a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Phantom Tollbooth (1961)
Norton Juster / Jules Feiffer (Illustrator)
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)
Note: This work of mathematical fiction is recommended by Alex for children.

This "Alice in Wonderland"-esque children's book follows our hero, Milo, to the fantasy world through his toy tollbooth. One of the lands he visits is very "mathematical". We meet the dodecahedron, a character with 12 faces each showing a different emotion, and the mathemagician. Though no deep mathematics is discussed, we do find some thought provoking discussions of the usefulness/uselessness of mathematics in the real world and the way things are named in mathematics (a 2 is always a 2, we don't name some of them "Dave" and others "Becky".)
The mathematical portion of this book was reprinted in "Mathematical Magpie". A film version of the book was made, but I don't know how much of the mathematical stuff made it to the final version.

Contributed by Anonymous

"My 7 year old and 11 year old have acquired and sustained greater interest in math due to this story. It captured their interest and imagination and inspired them to learn about many mathematical concepts."

Contributed by Eileen

"I thought I would never like reading, but after I read this book for a [book report], it became the best book i've ever read, and i want to read it over and over and over again!"

Contributed by "Mc"

This is the best book I've ever read and wish that there were more books just like it. It has had a great mathmatical influence on me and now my favorite class is math."

Contributed by Jillian

"I just read this book for a second time, the first time being about ten years ago when I was just ten years old. I loved it just as much as the first time I read it! Although it's a children's book, I think adults can enjoy it just as much with all the play on words! As for mathematical content, I think it is a theme at that point in the book. I think my favorite part is when Milo reasons with the Mathemagician to let him continue on his quest for Rhyme and Reason. "

Contributed by Laurie Slicer

"Not only is math central to this novel, but language arts is as well. Add to that the emphasis on rhyme and reason and you have a book that encourages artistic thinking in all disciplines and still is a great read! "

Contributed by Ella

That book is amazing. I read it in 3rd grade (after getting over the word phantom in the title) and then again in 9th grade. It has just as much funny wordplay as it does math and enough to keep anybody reading and giggling. But I just have to ask: why is this book not highly rated? Our math teacher requires that we read a book from this list, but only a book that is labeled "highly rated" and I would love it if the Phantom Tollbooth was.

Ella, wonderful though this book may be, math only plays a very small role in it. Consequently, the mathematical content rating is lower than it would be, for example, for The Number Devil, which discusses some pretty advanced mathematical ideas on nearly every page. The "Highly Rated" tag applies to works on the list that have a large number of high ratings in both literary quality and mathematical content. Of course, if all you care about is literary quality, then you can do a search and have the results sorted by literary quality to see those (like The Phantom Tollbooth) which are fantastic works of fiction regardless of mathematical content.

Here is a question from "Laura". If anyone knows the answer, please write to me:

Contributed by Laura

in chapter 16 "a very dirty bird." the mathemagician shows milo a letter he sent to his brother Azaz written completly in numbers. what i was wondering is, is the letter a real code that is able to be figured out or is it complete nonsense?

Contributed by tmc

I figured quite a lot about it like the first line says dear azaz also at the end at the very last word it says mathemagician also I know what some of the letters are I was wondering if anyone gave you the answer please contect me.

Contributed by Hauke

I give it a "2" on content size (not that much math, but it's a small book) and a "4" on style (unfortunately, it was a German translation, and most of the puns and obscure references will be lost). Most definitely a children's classic.

More information about this work can be found at
(Note: This is just one work of mathematical fiction from the list. To see the entire list or to see more works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)

Works Similar to The Phantom Tollbooth
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics by Norton Juster
  2. Three Days in Karlikania by Vladimir Levshin
  3. Lost in Lexicon: An Adventure in Words and Numbers by Pendred Noyce
  4. Quaternia by Tom Petsinis
  5. Numberland by George Weinberg
  6. The Incredible Umbrella by Marvin Kaye
  7. Donald in Mathmagic Land by Hamilton Luske (director)
  8. Squate by Tom Blackford
  9. Rapunzel's Etymology of Zero by Katie May (Writer) / Seth Podowitz (Director)
  10. The Mouse and his Child by Russell Hoban
Ratings for The Phantom Tollbooth:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
2.71/5 (38 votes)
Literary Quality:
4.53/5 (67 votes)

GenreHumorous, Fantasy, Children's Literature,
MediumNovels, Films,

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Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)