chapter—I was still angry about the Hamlet thing—but it ends up being one of the more memorable in the book. Imagine a camera in a single-shot careen through Dublin, dropping in on conversations with major and minor characters and strangers. Pretty much none of this advances the plot, but if you’re still holding on for that, save yourself the effort of finishing the book. Oh, and some of this is in Italian, so good luck.
Episode 11: Sirens
The opening of this chapter is like an orchestra warming up, playing disconnected fragments of the pieces before the concert. But if no one tells you this, it sounds like the jumbled ramblings of a madman. There’s a lot of music in this one, and a lot of Bloom acting weirdly standoffish to one of the only characters who seems to want to spend time with him. Jingles, pats, taps, and farts throughout. Always farts.
Episode 12: Cyclops
And suddenly, we have a nameless first-person narrator we’ve never met before. Because that’s what you’d want an author to do, right? He heads to a bar to hang out with some nationalistic racist who also has no name. And, because this isn’t enough, the narrative starts taking on dramatically different tones, like old Irish myths, the Bible, Renaissance writing, early scientific studies of the supernatural, newspaper celebrity columns, etc. This game will be repeated later, with more intensity.
Episode 13: Nausicaa
Apparently, this chapter had a lot to do with the book’s banning in the US. It’s written in an overwrought, romantic style popular at the time, which actually makes it clearer than most chapters. But it does gloss over Bloom masturbating in public, and the girl, Gerty, who apparently gets a thrill out of encouraging this from afar. But that’s only because her period has just started, and you know how randy women get when they’re bloated and cramping and bleeding! Farting, pissing, pooping, menstruating, and now climaxing into one’s clothes on a public beach. A classic, I tell you!
Episode 14: Oxen of the Sun
A quote from SparkNotes: “The narrative technique of Episode Fourteen is meant to represent the gestation of the English language.” Is that a sentence you ever thought you’d read? It also calls this chapter “one of the most difficult in the novel.” Indeed, various sections of this chapter take us from old English (think: Beowulf) through the Middle Ages, Defoe, Dickens, and up to the twentieth century. All these words are describing Bloom and Stephen getting drunk in a hospital with a bunch of doctors and medical students while an unseen minor character gives birth upstairs. They say lots of crude things about women and pregnancy. Why are they getting drunk in a maternity hospital on Thursday night?
Episode 15: Circe
Oh god. The chapter that only works if you imagine John Waters and David Lynch as co-writers and directors. Stephen and Bloom have both had absinthe, which has apparently made them hallucinate. This makes their trip to the brothel… unsettling. Bloom mostly hallucinates, in long and vivid detail, about being humiliated, mostly in sexual ways. Stephen, naturally, hallucinates his dead mother’s rotting corpse. This smut takes up the longest chapter in the book.
Episode 16: Eumaeus
Well, Bloom and Stephen have had an adventure together, finally, so how will their relationship blossom? They sit in a cab shelter, talk past each other, and hear a sailor show off his tattoos. From SparkNotes: “The error-ridden and banal narrative is the main device by which this climactic meeting of Bloom and Stephen is rendered anticlimactic.” If someone ever writes that about a story of mine, I will know I have failed.
Episode 17: Ithaca
Nearly done. Only two chapters to go. Joyce rewards your endurance by framing this chapter in the form of more than 300 questions (asked by who to who?) and painfully detailed, often irrelevant answers. Stephen and Bloom go to Bloom’s house, sip a little cocoa, pee together outside, and then Stephen leaves. Bloom goes upstairs, notices evidence of Molly’s daytime affair, kisses her literal ass, and chats with her about his day. They go to sleep, he upside down on the bed. Ulysses has returned from his Odyssey, the day is complete.
Episode 18: Penelope
Molly, who has spent most of the day in bed, either sleeping or having sex, stays awake after Bloom’s return and thinks. She thinks of the men in her life, how men perceive her, how men perceive other women, and what she likes and doesn’t like about men. She farts, pisses, and also gets her period, which obviously explains why she’s always thinking about sex, according to Joycean logic. But it’s finally over: yes!
