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Literature / Doctor Dolittle

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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. The books also inspired the Dr. Dolittle series starring Eddie Murphy, about a modern-day doctor with an innate gift for talking to animals.

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:

Tropes appearing in the books:

  • Absent-Minded Professor: The Doctor to a certain extent, mainly in terms of money.
  • 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.
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  • Animal Talk: Averted to the point that learning new animal languages often drives the plot.
  • 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.
  • Black Sheep: The good Doctor is this, from the point of view of his respectable sister Sarah.
  • 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, the animals break him out and he has to start over again.
  • 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: 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.
  • 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: (after a fashion) The Great Glass Sea Snail.
  • 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, 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. It's even how he ended up on the moon.
  • Eek, a Mouse!!: 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.
  • Everything Is Better With Monkeys: Chee Chee the monkey is one of the Doctor's most constant companions.
  • 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 3rd person omniscient (though The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle hint that these books are also written by Tommy).
  • Genius Ditz: Doctor Dolittle has traces of this; he's a tremendously skilled doctor and great at learning the various animal languages, but he can also be a bit of a scatterbrain and tends to get distracted when he really shouldn't be, and he's absolutely terrible at managing his money or household.
  • Giant Flyer: Jamara Bumblelily, the moth large enough to double as an interplanetary spaceship.
  • 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 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: Jip was once awarded a solid gold dog collar for saving a man's life.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Between Doctor Dolittle and Tommy Stubbins, who is ten years old when they first meet.
  • Interplanetary Voyage: In Doctor Dolittle in the Moon, the Doctor flies to the moon on the back of a giant moth.
  • Kindly Vet: Naturally. Being able to talk with his patients helps even more.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis:
    • 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."
  • Nice Hat: The good Doctor's iconic top hat, and his most prized possession.
  • Noble Savage: Long Arrow, the world's greatest naturalist.
  • Not Good with People: Doctor Dolittle can speak with animals and relates well to them, but aside from a few close friends he doesn't much like humans.
  • Omniglot: He spends a lot of time learning animal languages.
  • Perpetual Poverty: Although the Doctor prefers it this way.
  • Polly Wants a Microphone: Polynesia the parrot is the only animal in the series who speaks fluent English, and is the one who taught both Doctor Dolittle, and later on Tommy Stubbins, to speak animal languages.
  • Rousseau Was Right
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Prince Bumpo's family. Stubbins, Dr. Dolittle's assistant, is quite surprised to learn 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 second book specialising in).
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Prince Bumpo is very well-read and has the largest vocabulary of any of the characters in the series.
  • Significant Name: The good Doctor's name is interpreted as such by the people of Spider Monkey Island, who promptly reappelle him "Jong Thinkalot"
  • 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.
  • Time Abyss: In Dr. Dolittle's Post Office, Doctor Dolittle encounters Mudface, the turtle who was a passenger on Noah's Ark.
  • The Watson: Tommy Stubbins, as the First-Person Peripheral Narrator, often gets this role.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: 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


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