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Doctor Dolittle

Related subjects: Children's Books

Background Information

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Doctor John Dolittle is the central character of a series of children's books by Hugh Lofting starting with the 1920 The Story of Doctor Dolittle. 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 Tommy Stubbins and Matthew Mugg, the Cats'-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), the Pushmi-pullyu, and a White Mouse later named simply "Whitey".


One inspiration for his character appears to be the surgeon John Hunter, , .

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 and/or after the events of The Story of Doctor Dolittle). Five more novels followed, and after Lofting's death in 1947, two more volumes of short unpublished pieces appeared.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. It is a series of food-themed animal vignettes. In the text the pretense of Gub-Gub's authorship is dropped, Tommy Stubbins, Dr. Dolittle's assistant, explains that he is reporting a series of Gub-Gub's discourses to the other animals of the Dolittle household around the evening fire. Stubbins explains that the full version of Gub-Gub's encyclopedia, which was an immense and poorly organized collection of scribblings written by the pig in a language for pigs invented by Dr. Dolittle, was too long to translate into English.

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.


The main events of The Story of Doctor Dolittle apparently take place in 1819 or 1820, although the events of the early chapters seem to be spread over several years. The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle begins in 1839. Backstory references indicate that Dr. Dolittle travelled to the North Pole in April 1809, and already knew how to speak to some species of animals at that date, suggesting that the early chapters of The Story of Doctor Dolittle take place before that date. However, it's possible that the internal chronology is not consistent.


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 TV 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 & Chorale which was used during their concert tour to Belgium and Kenya.
  • A 1984 cartoon series The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle
  • A 1990 Japanese cartoon series Dolittle Sensei Monogatari
  • 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, 2006, 2008, and 2009 sequels, based on the stories of Doctor Dolittle. The first two movies starred Eddie Murphy, but all five also star Kyla Pratt as Dolittle's daughter Maya, who shares her father's gift.
  • Theatreworks USA produced a 60 minute stage musical adaptation in 2007, written by Randy Courts and Mark St. Germain.
  • A 2011 cartoon series The Voyages of Young Doctor Dolittle


A Russian children's novel Doctor Aybolit (Doctor Ouch-It-Hurts) by K. Chukovsky was loosely based on the stories of Doctor Dolittle. "Doctor Aybolit" was published and reprinted many times without any reference to Hugh Lofting, it was always attributed to Mr. Chukovsky as an original author. A Norwegian playwright, songwriter and illustrator Thorbjørn Egner made an album Doktor Dyregod (Doctor good-toward-animals) with songs and story based on Doctor Doolittle.

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