One does not simply *read* Ulysses. Because Ulysses is not simply a book. It’s in the format of a book, but I think that has more to do with the technology of the time than a conscious attempt by Joyce to find the medium that best expressed the artistic vision he had. Today, I imagine it would be some kind of interactive website or even museum space, filled with video, lights, music, and maybe some hallucinogens.
One needs a strategy for tackling Ulysses. A friend of mine swears she read Ulysses, in print, one summer while following along with Don Gifford’s Ulysses Annotated. She says she really enjoyed it, and that the 640+ pages of fine-print annotations made her feel like she was doing the detective work needed to fully understand the context of Ulysses. She’s likely both more intelligent and more patient than I am, because trying that made me feel like I was going insane. I couldn't get myself to care about the biographies and geographies and histories of every real and imaginary reference, some of which I’m pretty sure were supposed to be a joke anyway.
Since finishing this marathon, I’ve found that most other people who claim to love Ulysses took a class, usually during their undergraduate years, with a professor who almost exclusively studies the book. This intense, semester-long focus led by a knowledgeable and experienced tour guide seems to help make the whole thing more bearable. I imagine it’s a gift to have someone to tell you which parts of the text you can safely skip and which have something really interesting happening just under the surface. But if a book needs an expert guide to be made tolerable, then can it really be considered a “good” book? What about all the readers out there who don’t have first-hand access to such an expert?
I eventually developed my own strategy. I got the audiobook on CD from the library (with much thanks to Columbus Metropolitan Library for letting me keep it for 6 months!) and listened to it during my commute every day… or every day I could while still avoiding the temptation to drive my car into a river. I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and this is the first one I recall with an intro explaining the process behind its creation. Apparently, Joyce’s heirs would only release the rights for the audiobook if Donal Donnelly was the narrator (he does a pretty great job), and the production staff spent way longer than usual on research and notes to figure out how the text should be read aloud. I can’t imagine it could be done any better than what Recorded Books managed to pull off. This made it much easier to keep up with the sound effects, songs, and dialogue than the printed text would have allowed.
Near the beginning of each episode, I also read the summary and analysis on SparkNotes. (Hey, if it’s good enough for Bob Dylan’s Nobel speech…) Really, this was invaluable to me. I could keep up with the incremental plot movements and character interactions without getting too frustrated with the layers and layers of obscurity piled on top of them by this sadistic author. OK, maybe I still got a little frustrated. But having a broad understanding of each episode in advance helped me push through.
As a novel, Ulysses is miserable. The characters don’t develop, many of them are indistinct from one another, and they don’t have stakes or goals. They mostly just get drunk, complain about the state of Irish culture all day, and entertain deeply repressed thoughts about sex. The plot is barely worth mentioning. The writing is (intentionally) inconsistent, obscure, and overwrought. You’re as likely to encounter a fart joke as a reference to Jesuit philosophers. There’s a whole chapter that critiques Hamlet, and another in which the main character masturbates in public. It’s a mess.
And the women characters are the worst. It made me wonder if Joyce had ever really spent time listening to a woman, let alone understanding her in any significant way. The very very few female characters exist entirely through a man’s lens. Even when the narration enters their heads (even Molly’s), they define themselves entirely by the attention they draw from men based on how they look and act and speak.
But I get why Ulysses is considered important. Joyce shows off a wide range of writing styles here, and he does all of them well (although I’m admittedly more familiar with some than others). It’s impressive that all these words and tones came from a single author. If Ulysses were turned into some kind of epic movie or mini-series, you’d need a different director for each episode; one person alone could not capture what makes Ulysses unique. That doesn’t mean it’s worth reading, just that it’s “important.”
I actually finished Ulysses in July, but I'm just now finishing this review. In a week or so, I’ll post my rather grumpy plot summary of Ulysses here. Stay tuned!
Plum Wine starts with an interesting premise: a young American woman teaching in Japan in the 1960s loses her closest Japanese friend and inherits a collection of homemade plum wine and pages of writing in kanji, which she can’t read. Why did her friend leave her this? How did she die? What mysteries are contained in these papers? The American, Barbara, comes to realize that the papers are the first writings of the year by her friend and her friend’s mother, and there’s one for each year going back to the 1930s, skipping a few years during World War II. She also comes to understand that her friend survived Hiroshima. Interesting!
