Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Doctor Dolittle

Go To

Doctor Dolittle is a book series written by Hugh Lofting with a total of 12 books; the first, The Story of Doctor Dolittle, was published 1920. The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle won the second Newbery Medal.

Doctor Dolittle has learned how to talk to all animals, and, although he is able to treat humans, doesn't like to, so basically he's a vet.

The character has repeatedly appeared in radio and TV and a box office bomb musical, Doctor Dolittle starring Rex Harrison, in 1967. An animated series by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises aired in 1970, with Bob Holt voicing Doctor Dolittle. The books also inspired the Dr. Dolittle series starring Eddie Murphy, about a modern-day doctor with an innate gift for talking to animals. A third adaptation simply titled Dolittle, starring Robert Downey Jr., was released in 2020. There's a 13-episode Animated Adaptation as well, made as an American/Japanese coproduction in 1984 (though it didn't air in Japan until 1997).

Doctor Dolittle even has his own song, "Talk to the Animals", which originated in the 1967 film starring Rex Harrison.

The books of this series in publishing order are:

Three other works include:

  • "Doctor Dolittle Meets a Londoner in Paris" (1925)note 
  • Gub Gub's Book: An Encyclopaedia of Food (1932)note 
  • Doctor Dolittle's Birthday Book (1936)note 

Tropes appearing in the books:

