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SYFY WIRE obituary

Norton Juster, author of beloved children’s book ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’, dies at 91

By Adam Pockross
Norton Juster

Norton Juster, who wrote beloved children’s books The Phantom Tollbooth and The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics, both of which were adapted into Chuck Jones films, passed away last night at the age of 91.

Per Deadline, publisher Penguin Random house confirmed the news.

Juster was not only a writer, but also an architect and academic, and his modernist, fantastical children’s writing reflected those interests, with mathematics, science, and plenty of puns sprinkled throughout.

Published by Random House in 1961 with illustrations by Juster’s friend Jules Feiffer, The Phantom Tollbooth finds young Milo bored out of his gourd, until he’s surprisingly given a mysterious tollbooth, which takes him to the faraway Kingdom of Wisdom. Whilst there, Milo joins the cause of exiled princes Rhyme and Reason in their push to regain power of the Kingdom. The book has sold upwards of 4 million copies since its release.

The Phantom Tollbooth

In 1970, master Warner Bros. animator Jones, Abe Levitow, and Dave Monahana collaborated on directing a live-action/animation adaptation of The Phantom Tollbooth, starring Butch Patrick as Milo. Another live-action adaptation has been in the works since at least 2017, with Matt Shakman (Game of Thrones) reportedly at the helm. Last we heard (in 2018), Carlos Saldanha (Ferdinand) had taken over directing duties, with a script from Ted Melfi (Rio), off a previous draft from Michael Vukadinovich (Marvel's Runaways) and Phil Johnston (Zootopia).

Juster’s other modern classic, The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics, which he illustrated himself, was first published by Random House in 1963. Both brainy and emotional, the book follows the romance between a red dot and a blue line. As a means of wooing the dot, the line learns to turn itself into increasingly complex shapes. 

In 1965, the story was adapted for MGM Animation by Jones into an Oscar-winning short film, narrated by actor Robert Morley.

Juster’s other notable works include Stark Naked: A Paranomastic Odyssey (1969), Alberic the Wise and Other Journeys (1972), Otter Nonsense (1982, illustrated by Eric Carle), and The Hello, Goodbye Window (2005) which was awarded a Caldecott Medal.

A native of Brooklyn, New York, Juster resided in Amherst, Massachusetts with his wife Jeanne, who died in 2018. He is survived by a daughter and granddaughter.

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