1 October 2022 Susannah

The Story of Doctor Dolittle

Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, Hugh Lofting

In 1916 a man named Hugh Lofting was at the Western Front, enduring all its horrors. His children at home asked for illustrated letters and as he felt war was not a suitable topic for their young minds, he instead sent pictorial letters about a vet who could talk to animals and went on fabulous adventures. The children loved them, and their mother persuaded Lofting to turn the letters into book form. The Story of Doctor Dolittle was published a century ago, in 1922, and was an instant hit. John Dolittle MD, of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh (isn’t that a gorgeous name!) is a doctor who fills his home with animals, to the fury of his sister Sarah. There are rabbits in the pantry, a squirrel in the linen closet, a hedgehog on the sofa, and even a crocodile takes up residence. Patients are too frightened to visit and the doctor turns to animal patients instead. His visit to Africa introduces him to the Pushmi-Pullyu.

Lofting wrote several books in the series – The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle, Doctor Dolittle’s Garden, Doctor Dolittle’s Post Office, Doctor Dolittle’s Circus, Doctor Dolittle’s Zoo and Doctor Dolittle’s Caravan. His experience in the war left Lofting feeling that animals had more sense than humans. His biographer Edward Blishen has stated: “No one else has set out, quite as he did, to create a hero, and a notion of heroism, that is radical, pacifist and profoundly opposed to common ideas of conventional respectability.”

Hugh Lofting remained a British citizen all his life although he spent much of it in the USA. He wearied of the doctor and wanted to retire him, but readers demanded more. The musical film version that came out in 1967, with Rex Harrison as Doctor Dolittle, sparked new interest in the books – did you see that film as a child? Did you read the books and enjoy them?

Are you tempted to read (or reread) one of the books to celebrate this anniversary? If so, do let me know in a comment.

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Featured image- Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, from The story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting. https://archive.org/details/storyofdoctordol00loft/, and https://puddleby.tripod.com/author.html
Body image- The Pushme Pullyou from The story of Doctor Dolittle, written and illustrated by Hugh Lofting, 10th Edition. https://archive.org/details/storyofdoctordol00loft/

Comments (6)

  1. Lindy Bonham

    I very much looked forward to getting my next Dr Doolittle book every birthday and Christmas from my aunt during the 1960’s. I still have the whole collection as I couldn’t part with them unless one of my young relatives wanted the whole set. They never did, to their literary detriment. I loved the accents of the different animals, including Cheapside the cockney sparrow.

  2. Pamela Whalan

    Oh dear! I was already an adult when that Rex Harrison film came out. To me, the film was a disappointment because it could not give us the delightful rhythm of Lofting’s written language. I have been an avid reader of Lofting’s work since I first discovered it in Lambton Library in the 1940s. There are still times when I need to read it to restore my sanity.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I agree that the film never did justice to the book. I loved the book, though I don’t think I read many of the others in the series.

  3. I have such sentimental memories of this series as our primary school teacher used to read them to us as we sat crowded on the carpet at his feet (he also read us The Hobbit and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and many other classics, bless him).

    I really must go out and secure a set just for nostalgia’s sake.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I am glad it brought back happy memories for you. What a good teacher!

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