Aug 21, 2009

The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle

by Hugh Lofting

I always thought I would rather like this book, because it's all about a man who can talk to animals! What could be better? Sadly, I was a little disappointed. The beginning was good. In a charming style rather reminiscent of My Father's Dragon, the story tells how a village boy, Tommy Stubbins, becomes apprentice to the great naturalist and doctor, and sets off with him on a voyage to discover new animals and find the doctor's missing colleague, an Indian named Long Arrow.

Dr. Dolittle travels around without a care in the world, because he can speak animal languages and wherever he is, creatures come to his aid. Shipwreck? no problem- the dolphins push him to shore. Overwhelming battle odds? no problem- call in thousands of black parrots! But I was a bit disturbed how the jolly animal-loving man used this to impose his own views on other people. It started out midly enough- translating for a dog so he could stand witness in a murder trial, stopping bullfights in a small town in Spain, follow a beetle guide to rescue some men trapped in a rockslide. But then at the end of their journey the doctor, Tommy and the animal crew arrive on a floating island where the native inhabitants are so ignorant Dolittle has to teach them everything- starting with how to make fire! then building cities, sewer systems, introducing them to medicine, teaching them to use metal, etc etc. It just got to be a bit too much. Polynesia the parrot had it right when she criticized him: "How do you suppose babies got along before you came, for Heaven's sake?" I wanted to like The Voyage of Dr. Dolittle, but the conceit of those ending chapters just spoiled it for me. This is a sequel. The Story of Dr. Dolittle is the first book and then there's a whole slew of others, but I don't think I'll read any more. I think my copy is an edited one, too; I read on wiki that some racist terms for natives and offensive illustrations had been removed.

Rating: 2/5                         276 pages, 1922

More opinions:
The Newberry Project
Adventures in Reading
SMS Book Reviews
A Species of Storytellers
Karen Edits


  1. I loved these books as a child - sorry it didn't work for you.

  2. I think we missed that kind of thing as kids and so it's kind of a bummer when you re-read it and realize how bad it really is. It is too bad to "lose" a book that could have been such a favourite though.

    I was going to go back and re-read this one, but maybe I won't now. Thanks for the review!

  3. I would have been drawn in by the animal thing as well. I will be passing on this one!

  4. You think the book doctor is arrogant, you try the film with Rex Harrison. My word it's awful - and at one point he sings a love song to a seal. (Perfectly platonic.) I'm sorry this wasn't better for you. I was addicted to these books for a while when I was about ten.

  5. I had the "Dr. Dolittle Treasury" when I was younger, which was basically excerpts from all of the different books. I was absolutely in love with it - largely because travelling across the ocean bottom inside a giant translucent snail shell sounded so cool - but I don't think I've revisited it since I was twelve or so.

  6. I really enjoyed these when I was little, and I still have all my copies. I think Dr Doolittle is to thank for my interest in parsnips--or was it turnips? Perhaps I should try re-reading them ...

  7. I enjoyed this more than I was expecting, but like you I don't have any plans to continue the series!


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