'Phantom Tollbooth' Creators Reunited By An 'Ogre' In the early 1960s, writer Norton Juster and illustrator Jules Feiffer created The Phantom Tollbooth, which quickly became a kid-lit classic. Now, 50 years later, the two have finally collaborated once more — this time, on a picture book called The Odious Ogre. They speak to NPR's Liane Hansen about their partnership and their new project.
NPR logo

'Phantom Tollbooth' Creators Reunited By An 'Ogre'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/129608795/129662765" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'Phantom Tollbooth' Creators Reunited By An 'Ogre'

'Phantom Tollbooth' Creators Reunited By An 'Ogre'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/129608795/129662765" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


An ogre is a terrible menace to village society. There are only so many places to hide when its on a feeding frenzy. Imagine then, an odious ogre. That's what Norton Juster has done in "The Odious Ogre," his new children's book illustrated by Jules Feiffer. And its publication is cause for celebration. It reunites Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer for the first time since their beloved book, "The Phantom Tollbooth," was published nearly 50 years ago.

They both join us now. Norton Juster is at member station WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts. Welcome to the program.

Mr. NORTON JUSTER (Author, "The Odious Ogre"): Thank you.

HANSEN: And Jules Feiffer is on Martha's Vineyard. And I should say to you, welcome back, Jules Feiffer.

Mr. JULES FEIFFER (Illustrator, "The Odious Ogre"): Well, thank you very much.

HANSEN: Let me start with you, Jules. What took so long for you to reunite with Norton?

Mr. FEIFFER: Well, he was slow in writing this book.

HANSEN: And, Norton, what took you so long to get back with Jules Feiffer, and why was this book the one?

Mr. JUSTER: Well, firstly, I thought it was very quick. It's only 50 years. Wait for the next one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JUSTER: But...

HANSEN: Well, go back to the first book, "The Phantom Tollbooth." Remind us of how that book came about.

Mr. JUSTER: I had started to do a little story to avoid doing some stuff I was supposed to be doing, and it sort of developed into a book. And while I was writing it, Jules - who was living in the same apartment, we were one floor apart - Jules saw some of the book, some of it, and started doing some illustrations for it. And they were marvelous, and so we just we did the one thing that publishers dont like you to do, is come in with a story and the illustrations all set, so the editor doesnt have much to say about it.

Mr. FEIFFER: I should expose Norton here. He had gotten a grant from a famous foundation that will go unnamed for $5,000, I think, to write a book on urban design. And instead...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FEIFFER: ...wrote "The Phantom Tollbooth." And as he wrote each chapter, it was his first book, he was so happy about it and so excited, he'd come downstairs to my studio room and read me stuff. And, of course, I began scribbling stuff. And thats how it all began.

HANSEN: I want to refresh some of our listeners' memories or actually introduce some people to "The Phantom Tollbooth."

Norton Juster, I'd like you to read for us. The protagonist, Milo, goes through a phantom tollbooth that arrives in his room one day. And he acquires a watchdog named Tock and they arrive at the Word Market in Dictionopolis.

Mr. JUSTER: (Reading) A large banner proclaimed: Welcome to The Word Market. And from across the square, five very tall, thin gentlemen regally dressed in silks and satins, plumed hats and buckled shoes, rushed up to the car, stopped short, mopped five brows, caught five breaths, unrolled five parchments, and began talking in turn...

Greetings. Salutations. Welcome. Good Afternoon. Hello.

Milo nodded his head, as they went on, reading from their scrolls.

By order of Azaz the Unabridged King of Dictionopolis, Monarch of letters, Emperor of phrases, sentences, and miscellaneous figures of speech, we offer you the hospitality of our country, nation, state, commonwealth, realm, empire, palatinate, principality.

Do all those words mean the same thing, gasped Milo?

Of course. Certainly. Precisely. Exactly. Yes, they replied in order.

HANSEN: Hmm. Norton Juster reading from "The Phantom Tollbooth." Now, to this marvelously odious ogre.

Norton Juster, what was the inspiration for this particular book, because it's for younger kids, compared to those who were reading "Phantom Tollbooth"?

Mr. JUSTER: I'm not sure it's for younger kids. I'm not sure it's for older kids or even adults. I think it's just a good story. And it was a story I'd messed with for a long period of time, probably over 30 years. And I kept putting in an envelope and putting it back in the drawer; taking out and looking at it again. And about a year or so ago, a little more maybe, I took it out and I began to figure out what had to be done with it and began writing. And I just loved the story.

I've always had difficulties being a kid growing up in the city with bullies. And I loved the idea of doing-in a bully.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JUSTER: So thats how I proceeded.