  • Absent-Minded Professor: The Doctor to a certain extent. Mainly in terms of money, which he absolutely can't manage, spends frivolously and forgets just what he spent his money on — but also in a more general sense, since whenever something catches his attention or piques his curiosity he tends to forget everything else, including what he was doing just moments prior. He is rather more down to Earth than your typical example of the trope, though.
  • Alternate Character Interpretation: invoked According to Mudface, Noah and his sons were not nice people — nor, in fact, the progenitors of humanity.
  • Amplified Animal Aptitude: All animals have language and can understand abstract concepts. Even very simple organisms without nervous systems like starfish and sea urchins can be multilingual and have meaningful conversations.
  • Animal Talk: Averted. Animals in this series can normally only talk to others of their own species, and must learn the languages of other species. Dr. Dolittle is exceptional because he can understand and speak the languages of all animals.
  • Art Shift: Very noticeable when you compare the crude and grainy illustrations for the first book with the cleaner and more stylized art Lofting used for the later books.
  • The Artful Dodger: Cheapside, the Londoner sparrow, somehow manages to be a sparrow version of this. While obviously not a pickpocket because sparrows don't need money, he has the attitude, the cheekiness, the wiliness, the rather loose grasp on morals, and even the accent.
  • Ball-Balancing Seal: In Doctor Dolittle's Circus, the titular doctor comes across a seal named Sophie who is being used as part of the circus. Apparently, part of her act involves being able to balance balls on her nose.
  • Beastly Bloodsports: Doctor Dolittle's Circus. During his journey on the English countryside, Doctor Dolittle repeatedly tries to get an old acquaintance, Sir William Peabody, to stop his weekly fox hunt. In the end, he saves a fox family from being hunted and shows them how to escape the hunting dogs by confusing their sense of smell using eucalyptus essence. The idea catches on among the foxes of the county, and the Doctor equips them all with the necessary eucalyptus essence, until Sir William has to stop the fox hunt because he never catches any foxes anymore. Likewise, in The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, he puts a stop to the sport of bullfighting on an island en route to South America.
  • Better with Non-Human Company: Downplayed. While Doctor Dolittle is quite open about how he prefers animals to people, especially the so-called "respectable" people who put on airs and care more about appearances than kindness and compassion, he's quite polite and genial to almost everyone he meets, human or animal... but where animals almost universally adore him, people are a lot more divided in their opinions of him. Those who know him well, and those people he helps, view him as a truly great man, while the rest of the world looks on him as a silly, but harmless eccentric at best, or a no-good bohemian nuisance at worst.
  • Black Sheep: Sarah Dolittle (the good Doctor's sister) views her brother as the black sheep of the family because he's gone from a respectable doctor to an eccentric who talks to animals. When she reappears in Doctor Dolittle's Circus, she insists on him using an alias while working at the titular circus so he won't embarrass her by associating her name with that of a "circus showman".
  • Bowdlerization: Pretty severe case in both the illustrations and the text. The books have been out of print in their original forms since the 1970s.
  • Can't Get in Trouble for Nuthin': In Doctor Dolittle's Return, Dr. Dolittle tries in vain to get himself thrown into jail, so that he can write his book in peace and quiet. When he finally succeeds (getting himself in trouble by breaking the windows at the police station), a hoard of mice, rats and badgers all act to break him out via burrowing under the jail, causing damage to the structure until the town authorities have had enough and release him.
  • Carnivore Confusion: It's a little strange to read about the doctor eating sausages and such when Gub-Gub the pig is a main character.
  • Cats Are Mean: As explained in Doctor Dolittle's Return, the moon cats hold themselves apart from Otho Bludge's ideal society. This is also why a cat had never been part of the Dolittle household until Itty accompanied them back from the moon.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: The crocodile from The Story of Doctor Dolittle stayed in Africa at the end and, unlike Polynesia and Chee-Chee (who also stayed, but later rejoined the Doctor in The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle), is never mentioned again in any of the later books.
  • Circus Episode: In Doctor Dolittle's Circus, Doctor Dolittle and his animal friends join a circus to make some money, taking advantage of his ability to talk to the animals to put together impressive performing-animal acts.
  • Cool Boat: The Great Glass Sea Snail, as seen in The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, can serve as one — it's able to carry people and things underwater in its shell like a submarine.
  • Cunning Linguist: The Doctor does not only speak a lot of animal languages, but a number of human languages as well.
    • However, when he first meets Long Arrow in The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, the only language they share is Eagle, despite both of them being bona fide geniuses and the Doctor being very well-traveled, so that's what they speak with each other at first.
  • Decision Darts: "Stab a globe/atlas randomly with a pencil" is the good doctor's #1 technique for deciding where to go, as first seen in The Voyages of Doctor Dolittleand later Doctor Dolittle's Garden. It's even how he ended up on the moon.
  • Direct Line to the Author:
    • According to The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, all the books are supposedly written by Tommy Stubbins — even the ones where he doesn't appear and the books are told in third person are penned by him, based on stories the Doctor told him about his earlier life (and Polynesia the parrot is credited as Tommy's greatest source of information).
