Doctor Dolittle is the central character of a series of children's books by Hugh Lofting. He is a doctor who shuns human patients in favour of animals, with whom he can speak in their own languages. He later becomes a naturalist, using his abilities to speak with animals to better understand nature and the history of the world.
Doctor Dolittle first saw light in the author's illustrated letters to children, written from the trenches during World War I when actual news, he later said, was either too horrible or too dull. The stories are set in early Victorian England, where Doctor John Dolittle lives in the fictional village of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh.
Doctor Dolittle had a few close human friends, including Matthew Mugg, the Cat's-Meat Man. The animal team consisted of Polynesia (a parrot), Gub-Gub (a pig), Jip (a dog), Dab-Dab (a duck), Chee-Chee (a monkey), Too-Too (an owl), and the Pushmi-Pullyu (a rare type of herbivore with a head on each end of its body).
The Story of Doctor Dolittle: Being the History of His Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts Never Before Printed (1920) began the series. The sequel The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle (1922) won the prestigious Newbery Medal. The next three, Doctor Dolittle's Post Office, (1923), Doctor Dolittle's Circus (1924) and Doctor Dolittle's Caravan (1926) are all actually prequels (or "midquels", as they take place during the events of The Story of Doctor Dolittle). Seven more followed, and after Lofting's death two more volumes, composed of short unpublished pieces, appeared.
The books, in order of publication, are:
The books have been accused of racism, due to the depiction of certain ethnic groups therein, both written and illustrated. Editions in the United States sometimes had alterations made from the 1960s, but the books went out-of-print in the 1970s. In the United Kingdom, the unexpurgated books went out of print in 1981.
In 1986, to mark the centenary of Lofting's birth, new editions were published which had such passages rewritten or removed. Offending illustrations were either removed (and replaced with unpublished Lofting originals) or altered.
It is fair to note that the black characters in the book are not depicted speaking in Pidgin English and any derogatory references are slight and passing.
There have been a number of adaptations of the Doctor Dolittle stories in other media:
A 1998 film, Dr. Dolittle, and its 2001 sequel, both starring Eddie Murphy, loosely inspired by the Doctor Dolittle books, using almost none of the books' material.