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Doctor Dolittle

Related subjects Children's Books

Doctor John Dolittle is the central character of a series of children's books by Hugh Lofting. He is a doctor who shuns human patients in favour of animals, with whom he can speak in their own languages. He later becomes a naturalist, using his abilities to speak with animals to better understand nature and the history of the world.

Doctor Dolittle first saw light in the author's illustrated letters to children, written from the trenches during World War I when actual news, he later said, was either too horrible or too dull. The stories are set in early Victorian England, where Doctor John Dolittle lives in the fictional village of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh in the West Country.

Doctor Dolittle has a few close human friends, including Matthew Mugg, the Cat's-Meat Man. The animal team includes Polynesia (a parrot), Gub-Gub (a pig), Jip (a dog), Dab-Dab (a duck), Chee-Chee (a monkey), Too-Too (an owl), and the Pushmi-pullyu.

The books

The Story of Doctor Dolittle: Being the History of His Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts Never Before Printed (1920) began the series. The sequel The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle (1922) won the prestigious Newbery Medal. The next three, Doctor Dolittle's Post Office, (1923), Doctor Dolittle's Circus (1924) and Doctor Dolittle's Caravan (1926) are all actually prequels (or "midquels", as they take place during the events of The Story of Doctor Dolittle). Five more followed, and after Lofting's death two more volumes, composed of short unpublished pieces, appeared.

The books, in order of publication, are:

  1. The Story of Doctor Dolittle (1920)
  2. The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle (1922)
  3. Doctor Dolittle's Post Office (1923)
  4. Doctor Dolittle's Circus (1924)
  5. Doctor Dolittle's Zoo (1925)
  6. Doctor Dolittle's Caravan (1926)
  7. Doctor Dolittle's Garden (1927)
  8. Doctor Dolittle in the Moon (1928)
  9. Doctor Dolittle's Return (1933)
  10. Doctor Dolittle and the Secret Lake (1948)
  11. Doctor Dolittle and the Green Canary (1950)
  12. Doctor Dolittle's Puddleby Adventures (1952)

Gub-Gub's Book, An Encyclopaedia of Food (1932) was an associated book, purportedly written by the eponymous pig.

Doctor Dolittle's Birthday Book (1936) was a piece of merchandise produced during the gap between Doctor Dolittle's Return and Doctor Dolittle and the Secret Lake.

Bowdlerisation

The books have been accused of racism, due to the usage of derogatory terms for and depiction of certain ethnic groups therein, both written and illustrated. Editions in the United States sometimes had alterations made from the 1960s, but the books went out-of-print in the 1970s. In the United Kingdom, the unexpurgated books went out of print in 1981.

In 1986, to mark the centenary of Lofting's birth, new editions were published which had such passages rewritten or removed (sometimes called bowdlerisation). Offending illustrations were either removed (and replaced with unpublished Lofting originals) or altered.

It is fair to note that the black characters in the book are not depicted speaking in Pidgin English, and any derogatory references are slight and passing.

Pushmi-pullyu

The pushmi-pullyu (pronounced "push-me-pull-you") is a fictional creature in the Doctor Dolittle stories. It is a antelope which has two heads at opposite ends of the body. When it tries to move, both heads try to go in opposite directions.

In the 1967 film, the pushmi-pullyu was instead portrayed as a double-headed llama. The more recent Eddie Murphy film has a brief scene where it is walking in the background while Dr. Dolittle talks to the tiger in the cage. This is in keeping with the fact that this movie version was only loosely based on the books.

BBC News 09/19/07 "A children's story character - the Pushmi-pullyu - says hello to a donkey at an enclosure at Spitalfields City Farm in east London before it sets off on tour with a new musical production of Doctor Dolittle."

Adaptations

There have been a number of adaptations of the Doctor Dolittle stories in other media:

  • A 1928 silent animated short by Lotte Reiniger, Doktor Dolittle und seine Tiere (Doctor Dolittle and his Animals)
  • A 1933 – 1934 NBC radio series.
  • A 1967 film musical starring Rex Harrison. See Doctor Dolittle (film).
  • A 1970 – 1972 cartoon series Doctor Dolittle, produced at DePatie-Freleng Enterprises.
  • A 1970s stage play by Olga Fricker, Hugh Lofting's sister-in-law.
  • A 1973 stage adaptation by the Philadelphia Boys Choir which was used during their concert tour to Belgium and Kenya.
  • A 1984 cartoon series The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle
  • A series (1995 – 2001) of BBC audio books read by Alan Bennett.
  • A 1998 – 1999 stage musical by Leslie Bricusse, based on the earlier film musical.
  • A touring stage musical, Doctor Dolittle The Musical, which was built in Owensboro, Kentucky and opened in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in summer 2005.
  • A 1998 film, Dr. Dolittle, its 2001 sequel, and its 2006 sequel, two of the three starring Eddie Murphy, loosely inspired by the character of Doctor Dolittle.
  • Chief Wiggum disguises himself as Dolittle to rejoin the BeSharps in Homer's Barbershop Quartet.

Translations

A Russian children's novel Doctor Aybolit by K. Chukovsky was loosely based on the stories of Doctor Dolitle.

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