    • Gub-Gub's Book: An Encyclopaedia of Food In Twenty Volumes is a double example; initially Gub-Gub is credited as the author, but the text admits that the book was "really" written by Tommy, based on conversations he heard between Gub-Gub and the other animals of the Dolittle household. The titular encyclopedia is described as a poorly-organized collection of scribblings written by the pig, much too long to be translated into English — hence, according to the frontispiece, the remaining nineteen volumes of the encyclopedia have been "temporarily postponed."
  • Ditzy Genius: Doctor Dolittle, though at first he comes across more of a Genius Ditz (a bit of a fool in most things, but an absolute marvel at medicine and animal languages). Later books establish him firmly as a Ditzy Genius, though; he's a very intelligent man with vast knowledge on such varied topics as astronomy, zoology, history, geography and of course medicine; he's a tremendously skilled doctor and surgeon, his knack for languages (human and animal) is unparalleled, and he's also good at logical deduction as well as thinking up creative solutions to problems. But he's also bit of a scatterbrain who tends to get distracted when he really shouldn't be, he's absolutely terrible at managing his money or household, and he quite often demonstrates that he's rather short on common sense.
  • Eek, a Mouse!!: In Doctor Dolittle's Post Office, a smaller African kingdom is warred upon by a bigger, expansionist one, whose crack troops are Amazons. The White Mouse who lives in Dolittle's pocket points out that while they are fearsome warriors, the Amazons are still women, and gather a force of local mice who scares them away.
  • Extreme Doormat: The kind and helpful Doctor Dolittle is constantly in danger of becoming this; he can never say no to helping people or animals in need, even if it costs him his own safety, well-being or happiness. Luckily, he always has a few companions (mainly the animals, but Tommy and Bumpo sometimes step up too) who look after him and make sure he's compensated and/or not worked to death.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Tommy Stubbins. An unusual example in that he is first introduced in The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, so the earlier set books are all told in 3rd person omniscient (though The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle hint that these books are also written by Tommy, based on stories told to him by the Doctor and Polynesia).
  • Giant Flyer: Jamara Bumblelily, the moth large enough to double as an interplanetary spaceship, introduced in Doctor Dolittle's Garden (though his name is not given until Doctor Dolittle in the Moon). A Mammoth Locust, big enough to carry a gigantic Doctor and his three companions and all his luggage, later serves the same purpose when he comes back in Doctor Dolittle's Return.
  • Gluttonous Pig: Gub-Gub, who's always hungry and wanting to eat. He even got his own book on the subject, Gub-Gub's Book: An Encyclopaedia of Food In Twenty Volumes (the title of which is something of a misnomer, as only one volume actually gets released).
  • The Great Flood: Remembered fondly by Mudface the turtle.
  • A Head at Each End: The Pushmi-Pullyu is an antelope with two front halves, attached at the waist.
  • Heroic Dog: In The Story of Doctor Dolittle, Jip is awarded a solid gold dog collar for saving a fisherman's life (via tracking him down with his nose, allowing Doctor Dolittle to find him).
  • Horrible Judge of Character: The Doctor can fall into this from time to time, especially in the case of Alexander Blossom in Doctor Dolittle's Circus.
  • The Idealist: John Dolittle is very much this with both good ideas like the Retired Cab and Wagon Horses Association (as seen in Doctor Dolittle's Circus) and impractical schemes such as the Animal's Bank (in Doctor Dolittle's Caravan).
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Between Doctor Dolittle and Tommy Stubbins, who is ten years old when they first meet in The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. Also between Tommy and Bumpo, who is at least old enough to be studying at Oxford.
  • Interplanetary Voyage: Late in Doctor Dolittle's Garden, the Doctor and Tommy fly to the moon on the back of a giant moth.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Polynesia the Parrot is prideful and a Politically Incorrect Hero but always looks out for the Doctor's well being.
    • Cockney sparrow Cheapside is irreverent and rude, but a loyal ally.
    • The Captain of the HMS Violet is rather hot tempered, but is genuinely grateful to the Doctor for helping with the capture of Jimmie Bones the slaver in Doctor Dolittle's Post Office.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: In Doctor Dolittle's Post Office, the Captain is rather understandably put out by the Doctor leaving his ship without running lights where the Violet crashes into it. In fairness to the Doctor he'd left much earlier in the day before it was dark.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Circus manager Alexander Blossom gets away with a massive amount of money and leaves the Doctor with a mass of unpaid bills at the end of Doctor Dolittle's Circus.
    • In The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, Mendoza escapes any sort of prosecution for plotting to kill Luke and trying to get him tried for murder.
  • Kindly Vet: Naturally. Being able to talk with his patients helps even more.
  • The Load: Gub-Gub often tends to be this with his greed and selfishness.
  • Money Dumb: Doctor Dolittle has no common sense when it comes to money and tends to quickly blow through it. Even considering the funds required to keep his extensive animal household, the Doctor is far too generous with his money. While it is generally spent on noble endeavors, the Doctor is very impulsive and often blows through his funds on benevolent but impractical projects. During their time at the circus, Dab-Dab and Too-Too had to step in to make sure the Doctor kept enough for himself, even appointing Matthew Mugg as assistant manager to keep the Doctor grounded. As Too-Too laments what's the point of all his hard work accounting when the Doctor just spends it all.
