Rereading: DOCTOR DOLITTLE IN THE MOON by Hugh Lofting

My hardcover edition from 1928, art by Hugh Lofting.

When I first read this eighth book in the Dolittle series as a child, I didn’t like it because Lofting’s depiction of our moon was so different from what I knew to be true. I was an ardent follower of the U.S. Space Program, and read all I could find about actual and potential space travel, as well as lots of science fiction. Lofting’s book is clearly a fantasy, and doesn’t try to reflect what was known about the moon even in his own time. Reading it now as a fantasy, I found it much more enjoyable. Indeed, Lofting’s creativity and even his art seems at a high point here not seen since the second book in the series, “The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle.”

Endpapers by Lofting.

The doctor, his boy assistant Tommy Stubbins, and two of Dolittle’s animal friends, Chee-Chee the monkey and Polynesia the talking parrot have flown to the moon on the back of a giant moth at the request of the moon’s inhabitants. When they get there, though, none of those inhabitants (giant insects at least, and probably more) are present to greet them. Instead, the expedition seems to be under covert surveillance. They are on the edge of the moon’s dark side, and at first are in what seems to be a desert, but as they travel they come across a huge lone tree. Soon an entire forest or jungle is found, where Chee-Chee finds food for them in the form of edible roots and fruit. While Dolittle explores and collects information, he discovers that the plant life seems to be sentient and have a language, and as usual, he can’t rest until he’s learned it. In some ways, the Moon is Earth-like: it has breathable atmosphere (different from ours, but they adapt to it), water in streams and pools, and some of the plants they find are giant versions of things on Earth, like asparagus. The gravity is different, and sound travels much more easily, so distant sounds are often heard. As Dolittle learns the plant language, he begins to learn about the flora, fauna and history. Eventually they are contacted by the only human on the Moon, Otho Bludge, who was on this part of the Earth when it was torn away to become a satellite, and has been here ever since. Long life is one of the Moon’s other features, as is giantism. Otho is a huge giant! He’s also the leader of flora and fauna society, which he has engineered to be a peaceful co-existence between all living things. In addition to insects, the fauna seems to be mostly birds.

Otho has brought the doctor to the Moon to help the inhabitants with medical problems and illnesses, and he does his best to help them. He does so well that they don’t want him to ever leave. Young Tommy Stubbins, now a nine-foot giant boy from the Moon diet, is tricked into returning to Earth on the back of the same giant moth that brought them. When he finally gets back to the Dolittle household, the many animal friends of the doctor are sad that he has not returned, but feel sure he will someday.

This book was meant to be the end of the series, hence the ambiguous ending, but he did come back in “Doctor Dolittle’s Return” about five years later. I’ll be rereading that one next. This one is great fun if you can put aside your knowledge of the real moon and accept it as a complete fantasy.

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