However, the story fails to deliver on this idea. The main focus of the plot is Barbara’s relationship with a Japanese man, Seiji. Seiji, who knew the dead friend, translates sections of the writing for Barbara. From the beginning, Barbara suspects that Seiji is hiding something about the writing, and she even gets some of the pages translated by other people. But she doesn’t continue to get these translations because she fears… hurting Seiji’s feelings? Many of her other acquaintances warn her to stay away from Seiji, but instead she gives him all the wine and the writing. Unsurprisingly, he betrays this trust and actually destroys a lot of the writing.
It's not clear from the text exactly why Barbara feels so drawn to Seiji and places so much trust in him. Maybe she’s lonely and looking for some connection, but she has other acquaintances that reach out to her after her friend’s death, and she either avoids them or hides large parts of herself from them without explanation. It seems likely that it’s mostly about the sex, but since this all happens off-screen, the reader isn’t really let in to that passion. We’re told that Barbara feels passionate toward Seiji, but she doesn’t seem to understand anything about him, his emotions, or his motivations. So her repeated and increased trust in him, despite many alarm bells, feels misplaced.
Barbara talks a lot about wanting to know more about her friend’s life, and we realize that she knew so little about it, it’s hard to imagine that they were actually even friends. She didn’t know about the woman’s daughter, for example, who had died only about a year before Barbara met her. She didn’t know she was a Hiroshima survivor, or that she knew Seiji’s family, or really anything else. So what was that friendship based on?
Also, I was kind of shocked that Barbara didn’t think twice about opening and drinking the wine she inherited, which her friend had saved unopened for decades. No hesitation about drinking the last of this wine that will ever exist, alone and in a bad mood or casually with Seiji. Really?
The author includes some really engaging detail about life in Japan at this time and about living in Hiroshima before and after the bomb. Barbara remains purposefully ignorant of the ongoing Vietnam War, and doesn’t seem particularly informed about World War II, aside from her America-based memories. Because of this, the most interesting character is Rie, a young Japanese woman from a low caste who survived the bomb, is politically involved, wants to tell her and her father’s story, and works at the American Air Force base rebuilding the faces of dead soldiers from Vietnam before their bodies are shipped home to the US. If the story had followed Rie more closely, I think I would have found it much more interesting.
Instead, the narrative sticks close to Barbara, who’s biggest conflict is whether she should continue to allow Seiji to translate these invaluable manuscripts slowly, dishonestly, and entirely at his convenience instead of just handing them all over to literally anyone else she’s met in Japan and having them all done at once. I was never convinced by her reasoning, and so most of the plot felt like it had a huge hole. Even so, those glimpses into Japanese life at this time—balanced between traditional social structures and the recent shame of World War II—were enough to keep me reading through to the end.
I don’t read a lot of “women’s fiction,” and this book reminded me why. It’s like the Lifetime Network in book form. Thoughtless characters in ridiculous situations who explain every bit of their inner dialogues without addressing the gaping plot holes or even what anything looks like.
The Summer of France is about a woman. She has a husband who is an uptight, well-muscled accountant. That makes him among the best-described characters in the book. They have two teen-aged twins, a girl who swims a lot and a boy who… I don’t remember what he does. Due to an implausible series of events, the woman finds herself managing a bed and breakfast in southern France, on her own, without experience or the ability to speak French. Her family is there, but they all choose not to help their obviously struggling wife/mother and instead go have sex with French people elsewhere. And she’s like, yeah, that’s cool, nothing I can do about it.
Then, though another implausible series of events, she ends up on the back of a motorcycle in a borrowed full-leather outfit, holding on to a very sexy (but maybe not trustworthy?) Frenchman, in an effort to smuggle a stolen painting into the Krakow museum in Poland. Does it matter how this came about? Only enough to say that she discovered the painting in her B&B and never addressed why she couldn’t smuggle it into a French museum, closer to home. She definitely had to drive to Poland and stay in sexy, fancy hotels because it possibly came from there originally. Possibly.