  • Noble Savage: Long Arrow, the world's greatest naturalist, as featured in The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle.
  • Omniglot: The doctor spends a lot of time learning animal languages; learning mollusk language is a major goal for him in The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, and he focuses on insect language in Doctor Dolittle's Garden.
  • Only Sane Man: Duck, rather — Dab-Dab is often the only character with a modicum of common sense where money is concerned.
  • Perpetual Poverty: Although the Doctor prefers it this way, cheerfully wishing money had never been invented.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Polynesia is very much this in the original editions, dropping some rather racist language.
  • Polly Wants a Microphone: Polynesia the parrot is the only animal in the series who speaks fluent English, and is the one who first taught both Doctor Dolittle, and later on Tommy Stubbins, to speak animal languages.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • In Doctor Dolittle's Circus, Justice of the Peace Sir William Peabody who, upon hearing the whole story of the Doctor's adventure with Sophie the seal after he's been imprisoned for presumably murdering his "wife" (actually Sophie herself, whom he was carrying to the sea so she could return to the wild), ensures the charges are dropped and releases him with a amused warning not go dropping off any more circus animals in his county.
    • In The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, the Honorable Eustace Beauchamp Conckley who allows Luke's dog Bob to testify in court after the Doctor proves he can talk to animals.
  • Retcon: Doctor Dolittle's Circus changes several elements from the concluding chapter of The Story of Doctor Dolittle when expanding the Circus Episode into a full book. The Doctor and his friend return to Puddleby at the start, the animals enjoy the circus life, and the Doctor travels with a circus rather than traveling between county fairs. Characters like Matthew Mugg and Cheapside are incorporated into the narrative as well.
  • Rousseau Was Right: John Dolittle firmly believes this, his animal friends are more dubious.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Prince Bumpo's family. Stubbins, Dr. Dolittle's assistant, is quite surprised in The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle to learn that there is more to being a king than sitting on a throne and being bowed to several times a day.
  • Sapient All Along: All animals in the series are intelligent, and have languages (even, for instance, shellfish, whose languages he spends much of The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle attempting to learn).
  • Series Continuity Error: Doctor Dolittle's Circus is a direct midquel to The Story of Doctor Dolittle expanding on the Doctor's time exhibiting the Pushmi-Pullyu which is only briefly covered in the first book. However, it has Sophie the seal directly reference the events of Doctor Dolittle's Post Office which are set long after the original book's ending. Either there was time travel involved or Lofting mixed up his chronology... or, if we accept the Direct Line to the Author explanation that all the books were in-universe written by Tommy Stubbins, it could simply be that Tommy in this case got the chronology mixed up. It even makes sense with the timeline, given how Tommy in The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle is very clear on how, if he ever forgets a detail while writing the books, Polynesia (who is still with him and has a great memory) will set him straight; but since both Doctor Dolittle's Circus and Doctor Dolittle's Post Office take place during a time when Polynesia wasn't with the Doctor, she wasn't present for either of the stories in question and as such couldn't help out with the details. And since the books take place before Tommy met the Doctor, he wasn't there for the events either and was already working from secondhand information when writing the books.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Prince Bumpo is very well-read and has the largest vocabulary of any of the characters in the series.
  • Signature Headgear: The good Doctor's iconic top hat, and his most prized possession.
  • Significant Name: In The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, the good Doctor's name is interpreted as such by the people of Spidermonkey Island, who promptly rename him "Jong Thinkalot".
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Gub-Gub, in later books, develops quite an ego and begins thinking of himself as the best pig in the world, even though he never grows any more useful to the others.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: Doctor Dolittle. It's an actual plot point that animals have different languages, and just because you can speak to dogs doesn't mean you can speak to, say, crayfish. Dolittle puts lots of effort into learning more languages. It is also established that any human who makes the effort could learn animal tongues. Later on, Tommy Stubbins learns to talk to the animals just as well as the Doctor.
  • Stock Animal Diet: The White Mouse's favorite food is cheese.
  • Time Abyss:
    • In Dr. Dolittle's Post Office, Doctor Dolittle encounters Mudface, the turtle who was a passenger on Noah's Ark.
    • In The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, he meets the Great Glass Snail, who is even older.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Cheapside is rather dubious about the veracity of Mudface's account of the Flood, pointing out he could have made the whole thing up.
  • The Watson: Tommy Stubbins, as the First-Person Peripheral Narrator, often gets this role.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Dab-Dab has had to call out the other animals in the household for their It's All About Me attitudes from time to time.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: As seen in Doctor Dolittle's Zoo, to an unfortunate badger who happens to chew through a lot of it, gold is just something that gets unpleasantly stuck in your teeth.

Alternative Title(s): Doctor Dolittles Post Office, Doctor Dolittles Circus