I am and always have been a huge fan of old movies. As a kid I was shown the Doctor Dolittle movie starring Rex Harrison and fell in love with the story of a man who could talk to animals. It’s been years since I saw the movie and decided to read the first book in the series. Besides The Story of Doctor Dolittle, Hugh Lofting wrote eleven other books in this children’s series.
Dr. John Doolittle is a respected physician with a love of animals, who eventually loses his human patients due to the increasing amounts of animals that live with him. He lives with his sister in the English town of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh. One day he learns that he can speak to his animals when he begins to understand his parrot, Polynesia. He then takes up veterinary practice, and his fame spreads among the animals as a doctor who can talk to and understand them. He is eventually persuaded to travel to Africa to cure a monkey epidemic, but on the way is shipwrecked and captured by the king of Jolligingki. He barely escapes with his life, as the king is a victim of European colonization and hates any Europeans. Doolittle and his animal companions eventually make it to the land of the monkey epidemic, where he is able to cure and vaccinate all the monkeys. In appreciation for his services, the monkeys give Doolittle a rare gazelle-unicorn cross called a pushmi-pullyu. On the way back to England, Doolittle is again captured by the king of Jolligingki, but escapes with the help of a prince named Prince Bumpo. Eventually, Doolittle makes it back to England and tours with the pushmi-pullyu in a circus until he makes enough money to retire back to Puddleby.
Surprisingly I really wasn’t a fan of the book. I think it was because of the racism that was clearly evident in the writing and illustrations. The racial terms used to refer to black people and the monkey-like illustrations really hindered any type of pleasure I might have found in the novel. While young children reading the novel may not understand the offensiveness in the words and images, it still isn’t something I’d want them learning if I was a parent.
The one thing that I did enjoy about the book was the relationship that Doctor Dolittle had with his animals. It was heartwarming to see how much Dolittle cared about the animals. He was willing to go hungry, lose his house, and his family all for his love of the animals.
The idea behind Doctor Dolittle and all the creatures and everything is a creative one, but there was just something about the book that didn’t work for me. Maybe I was reading it at the wrong age? For those parents out there , show your kids the Rex Harrison film version if you want to introduce them to Doctor Dolittle, skip these books.
2 out of 5 Stars