The Phantom Tollbooth’s Classic Cover Morphs

Norton Juster’s 1961 fantasy The Phantom Tollbooth is that rare classic in which the text and original illustrations are inseparable, rather like Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland.  Mention Alice and some illustration of her drawn by  John Tenniel probably pops into the mind.  Is Milo ever anyone but the skinny boy in a black sweater Jules Feiffer drew?   And there’s only one cover design for the book.  This one.

But when a work becomes so famous that translations in other languages are called for, covers and dust jackets have a way of changing publisher to publisher, country to country..

Here’s the front board of the Korean-language version.  The right illustration is on the turquoise background, but the shade of turquoise is not quite the same as in the original.  Look carefully and you can see that the figures of Milo and Tock are shiny.  They were printed on a material other than paper and applied to the dust jacket.  American books almost never have a colored band that wraps around the boards, but it’s common in the packaging of Japanese books–and I assume elsewhere in Asia.  And the raised white characters below the banner with the English title are interesting typographically whether they are legible or not.

The selection of typefaces are the most noticeable change in the design for the Lithuanian-language.  The slate blue background is handsome, but perhaps a little dark, compared to the turquoise original.  The color did not photograph true, so you’ll have to take my word that it’s quite dark..The cover artist for the Romanian-language edition substituted another illustration for the original one of Milo and Toc and colorized it. Some of the figures  were also printed on the same shiny material and laminated to the cover just as in the Korean translation.  Should Milo’s car be orange?  Why does he have blue hair?  By the way, the sea in the middle distance is actually turquoise and the sky slate blue.

Now for the covers that are completely different from Feiffer’s.  All the familiar characters are there, but without making any reference to the original illustrator.  The  Hebrew and German covers are in a surrealistic style, which underscores the possibility that the journey was all in Milo’s mind.  The German translation has no text illustrations except for road signs, a concept that works very well.

The brightly colored cartoony covers for the Japanese- and Serbo-Croatian-language editions impose themselves on Juster’s world, rather than bringing out different dimensions of it.   It’s unclear why Tock was given the teeth of a human being instead of a dog, unless the change was to make him look more friendly.

The French Livre de Poche paperback is unique in placing Tock and the Humbug center stage, with Milo and his car floating in the background along with the author’s name in an extremely small sans serif type.  The French translation is, incidently, completely unillustrated except for Juster’s map. Last but not least is the Polish translation with a cover design by Grzegorz Kierzkowski.  The title set in a wild mixture of different typefaces hints that what is to come may violate rhyme and reason!   Kierzkowski deserves credit for having the confidence to reimagine Juster’s story without reference to Feiffer.  

Norton Juster himself presented to Cotsen this delightful tasting menu of modern cover design on the translations of his celebrated fantasy.  Thanks, Norton, for this very welcome and unexpected addition to the collection!  You can hear Cotsen’s Outreach Coordinator Dana Sheridan’s interview with Norton on the Bibliofiles.


Wilhelm Busch’s Ice-Peter: A Cautionary Tale for Extreme Winter Weather

Once upon a time there was a day so cold that no one with any sense would go outside.  A wilful boy named Peter slipped out the front door to go skating when his parents were warming their fingers and toes by the stove.  Peter walked past the crows that froze stiff and fell out of the trees.  He ignored the old sportsman’s warning to turn back.  He laughed at the poor rabbit and sat down on a stone to put on his skates.  When he launched himself on the ice, his pants stuck to its frigid surface and tore a big hole in the seat.

He fell into a hole in the ice and managed to scramble out quickly, but not before he was drenched with water.  It was so cold on the pond that the water dribbling off his extremities immediately froze into icicles, which greatly restricted his range of motion.When the good old sportsman and Peter’s father went looking for him, they found him stuck fast to the ice sheet covering the pond.  With an axe, they chopped him free and carried him home to his mother.Peter was put near the stove to warm up, but this sensible remedy reduced the bad boy to a clear liquid that covered the entire floor. Being frugal people, his distraught parents had the presence of mind to swept what was left of their son into a fine earthenware Topf, label it “Peter” and preserve his  earthly remains between the pickles and cheese.No one needs to know what a “bomb-cyclone” is to grasp the moral of this story.  If you live in Princeton, don’t venture out on Lake Carnegie until the University posts a sign that the ice is safe.  Stay indoors and read more edifying illustrated stories by the great Wilhelm Busch about disobedient boys who richly deserved what they got.  Give his classic Max and Moritz a try.   Or you could try the new Philip Pullman fantasy, La Belle Sauvage, the first installment in The Book of Dust.   It’s a page-turner…