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Literature / The Story of Doctor Dolittle

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John Dolittle is a doctor living in the small village, Puddlebynote . He is a highly competent and well-respected physician, but he is also somewhat of an animal hoarder, which drives away almost all of the paying human customers. The only exception is the Cat's-meat-man (a man who sells meat for pets to eat, not a man who sells the meat of cats) who's never had any problem with animals. John Doolittle even drives his own spinster sister away when he adopts a crocodile, and he's left penniless with no one to take care of his house or manage his money.

His parrot, Polynesia, teaches Dolittle how to speak certain animal languages, which fascinates him. And despite his dire financial straits, he remains happy and carefree. One day he receives a message from a swallow begging him to travel to Africa to cure a disease epidemic among the monkeys. Being flat-out broke, he borrows money and a ship and sails across the ocean, adventure waiting just around the corner

The Story of Doctor Dolittle is the first book of Hugh Lofting's Doctor Dolittle series. It was published in 1920 and now in the public domain and can be read here.


This novel provides examples of:

  • 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 Lover: The eponymous doctor is kind to animals. It helps that he can understand them.
  • Animal Talk: Averted. Each animal species has its own language. Polynesia, the Doctor's parrot, is multilingual and taught Dolittle his first animal languages. Though the Doctor's household consists of (among others) a dog, a horse, a duck, an owl, a pig and a mouse, and they can talk with each other easily, so there is some lingua franca going on. Polynesia is the only one who can speak human languages, though later books establish that the others have spent so much time talking to the doctor and being there while he learned the various animal languages that while they can't talk to humans, they can understand humans just fine.
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  • Bowdlerize: Bumpo wishing to be white is edited out of some later editions of the book.
  • Carnivore Confusion: Animals vary in their degree of intelligence, but all are sapient. This obviously creates some issues, but they are never really addressed.
  • Friend to All Living Things: To the point of practically being an animal hoarder.
  • The Whitest Black Guy: Bumpo agrees to help Doctor Dolittle if the Doctor will in turn make him white.
  • Polly Wants a Microphone: Although all animals are implied to be sapient, Polynesia is a parrot who can understand and speak fluent English (among other languages). She's fluent in English because the Doctor taught it to her, enabling her to return the favor by teaching him animal languages.
  • Put on a Bus: Or rather, Left Behind At The Bus Stop. Polynesia, Chee-Chee and the crocodile remain behind in Africa while Doctor Dolittle and the other animals travel back to England, meaning that they vanish from the latter half of the book. Both Polynesia and Chee-Chee would return to the Doctor in the sequel, but the crocodile never did.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: The former trope namer. All animals speak different languages, some incorporating body language.
  • Talking Animal: Polynesia, who is a parrot, naturally.
  • Translation Convention: Happens in a lot of the conversations between animals.


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