Despite how asinine I found these characters and the plot, I did finish it (on the beach), so at least it kept me that much engaged.
I used to think Jenny Slate was referring to a compilation of EM Forster novels. Then I read The Portrait of a Lady. And yeah, that's definitely what she's talking about. I even tried to appreciate the feminist message here, but the truth is that I don't relate to that goddamn story! Once I figured out that Isabel and Henrietta weren't having a secret lesbian relationship, it got especially boring.
Just read a Dilbert and go to sleep.
Jeff Smith consistently has some of the cleanest, clearest, most consistent art I've seen in graphic novels. The characters are easily recognizable throughout the book and different enough from each other that you don't confuse them. Each panel is constructed in a way in which it's obvious what's going on, focusing only on the most important details while keeping enough of the extra information to keep you in the setting. That may sound like faint praise, but it's not. Judging from other comics I've read, this must be incredibly hard to do, let alone to maintain for a book the length of RASL.
So, while RASL has a few problems, the art is certainly not one of them.
I think the concept of RASL didn't have quite enough room to spread out, leaving the reader with some forced assumptions and unanswered questions. Mostly, I was left wanting more: more about the art thieving business, more about Sal and his motivations, more about Maya and her motivations, more about what drove a promising scientist to become a dimension-hopping alcoholic art thief. Unfortunately, the reader is just left wondering, even about some of the big, plot-moving questions.
In some ways, RASL is fun in the way that Mission Impossible movies are fun. That is, the action and concept and set pieces are all engaging, but don't try to make sense of it later or expect plot threads to be carried consistently throughout the story or rely on characters to be fully developed. It's good, but it doesn't accomplish those storytelling basics.
When I was a little less than half-way through Doctor Zhivago, I mentioned it casually to a thoughtful and well-read friend. “Ugh,” he said without hesitation and rolled his eyes. I was confused by this--I was enjoying it so far. Sure there were a million characters, each with multiple names, but the Internet helps with this a lot. And the author does a pretty good job of reminding you who’s who as you go along.
Granted, I expected to have trouble with this book. I have a pretty shaky grasp of Russian history. It wasn’t taught in my grade schools, and I didn’t pursue it in college. My 9th grade English teacher taught us Animal Farm as an Aesop’s-Fable-type story about the importance of knowing your place. I expected to get lost in some of the “who’s fighting who, when, and ostensibly why” details of this novel, which stretches from the early 1900s through World War II–a pretty active time in Russia. And I did.
But I kept reading (rather, listening; I got it on CD for my commute). I read without an unusual amount of eye rolling until chapter 13, “Opposite the House of Sculptures.” And then it lost me; I turned. Glancing through other reviews on Goodreads, I’m not the only one who turned at this point. It’s a ginormous chapter in which two characters who are supposed to have the most pure, passionate love ever known to existence speak to each other in impersonal monologues, explaining their feelings and large sections of the plot that the reader has already witnessed.
The chapter probably shouldn’t feel so ridiculously long and boring and forehead-slappingly unbelievable. The reader is supposed to understand the intense passion that these two feel for each other. The problem, obviously, is that we don’t. And this was the point in the book when I realized that there wasn’t going to be any further character development. The characters were fully formed, but they were wooden. The only other explanation for their reactions, emotions, and absences we’d get would be delivered in monologue--either by themselves or the narrator.
I felt and understood this great and perfect love exactly once: [SPOILERS!] Yuri is headed home to confess his affair with Lara to his pregnant wife, Tonia. On the way, he convinces himself that he really didn’t end things right with Lara and should probably go back and talk to her again. (Eye rolling, because you want him to be better--this poet/philosopher/physician--but it’s realistic.) He’s so overjoyed at the prospect of seeing Lara again, even if it’s just to break up with her. But then, on the way, when the reader is anticipating a beautiful love scene, he gets kidnapped by partisans. And marches around the woods with them for about 2 years. And then, when he finally escapes, he goes to Lara’s house first so that they can give speeches at each other for hours. Ugh. [/SPOILERS!]
