Sunday 23 January 2022

Reviewing the Classics #12 The Story of Doctor Dolittle

Goodreads Summary:

John Dolittle is a highly respected doctor in the village
of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, yet he loves animals so
much that his house is soon full of them. With all his
patients scared away, and the expense of feeding
his menagerie mounting, a friend suggests that the
Doctor become a vet instead.

With the help of Polynesia the parrot, Doctor Dolittle
swiftly learns the language of the animals so that he
can talk to all of his new patients. However, when
 a message comes from Africa, telling of a terrible
sickness among the monkeys there, the Doctor
and his animal friends depart on a thrilling and
dangerous adventure that they are never likely
to forget.

I think everyone has heard of Doctor Dolittle. No matter if they read the books as a child, or simply watched one of the movie adaptations, I think it would be difficult to find someone in the Western world who hasn't heard of him. I vaguely remember reading some of the books when I was younger, but when I think of Doctor Dolittle, I think of the movie adaptation starring Eddie Murphy. This was one of my favourite movies as a child and I still love it to this day!

The Story of Doctor Dolittle is the first book in the series, and shows us how the doctor first starts talking to animals, and his adventure in Africa to cure the monkeys of a sickness. Although the book is a short, quick read, it is pretty action-packed, and follows the doctor and his animals across oceans, through jungles and into foreign lands. It is a book that will definitely capture the attention and imagination of children even today.

I love that we are introduced to a menagerie of different animals with their own personalities. These personalities are captured perfectly and are exactly what you would expect each animal to say if they could talk. I especially loved Gub Gub the pig, who was constantly complaining and thinking about food. I also loved the fictional Pushmi-Pullyu, a rare two-headed deer. Even though the animal is fictional, I felt that mentioning it was now extinct gave an important message about poaching. Sadly poachers have driven real life animals into extinction, so I felt that it gave children the important message that endangered species need to be protected not hunted, or they were inevitably meet the same fate as the Pushmi-Pullyu.

Something that I have mixed opinions about is censoring books. There was a chapter in the book that felt a little too short and underdeveloped, and after doing a little research, I discovered this was because a large chunk of the chapter had been removed due to a scene where a black prince wanted the doctor to turn his skin white so that a girl would like him. My general opinion is that classics should be preserved as they are, as it gives us a more accurate insight into the time period they were written in. We need to understand that these racist themes are obviously not okay, but are a part of history that shouldn't be deleted, as I feel that we need to learn from the past not act like it never happened. However, as this edition is aimed at young children, I can understand why the publisher chose to censor this book. Children are more susceptible to things that they read, and this could be particularly harmful if a child were to read an uncensored book without a responsible adult to explain that what they were reading wasn't an acceptable way to talk. Something I did take issue with however was that any mention of race had been censored, even to the point where “white man” had been replaced with “foreign man” and the African men being described as black had been omitted. Black and white are not offensive words and are perfectly acceptable words to describe a person's race, so it made no sense to me why these words were omitted. Race is a topic that should be discussed not ignored, so I felt this was a bad decision on the publishers' behalf.

The book itself is a fantastic children's classic that is easy to read. I was actually surprised that there wasn't too much archaic language, and the few words that children may not understand were conveniently explained in a glossary at the back of the book. Doctor Dolittle is definitely a classic that will enthrall children for years to come!

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