HANSEN: Jules Feiffer, we're familiar with your pen and ink drawings. I mean certainly all the cartoons you used to do for The Village Voice. But you're using a lot of different materials here. It looks like you're using watercolors and, you know, some - perhaps a sketch pencil in gray. I mean, you were working with a lot of more...

Mr. FEIFFER: Whatever I can grab within reaching distance, I used.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FEIFFER: My method is chaos ink. It's centered on the ogre and I wanted to do the biggest, meanest, filthiest ogre in the history of ogreship, and one who could barely fit on the page - and he does barely fit on the page. And to do that, I used a brush line. There is these brush pens where on one end is a watercolor brush and on the other there's an ink marker. And you put water on it and it spreads. So I played with that and had a wonderful time. And all the people in the village though, and the girl who's the heroine of this story, I used pen and ink because she's more delicate.

Mr. JUSTER: I think Jules is not telling you enough about this because any picture book, any book with illustrations, the illustrations do a lot more than just illustrate the story. They have to bring a kind of an environment to the story. They have to add a whole lot of things that the words dont say, and that is, if it's a good picture book. And this really does it.

I mean, the book comes to life, you know, from the textbook through the illustrations, which add a lot more than is in the text.

HANSEN: Hmm. I mean the expression on the ogre's face when he first comes upon the girl, for example. I mean, that tells a story in itself before you even read the words.

Mr. JUSTER: Well, just that one tantrum scene. I mean, there's no way I could describe that. I could take 10 pages to describe it, and it wouldn't come off like Jules has it in that one double-page spread.

HANSEN: I love the tantrum scene because the ogre is trying to frighten this young lady.

And, Jules, this illustration of all of the stances that the ogre takes during his tantrum, it does remind me of your, like, "Ode to Spring," I mean it's almost...

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Looks like he's dancing.

Mr. FEIFFER: As it should, it was my break - you know, I was waiting the entire book to get to those two pages. And it was my breakout "Singin' in the Rain" number, you know. The Ogre, at that point, is Gene Kelly in disguise and leaping and jumping and doing, you know, splashing in the rain, and doing everything violent and shocking and at the same time, somewhat adorable.

HANSEN: Norton Juster, let's hear a little bit of "The Odious Ogre." I'd like you to read from the place where the ogre has discovered this cottage and this young lady.

Mr. JUSTER: (Reading) Outside the cottage, a young girl worked busily in the garden. She hadn't noticed the ogre's approach. This is just too easy, he thought, with the slightest hint of disappointment. But as the most celebrated ogre in the countryside, he did feel obliged to be terrifying. So he stomped his enormous feet and roared his unbearable roar. The trees swayed to the ground. The birds flew off in great confusion. And even the very substantial cottage seemed to shutter. He licked his lips.

Oh, pardon me, the girl said softly, not looking up, I didnt realize anyone was there. Ill be right with you. The ogre looked startled. His face turned slightly pale. His mouth dropped slightly open and even his hands began to tremble slightly. Whats going on, he mumbled? Why didnt she just shrivel up and collapse? He stood there not sure what to do. How dare she treat me this way?

HANSEN: That's a great scene. And the illustration, you almost feel like the ogre is, indeed, starting to shrivel and his big hand is shaking. And again, the language; I love the language which you say is great for kids. And I love that the ogre says his vocabulary is due to the fact that he ate a dictionary while consuming a head librarian.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JUSTER: Yeah, I couldnt resist that. Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Yeah, what do you mean you couldnt resist?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JUSTER: Well, I mean the whole idea of improving your vocabulary by swallowing a large dictionary.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Yeah. Ah, any plans for more collaborations?

Mr. JUSTER: I hope so.

Mr. FEIFFER: Fifty years from now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JUSTER: We might do one in 40, even. I dont know.

Mr. FEIFFER: Yeah, Norton is doing a lot of pushups. Im on a diet. And who knows, the next 20, 30 years, we may come up with something.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: But Im glad. I mean seriously, both of you are 80 years old.

Mr. JUSTER: Eighty-one.

Mr. FEIFFER: Thats what we are, 81. Well, if you do the work you care and it remains fun - thats what I love about doing kids' books, which I got into at a relatively late age. It returned me to what I loved as a little boy, which was reading Sunday supplements and those glorious Sunday comic strips, which were full-page and great color back in those years. And so this is basically like revisiting my youth and getting paid for it.

HANSEN: Illustrator Jules Feiffer and writer Norton Juster, their book for kids is "The Odious Ogre." Gentlemen, thank you very much.

Mr. JUSTER: Thank you.

Mr. FEIFFER: Thank you, Liane.

HANSEN: To behold the marvelous ogre tantrum for yourself and to read excerpts of both books, visit our website, NPR.org.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.