After that turn in chapter 13, Doctor Zhivago wasn’t able to win me back. The coincidences get ludicrous. Reading this, you’d think there are only about four houses in Russia, because everyone keeps appearing at the same places. They walk straight across Siberia and end up at the same house. Really.
(All of that said, Pasternak comes up with some of the more beautiful nature descriptions I’ve ever read. His scene descriptions are the strongest part of the novel. And the relationship between Lara and Komarovsky in part 1 is, oddly, the most believable and human relationship in the book.)
Once I finished Doctor Zhivago, I read the Wikipedia page and a few other online resources. Maybe, I thought, I missed something. Maybe each of these characters is a metaphor for some aspect of Russian culture or history that is lost on me in my ignorance. Maybe that would explain the way they all interact with each other, fade and reappear, go to their fates. But no. At least, I didn’t find an interpretation that supported that theory.
So, the question remains: Why is this Nobel-winning novel such a drag? Maybe it’s because it’s written in a style that modern (American) readers aren’t familiar enough with--like trying to watch Lawrence Olivier act and wondering how anyone could ever have tolerated him for a whole movie. It’s not very old (smuggled out of Russia and published in Italy in 1958), but it’s a bit old, and it’s Russian. Or maybe the reason for its popularity and critical success during the Soviet era had a lot more to do with what it said about the Soviets and less about its plot and characterization. Are the readers or the book to blame?
I don’t have enough information to answer the question. But if you’re a student of Russian history, I encourage you to read Doctor Zhivago and tell me what you think. Let’s talk about it. Because it’s very possible I just missed something obvious, and you have something to teach me.
While The Time Machine’s plot is pretty quick moving and interesting, and the world that Wells creates is intriguing, the book as a whole suffers from one of the same problems that I think most H.G. Wells novels suffer from. The characters are anonymous to the point of being uninteresting.
“The time traveler” himself doesn’t even get a name, let alone much of a backstory. The narrator of the frame story refers to other characters as “Mr. ____” or “the editor” and provides no other personality traits. There’s a mysterious character who appears the night that the time traveler returns and tells his tale, but it’s never revealed who he is or why he’s important.
This is an attribute of a lot of science fiction, especially written in this era. But I find it very difficult to understand a character’s motivations when the author provides no information about how they have come to the world--what they’ve seen before and how they might interpret the situations before them. The author develops a robust environment, but crucial details of it get lost when the reader can’t understand the main character’s train of thought.
Also, and again like Wells’s other works I’ve read, the characters have an intolerably English-white-male-centric view of the world. From the little I know about Wells as a person, I understand that he was quite progressive for his time. But his nameless, featureless characters who travel to exotic and fantastic worlds with entirely different species and culture can only interpret things from the most basic, stereotypical, privileged viewpoint imaginable.
All that said, The Time Machine contains some really interesting ideas. Even if the time traveler’s motivations aren’t always decipherable, his actions are entertaining, his descriptions are vivid, and his fear feels real. The reader is drawn into the mystery of the futuristic world he encounters and saddened to realize the horrible truth behind it.
But for my taste, unique concepts and plotlines aren’t enough to sustain a novel.
As far as I can remember, this was my first time reading The Phantom Tollbooth. Throughout every page, I thought it would be more enjoyable if I were reading it out loud to a child. I don’t have kids, and this didn’t provide any nostalgic thrill, so I undoubtedly didn’t like it as much as many other people do.
The story doesn’t make a ton of sense--there are big gaps in the plot that are largely ignored. The wordplay was more cute than clever, mostly puns. Again, kids would like this, but it falls pretty flat to an adult. There are a lot of characters who run quickly in and out of the story without having much effect. The characters generally only have one personality trait or aspect each, and even those are not consistent. The moral(s) are generally positive, although there are also a ton of them, and they are not regularly applied by the characters. It’s not like Milo began to appreciate learning and used that to save the princesses, for example.
Overall, The Phantom Tollbooth is a collection of cute ideas that would likely appeal to children, especially if it’s being read to them in small segments. But without the nostalgia kick, it doesn’t hold appeal for adults.
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