Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Lofting, Hugh

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(1886-1947) UK writer, resident in the USA from 1919, where most of his books were first published. HL began writing children's stories while serving in World War I, creating the first versions of some of the Dr Dolittle (in some editions rendered as Doctor Doolittle) stories while in the trenches. This sequence of Animal Fantasies comprises The Story of Dr Dolittle: Being the History of his Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts (1920), The Voyages of Dr Dolittle (1922), Dr Dolittle's Post Office (1923), Dr Dolittle's Circus (1924), Dr Dolittle's Zoo (1925), Dr Dolittle's Caravan (1926), Dr Dolittle's Garden (1927), Dr Dolittle in the Moon (1928), Dr Dolittle's Return (1933), Dr Dolittle and the Secret Lake (1948), Dr Dolittle and the Green Canary (coll 1950) and Dr Dolittle's Puddleby Adventures (coll 1952). Gub Gub's Book: An Encyclopedia of Food in Twenty Volumes (1932 – in fact in just 1 vol) features one of the Dr Dolittle cast but is otherwise unconnected to the main series. The entire sequence is illustrated by HL, in a style whose simplicity is deceptive; he was in fact an illustrator of genius. His delicate spidery line, his Oriental horizon-effects, and his use of chiaroscuro all come together in images of a profound, prelapsarian openness.

The central sequence of tales, those published 1920-1929, confirms this sense. Although the Doctor has some connection to the real world of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh – often, for instance, being strapped for funds – his main life points elsewhere. The garden behind his home – which seems to expand indefinitely (> Little Big) and which serves as an impregnable refuge against the world – is a genuine Polder, and much of the action takes place within it. It is here that the various animals whose languages the Doctor has learned live in safety, tell their tales, and inspire his wanderlust. Dolittle's travels take him to various Land-of-Fable parts of Africa, most notably in The Voyages of Dr Dolittle and the undervalued Dr Dolittle and the Secret Lake; the heart of the latter consists of the long story of Mudface the Turtle, whose life began before Noah's and who survived the Flood. Elements from the tales were incorporated in a musical-comedy movie adaptation, Doctor Dolittle (1967).

The prime of HL's active career lasted only a decade, and during that period he wrote only one other fantasy, The Twilight of Magic (1930), a slightly moralistic tale set in a land-of-fable medieval Europe; it is clear that only in the character of Dolittle was he able to refashion trauma into Pastoral. He was superbly successful; but when the immediate impact of WWI faded HL became increasingly afflicted with a cultural pessimism that made it hard for him to work. Dr Dolittle and the Secret Lake is the only escapee from this despair. [JC]

other works: The Story of Mrs Tubbs (1923) and Tommy, Tilly and Mrs Tubbs (coll 1936), for younger children; Porridge Poetry (coll 1924), poems; The Story of Zingo: The Commercial Traveler (1924 chap), in which a monkey becomes a salesman – written to advertise Colgate's New Ribbon Dental Cream..

Certainly the first and almost certainly all the Stokes US editions of the Dolittle sequence, which always precede the UK editions, give Doctor in full, not Dr.

Hugh John Lofting


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.