Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

R.I.P. Norton Juster, author of The Phantom Tollbooth and The Dot & The Line

Norton Juster
Norton Juster
Photo: Bill Greene/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

As reported by Deadline, author Norton Juster—best known for writing iconic and beloved children’s books The Phantom Tollbooth and The Dot And The Line—has died. Juster’s death was confirmed by his publisher, Penguin Random House, and an NPR report says he died from complications related to a recent stroke. He was 91.

Advertisement

Juster was born in Brooklyn in 1929, following in the footsteps of his father and brother (who were both architects) by studying city planning and architecture in college. He joined the Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps in the ‘50s, where he began writing and illustrating stories to pass the time. After leaving the military, Juster worked as an architect and was able to combine his two interests when he received a grant to write “a book on cities for children” (as he puts it in this NPR piece). Unfortunately, after ending up “waist-deep in stacks of 3-by-5 notecards, exhausted and dispirited,” Juster realized he didn’t want to write a children’s book about cities and decided to write something that would appeal to the sort of “quiet, introverted, and moody” kid that he had been.

From there, Juster began writing a book about a perpetually bored and disinterested boy named Milo who returns home from school one day and finds a mysterious package containing a map of a place called “The Lands Beyond” and a small tollbooth. From there he embarks on a pun-filled adventure with a literal watchdog that is both utterly delightful and casually educational—not just in the sense that it teaches kids a lot of exciting new words and ideas, but that it actually makes learning about that stuff fun. That book, The Phantom Tollbooth, is now regarded as an absolute classic of children’s literature, having sold millions of copies and been translated into several other languages. It was also adapted into a Chuck Jones animated film, though Juster himself wasn’t a fan of it (in 2011, he told The A.V. Club that Jones had treated the book “like the Holy Grail” and refused to change anything from the text even if it would’ve made for a better movie).

The Phantom Tollbooth was actually Jones’ second adaptation of a Juster book, the other being The Dot And The Line: A Romance In Lower Mathematics. The book, which was published in 1963, is about a straight line that falls in love with a dot, only to find out that the dot is in love with a squiggle. Looking to better himself, the line learns how to bend, changing his shape in new and complex ways. In the end, the line impresses the dot with his newfound appreciation for change, while the squiggle is permanently stuck as a jumbled mess, leading to another excellent pun: “To the vector belong the spoils.” Jones’ adaptation (though some say the short was actually directed by longtime Jones collaborator Maurice Noble) went on to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film and—like The Phantom Tollbooth—has become a staple of classrooms.

Juster’s other works include 2005's The Hello, Goodbye Window and its 2008 sequel, Sourpuss And Sweetie Pie, both of which (as he explained in that same A.V. Club interview) were inspired by his granddaughter. Also, despite writing one of the most highly regarded and generally beloved children’s books of all time, Juster continued working as an architect until he retired.