Book review

The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting (1920)

What fun! To talk to animals in their own language! And useful too for Dr Dolittle because he is a good doctor only he isn’t much interested in people. He’s much more interested in animals. He didn’t think of being a doctor for animals though until Polynesia his parrot taught him the language of the animals. After that all the living things from miles around came to see Dr Dolittle and his fame spread far and wide.

Only a matter of time then before news of a terrible emergency should reach Dr Dolittle in Puddleby-on-the-Marsh:

...the door flew open and the monkey, Chee-Chee, ran in, badly out of breath.
‘Doctor!’ he cried. ‘I’ve just had a message from a cousin of mine in Africa. There is a terrible sickness among the monkeys out there. They are all catching it – and they are dying in hundreds. They have heard of you, and beg you to come to Africa to stop the sickness.’
‘Who brought the message?’ asked the Doctor, taking off his spectacles and laying down his book.
‘A swallow,’ said Chee-Chee. ‘She is outside on the rain butt.’
‘Bring her in by the fire,’ said the Doctor. ‘She must be perished with the cold. The swallows flew south six weeks ago!’

Here’s an adventure coming up! Of course Dr Dolittle must do what he can for the monkeys but first he has to get himself and his animal friends to Africa. Not so easy when you don’t have any money. Polynesia is a big help though:

So then the parrot, who had been on long sea voyages before, began telling the Doctor all the things he would have to take with him on the ship.
‘You must have plenty of pilot bread,’ she said - ‘hard tack’ they call it. And you must have beef in cans – and an anchor.’
‘I expect the ship will have its own anchor,’ said the Doctor.
‘Well, make sure,’ said Polynesia, ‘because it’s very important. You can’t stop if you haven’t got an anchor...’

Luckily the Doctor can borrow a boat and they set off, following the swallow who shows them the way.

Do you think Dr Dolittle and his friends can find the monkeys in the jungles of Africa and cure them of their mystery illness? Well yes, of course he can, but you’ll have to read the book to find out how he does it. He certainly is a brilliant doctor and if he is a teeny bit impractical that’s OK because his animal friends are pretty clever and they can usually solve a problem.

Actually, it was their idea to find Dr Dolittle an exceedingly rare, very valuable, two-headed pushmi-pullyu, as a thank you for curing the monkeys. Now I know you’ve heard of a pushmi-pullyu, haven’t you...?

Lovely story.

What can I read next?

There are lots of Dr Dolittle books about. He’s had many many adventures with his animal friends since 1920. The version that I read, published in 2018, has been edited to remove any possibly controversial content.

If you enjoy the doctor’s extraordinary adventures, you might well like to have a look at Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren:

  • Pippi Longstocking
  • Pippi Longstocking in the South Seas
  • Pippi Longstocking Goes Aboard

Piers Torday has written about an extraordinary adventure too. You might like to have a look at this trilogy:

Or this lovely modern fairy story by Katharine Rundell:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

The Story of Doctor Dolittle features in these lists: