The Story of Doctor Doolittle

by Hugh Lofting

{ 1920 | Frederick A. Stokes | 180 pgs }

Wow, that was a different era, huh? The Story of Doctor Doolittle has some amazingly outdated (and offensive) depictions. Wow. Just wow.

Our main character, Dr. John Doolittle, is a physician who has a variety of pets. Because he has so many pets, his patients gradually stop coming to see him. This means he has no money. Fortunately, he has a pet parrot who teaches him to speak parrot language, and from there Dr. Doolittle learns how to speak to all the animals. He becomes a veterinarian and prospers – until he allows a crocodile (escaped from the circus) to live in his pond, and then people are afraid to bring their pets to see Dr. Doolittle. Just as he runs out of his last few pennies, he’s asked (by a swallow) to travel to Africa to heal some sick monkeys. He borrows a boat and supplies and sets off to Africa with a few of his most trusted animal companions.

Once they arrive, Dr. Doolittle’s pet monkey Chee Chee starts leading them to the monkey colony (village?), but along the way they’re stopped and captured by the king of Jolligingki. He hates white men and won’t let Dr. Doolittle continue. By a clever ruse, Dr. Doolittle’s parrot, Polynesia, helps them escape, and they continue on to the monkeys, whom Dr. Doolittle heals. In appreciation, the monkeys gift Dr. Doolittle with a pushmi-pullyu, a two-headed gazelle-type creature, so that he can charge people in England to see the pushmi-pullyu and thus restore his fortunes.

Of course, Dr. Doolittle and his animals are captured by the king of Jolligingki again on their way back to the coast; this time, Polynesia again arranges escape for them, with the help of the king’s son, Bumpo. Apparently Bumpo’s greatest wish is to be a white prince, so he can marry a beautiful princess; Dr. Doolittle bleaches Bumpo’s face and hair in exchange for freedom. Again, wow.

The gang heads back to England in the ship Bumpo prepared for them, but before too long they’re attacked by pirates. Dr. Doolittle, with the help of his animal friends, manages to steal the pirate ship. In a locked room inside they find a little boy who was captured by the pirates, along with his uncle, a few days before. But his uncle is nowhere to be found. The animals eventually find him, and everyone arrives safely back in England. Dr. Doolittle makes plenty of money exhibiting the pushmi-pullyu and then retires to his quiet home again.

Aside from the plot, The Story of Doctor Doolittle was written very simply; it feels like it was intended for a six- or seven-year-old. And maybe it was. It was a quick read, but not incredibly enjoyable. I think there are so many other great adventure novels (most of them not quite so politically incorrect) that this one just isn’t quite worth the hour it will take to read it. Try Mary Poppins instead.

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One thought on “The Story of Doctor Doolittle

  1. Jim Lewis says:

    There were actually several Dr. Dolittle books, and I read most or all of them when I was somewhere around 6 – 9 years old. The “political correctness” issues didn’t exist then, and for a young mind, the magic of the adventures was really enjoyable. I don’t think I would read the books as an adult. Spoil the memories, you know?

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