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Hugh Lofting – The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle

October 28, 2010

125. The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting (1922)
Doctor Dolittle, Book 2

Read my review of book:
1. The Story of Doctor Dolittle

Length: 254 pages
Genre: Children’s Classic, technically Fantasy

Started: 10 October 2010
Finished: 11 October 2010

Where did it come from? The library booksale / Free ebook from Amazon.
Why do I have it? I had a “Treasury” volume of Doctor Dolittle stories that I absolutely loved when I was younger.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 09 September 2006.

Doctor Dolittle
heads to the tropics to talk
to animals there.

Summary: In The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, the now-famous Doctor who speaks the language of animals, takes on a young apprentice, Tommy Stubbins, who narrates this tale. Matters in the small town of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh keep Doctor Dolittle busy enough, but when he receives word that Long Arrow, the great Native American naturalist, is missing, he feels he must help. So the Doctor, Tommy, and an assortment of their animal companions travel halfway around the world to Spidermonkey Island, the last place that Long Arrow was seen. But when they get there, they find that the situation is even worse than they’d feared.

Review: I don’t ordinarily like to credit broad patterns in my life to single events from my childhood, but I am almost positive that stories from this book are what initially sparked my interest in marine biology. Traveling the depths of the ocean floor inside the translucent shell of the Great Glass Sea Snail? Yes please! Where do I sign up?

This book is longer than its predecessor, although just as charming. Although it’s technically the second book in the series, it could be picked up independently, since the introduction of Tommy as a narrator means that the reader gets a fresh introduction to Doctor Dolittle and all of his animals as well. For those who have read the first book, however, this re-introduction gives an interesting new perspective, and we get to see a different side to the Doctor’s personality.

Of course, the book has all of the same issues of its predecessor as well, especially in regards to casually racist attitudes. (To give the barest example, Long Arrow and his compatriots are referred to as Red Indians, which was admittedly the term at the time, but today conjures up uncomfortably Peter Pan-esque caricatures.) Similarly, there’s an entire section in which the native inhabitants of Spidermonkey Island cheerfully crown the tubby white doctor as their king, which feels kind of icky in a post-colonial age. To be fair, though, the Doctor himself generally rejects both the racism and the colonialism; Long Arrow is (and is treated as) an intelligent and talented colleague, and the Doctor seems just as uncomfortable with his kingship as his readers are.

In general, though, this entire series, and this book in particular, is just wildly charming. The characters are wonderful, the animals are lovable, the adventures are exciting, and the whole thing’s just a good, fun, light read. One note: although both this and the first book are available for free on the Kindle, reading them in that format means missing out on Lofting’s charming illustrations. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: I love these books enough that I’d recommend them to just about everyone, but particularly those who’ve always secretly wished that they could talk to animals.

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

Other Reviews: Adventures in Reading, Back to Books
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: All that I have written so far about Doctor Dolittle I heard long after it happened from those who had known him – indeed a great deal of it took place before I was born.


“But now tell me, Stubbins, are you quite sure that you really want to be a naturalist?”

“Yes,” said I, “my mind is made up.”

“Well you know, it isn’t a very good profession for making money. Not at all, it isn’t. Most of the good naturalists don’t make any money whatever. All they do is SPEND money, buying butterfly-nets and cases for birds’ eggs and things. It is only now, after I have been a naturalist for many years, that I am beginning to make a little money from the books I write.” (Location 808)

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • Location 118: “And out there on the cold lonely marshes we would see wild geese flying, and curlews and redshanks and many other kinds of seabirds that live among the samfire and the long grass of the great salt fen.” – a European succulent plant, Crithmum maritimum, of the parsley family, having compound leaves and small, whitish flowers, growing in clefts of rock near the sea.
  • Location 878: “At night he used to sleep in ditches or barns or anywhere he could hide; and he lived on the berries he picked from the hedges and the cob-nuts that grew in the copses.” – the nut of certain cultivated varieties of hazel, Corylus avellana grandis.
  • Location 1367: ““A London sparrow’s as good as her any day. I don’t hold by these gawdy bedizened foreigners nohow.”” – to dress or adorn in a showy, gaudy, or tasteless manner.
  • Location 1972: “Round and round the ring they went, both of them puffing and blowing like grampuses.” – a cetacean, otherwise known as Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus), of the dolphin family, widely distributed in northern seas.
  • Location 2076: ““Never mind your head, Bumpo. It will be all right when the Doctor puts a little arnica on it.”” – a tincture of the flowers of A. montana, of Europe, and other species of Arnica, formerly used as an external application in sprains and bruises.
  • Location 3561: “From the bag which I had brought the Doctor took a large bottle of embrocation and began rubbing the sprain.” – a drug or agent for rubbing into the skin; liniment
  • Location 3652: “The porpoises (who are by nature inquisitive creatures) were still hanging about in the offing to see if anything of interest was going to happen.” – the more distant part of the sea seen from the shore, beyond the anchoring ground.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. October 28, 2010 9:41 am

    When I read the summary, I was a bit concerned about racism, but I’m glad to see Doolittle doesn’t have much of a taste for it (although it’s still, of course, problematic).

    • October 29, 2010 10:41 am

      Omni – There are actually edited versions of the book that take out/change some of the more offensive language (including at least one point where the n-word is used), as well as the drawings with the more racist overtones. The version I read as a child was certainly edited down and cleaned up. Still, I think as long as it’s read with a critical eye to the time period, even the unedited version is not too appallingly bad.

  2. October 28, 2010 3:42 pm

    I loved these books as a child, but they didn’t affect me the way they affected you!

    • October 29, 2010 10:43 am

      bermudaonion – So I must have had the seeds of a nascent biologist already in me, then, and this book just brought them out. :)

  3. October 29, 2010 10:07 pm

    This was by far my favorite of the Dr Doolittle books, and I read all (I think? anyway, most!) of them. I know it is quite racist, and I knew it at the time, but still, I feel very very fond of it. The Rex Harrison film of it hurt my brain. Dr. Doolittle would not be anything like the character Rex Harrison always plays.

    • November 1, 2010 9:24 am

      Jenny – This is my first time reading the actual books, rather than the selections in my “Treasury” volume, but this was always my favorite too – I blame the snail!

  4. October 31, 2010 6:04 pm

    I read this about a year ago, and was delightfully surprised by how much I enjoyed it! Good review :)

    • November 1, 2010 9:24 am

      Emily – Thanks! Did you read any of the other books in the series, or just this one?

      • November 1, 2010 5:56 pm

        Just this one. There’s a bunch of us on Goodreads who are reading all of the Newbery winners starting with 1922 (I’m actually a little behind), and this one won the award in 1923. It was such a pleasant surprise, too, as the 1922 winner was . . . painful. (As were most of the winners from the ’20s, unfortunately.) I’m planning on going back and reading the others soon, especially now that you’ve had such positive things to say about them!

      • November 3, 2010 9:44 am

        Emily – That’s right, I always forget that this won the Newbery. I haven’t participated in any formal award-based reading challenges, but the ones I’ve come across in my casual reading have been a mixed bag. (I believe you about the rest of the ’20s winners, though!)

      • November 3, 2010 5:46 pm

        Oh, yeah, the ’20s have been rough. I think the group is finally out of them (finally!!), but, alas, am not, since I fell behind. Got one more to read and then I’m free! :)

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