Ideas from any Angle

Fifty-two years after The Phantom Tollbooth was first published, Norton Juster’s classic children’s novel is once again in the spotlight, this time through filmmaker Hannah Jayanti’s new documentary, The Phantom Tollbooth: Beyond Expectations.

The premiere of The Phantom Tollbooth: Beyond Expectations at The New Yorker Festival sold out almost immediately, as fans of the classic children’s novel filled the School of Visual Arts Theatre to hear author Norton Juster and illustrator Jules Feiffer talk with the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik about their experiences in creating the book.

The premiere of The Phantom Tollbooth: Beyond Expectations at The New Yorker Festival sold out almost immediately, as fans of the classic children’s novel filled the School of Visual Arts Theatre to hear author Norton Juster and illustrator Jules Feiffer talk with the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik about their experiences in creating the book.

The film premiered on October 6 at The New Yorker Festival, where Juster and Phantom Tollbooth illustrator Jules Feiffer took part in a question-and-answer session following the screening. For Juster, professor emeritus of architecture and environmental design at Hampshire, it was a chance to look back on a story that was, he says, “very autobiographical.”

“A child’s job is to try new things, stretch itself out, discover, probe, get itself into all kinds of trouble. I was a terrible child training to be a pretty good adult. That’s what I wanted to talk about in the story,” he says.

Calling himself “one of the world’s most prolific revisers,” Juster has always stressed the importance of looking at ideas from a number of angles. Whether in his own writing or in the work of his Hampshire students, he knows this sort of attention can mean the difference between creating something average and crafting something groundbreaking.

“Every time I gave a critique on someone’s work, I would encourage that person to try different approaches,” says Juster. “That’s because students often think they’ll never come up with a better idea than the one they presented. I gave one student a forceful talk about what to do, and he said, ‘Everything I do, you say do it the opposite way.’ That’s because there is no one way of doing anything. You have to try to open your mind.”

Jules Feiffer drawing

For more about The PhantomTollbooth: Beyond Expectations, visit phantomtollboothdoc.com.