Name: The Story of Doctor Dolittle
Author: Hugh Lofting
The Story of Doctor Dolittle is the short 1920 children’s novel written by Hugh Lofting, the first in the series of Doctor Dolittle books and is also part of the series of short classic books I wanted to read in 2022, also one of the oldest entries in the recommendations, the oldest since The Great Gatsby.
Doctor Dolittle is a doctor who lives in Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, a quaint English town who develops on money troubles when he tries to treat too many people and doesn’t have enough money to feed himself and his pet animals. Whilst struggling, his parrot Polynesia tells Doctor Dolittle that all of the animals have their own language. Fascinated, Doctor Dolittle sets upon himself to learn every animal language possible and become a veterinary surgeon.
Soon animals from across England are flocking to be seen by him, the animal doctor who can speak to animals. However more and more of them ask to stay with him, so much so he again ends up in financial difficulty, especially when he decides to keep a crocodile which causes his sister and housekeeper to leave.
The animals help him with housekeeping duties but when a monkey turns up and informs him of an epidemic affecting the monkeys in his homeland in Africa, Doctor Dolittle borrows a boat and some food and begins an epic adventure to Africa to help.
Immediately on arriving in Africa, the boat he borrows sinks and Doctor Dolittle and his crew are arrested by the king of Jolliginki. With Polynesia’s ruse however the band escape into the monkey realms. Doctor Dolittle successfully vaccinates the monkeys and is rewarded by them with a pushmi-pullyu, a very rare African animal. On the return trip back to England, they are again arrested by the king, but with the help of his son Prince Bumpo they steal a boat and escape.
The boat however is very unsafe and begins to sink, and Doctor Dolittle and his crew have an encounter with pirates, leading to Dolittle acquiring their boat and finding a little boy on board, who is upset as his uncle is missing after he was thrown overboard by the pirates. Doctor Dolittle manages to reunite them both and return them home before himself sailing home. He shows the pushmi-pullyu around the land and manages to raise enough money to pay the men who hired him the boat and gave him food back.
I absolutely loved reading this book and I really wish that it was one I had read when I was a child although it passed me by back then. Doctor Dolittle is a wonderful character that teaches children so many lessons, including of course caring for animals and in turn those around them and offering a helping hand, even if you think you might not be able to.
The imaginative story takes in a huge amount of events, from the wildest jungles of Africa, to his skirmish with pirates and then a desperate quest to find the little boy’s uncle. There is plenty of action to keep little ones entertained by Doctor Dolittle’s adventures.
Another wonderful thing is the book does not take any liberties or speaks down to children. Though Doctor Dolittle does speak to animals, it isn’t represented in a Disney style where the animals speak perfect English and Lofting makes it clear that Doctor Dolittle is speaking to them in their own language, on their level which I think also has a great deal of lessons for children about respecting other things and the difference it makes, as well as the work that Doctor Dolittle puts into actually understanding them.
Even my normal criticism of older books that the language can be quite eloquent which can make it hard to understand isn’t the case here – though I do know I was reading the Red Fox classics version from 2001 which did have some language and plot amendments so older versions might be different, but it was still a very pleasant and enjoyable read which I think most children would follow.
I couldn’t recommend this book enough for children and adults looking for escapism. If you have read this book before, I would love to know your thoughts in the comments down below.