I’ve decided to try rereading the Doctor Dolittle books in what several online sites have said is internal chronological order. This is the third book published (in 1923) but the second in chronological order. Chronology is somewhat uncertain for the early books, though, but I’ll follow their lead.
While no years are given in this book, it probably takes place in the 1820s, and mostly in Africa. That Africa is, of course, very different from what we know today, very much a tribal society of small kingdoms with large areas of the interior controlled by animals rather than people. I feel Lofting handles the race issue pretty well overall, there is some stereotyping for humor, but not much, and his African men and women are of various personalities and abilities. Lofting reserves villain roles mostly for white pirates and thieves, with one warlike African chief as well.
While the book opens with action and adventure as the Doctor takes on some pirates almost single-handed, much of the story is about a postal system he sets up in the African kindgom of Fantippo using his many animal friends, largely the birds, to deliver mail from Fantippo to all parts of the world. Lofting is interested in process, and he makes the process of setting up this postal system interesting, with plenty of amusing and entertaining animal activities and comments. He has each species of bird under a leader or “king,” with Speedy, the leader of the Swifts, taking charge of long-distance mail delivery and Cheapside the Cockney sparrow from London brought in by the doctor with his brethren to handle city mail deliveries in Fantippo’s capital city. Once the system is set up, the Doctor gets involved in politics, war and government in neighboring countries with more action and adventure.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is near the end when the Doctor and his animal friends go on an expedition into an unknown part of central Africa to meet the world’s oldest animal, a very large and ancient turtle, Mudface. The journey is full of wonders, and Mudface himself has amazing stories to tell while the Doctor tries to help with his arthritis. Mudface’s story involved Noah and his Ark, adding a bit of religion to the mix, but there are so many fantasy elements in these books that it seems to fit right in.
Good fun, brought back happy memories of my childhood. Recommended.