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Hugh Lofting – The Story of Doctor Dolittle

October 22, 2010

122. The Story of Dr. Dolittle by Hugh Lofting (1922)
Doctor Dolittle, Book 1

Length: 176 pages
Genre: Children’s, technically Fantasy although I doubt most people would ever think of it as such.

Started: 03 October 2010
Finished: 04 October 2010

Where did it come from? Free ebook from Amazon.
Why do I have it? I had a “Treasury” volume of Doctor Dolittle stories when I was younger that I absolutely loved, and I’ve got The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle, which is actually the second book, on my TBR.

My dissertation
would have been easier if
animals could speak.

Summary: Doctor Dolittle is a British country doctor with a soft spot for animals – so much so that his human clientele has dropped off steeply due to the abundance of animals around his house. His parrot, Polynesia, wisely suggests that he become an animal doctor rather than a people doctor, and sets about teaching him the secret language that animals use to talk to each other. With this knowledge, Doctor Dolittle becomes the best animal doctor there ever was, and his fame spreads among animals far and wide. Eventually, he is called to Africa where there is a great sickness among the monkeys, but getting there safely – and back – is no mean feat for a poor country doctor.

Review: I loved the Doctor Dolittle Treasury when I was younger, and I was pleased to find that the original version of the first book has lost none of its charm, even now that I’m a grownup. One the one hand, it is a product of its time, and there’s some casual racism surrounding Doctor Dolittle’s trip to Africa that reads uncomfortably today. But, on the other hand, I think the desire to talk to the animals is a pretty universal one amongst children (or maybe just amongst children destined to grow up to be biologists?), and the animals are absolutely the star of the show. Lofting renders their personalities clearly and uniquely, so that they’re all each individuals as well as representatives of their species – most dog owners will recognize their own pet in Jip, for example. There are plenty of adventures to keep this short book moving along quickly, some good laughs, and the fact that it was written for children keeps the language from becoming dense or overblown. It’s not a particularly deep book, but it is charming and fun, and deserves its status as a children’s classic. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Anyone who has kids who like animals, or anyone who *was* a kid who liked animals should definitely pick this one up for a nice little break.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: At Home With Books, Back to Books, Well-Mannered Frivolity
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Once upon a time, many years ago, when our grandfathers were little children, there was a doctor, and his name was Dolittle-John Dolittle, M.D.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • Location 128: ““You know, Doctor,” said the horse, “that vet over the hill knows nothing at all. He has been treating me six weeks now – for spavins. What I need is SPECTACLES.”” – a disorder of a horse’s hock.
  • Location 212: ““So long as the hens lay eggs and the cow gives milk we can have omelettes and junket.”” – a dish of sweetened and flavored curds of milk, often served with fruit.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 22, 2010 9:40 am

    I didn’t grow up to be a biologist, but I loved Doctor Dolittle as a kid!!

    • October 22, 2010 11:31 am

      Kathy – Excellent! I didn’t want to generalize too far based on my own experience, but it doesn’t surprise me that this book had (has) pretty wide appeal.

  2. October 22, 2010 10:16 am

    As far as genre goes, that’s why I find supernatural fiction a useful third subgenre to speculative fiction–cleans things up a bit.

    I’ve never read or really encountered Doctor Dolittle beyond the Eddie Murphy movies that came out when I was little, so this was an interesting review to read.

    • October 22, 2010 11:33 am

      Omni – I think I watched all of about five minutes of the first movie (possibly while I was on an airplane?) before I was like “…no.” The original is a lot more charming and less brashly wacky.

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