This book revises the beloved classic, written by Hugh Lofting in 1920. In the preface, author Melissa Dalton Martinez notes that “great literary works” should be revised only when necessary “to update archaic or potentially offensive prose for the modern reader – in The Story of Doctor Dolittle, this was the case.”
After 100 years, The Story of Doctor Dolittle is still highly entertaining for children. It contains adventure and thrills but isn’t too scary. It’s upbeat, good wins over evil, and Dr. Dolittle is always kind. Unfortunately, it’s also marred by elements today’s readers would find highly objectionable.
In this revision, the main plot remains essentially unchanged. Dr. Doolittle, trained as a human doctor, becomes a veterinarian and learns the languages of all animals. World renown, he’s eventually recruited by the monkeys in Africa to cure a pandemic killing their species. Dr. Dolittle faces many adventures on this quest, including being imprisoned, accosted by pirates, and weathering fierce storms at sea.
While the original book includes illustrations that exaggerate the black characters’ features in offensive ways, the new line drawings are exceptionally engaging, detailed, realistic, and fun, without racist overtones.
The prose, too, has been carefully reworked to eliminate racial slurs. Special attention has been given to Chapters 11 and 12, where the original story includes a scenario in which a black prince longs to be white so that he can marry Sleeping Beauty. He promises to release Dr. Dolittle from prison if the doctor will use his medicines to change the color of his face. Here, the prince is required to woo Sleeping Beauty by bringing her father the moon. Dr. Dolittle shows his resourcefulness by suggesting the prince offer a moonflower instead.
Numerous revised editions have been made of this story. As such, it’s unclear what this book adds to the mix. Nonetheless, it delivers a charming edition of the classic story, nicely updated for modern times.
Also available in hardcover, ebook and audio book.