It took 68 years, but I’ve finally read ALL of Hugh Lofting’s Dr. Dolittle stories. I’ve owned a copy of this book for decades, but until recently I didn’t know that the later printing I have leaves out two long stories, “The Sea Dog” and “The Story of the Maggot,” as well as a brief introduction by Lofting’s wife, Josephine. It was assembled and published in 1953, after his death, from stories he wrote for the Herald Tribune Syndicate in the 1920s. The first edition has eight stories in all, each with multiple chapters.
The first four stories are tales of dogs living in the Home for Crossbred Dogs in the Doctor’s expansive garden, and can be placed at the beginning of “Doctor Dolittle’s Garden.”
“The Sea Dog” is a sort of Robinson Crusoe’s dog story about a shipwreck and a cabin boy who survives with the ship’s dog. “Dapple” is about a valuable champion pedigreed dog who is sold to a rich owner he hates, and he keeps running away to live with the Doctor, causing that kind soul lots of trouble. “The Dog Ambulance” is an idea from the doctor’s own dog, Jip, that the dogs living in his garden could be of service by running an ambulance for injured animals. This seems like a good idea but doesn’t work out so well. “The Stunned Man” is my favorite of these four tales, a cracking good detective story with dog detective Kling on the case. He’s the canine Sherlock Holmes.
“The Green-Breasted Martins” is a story that fits into the first Dolittle book on his initial trip to Africa. The Doctor helps the Martins prove to the local people how important they are to their well-being by going on strike and refusing to eat any insect pests.
“The Crested Screamers” and “The Lost Boy” fit into “Doctor Dolittle’s Caravan.” In the first, Cheapside tells the doctor about some birds in the London Zoo that all the other birds listen to. In the second, one of the rare cases of a child other than the Doctor’s assistant Tommy Stubbins being a main character, the lost boy wants to join the caravan, and is soon driving all the animals to the point of quitting with his well-meaning but annoying antics.
“The Story of the Maggot” could fit into the second half of “Doctor Dolittle’s Garden,” where a very brief summary of it resides. I can understand why Lofting had a hard time getting this one published, because the concept of maggots is off-putting to many, though in this case he means a grub, really, that feeds on nuts still on the tree. Lofting draws it as an inchworm, oddly. It’s a wildly unlikely tall-tale of one worm that travels widely across the ocean and back in a series of accidents. Entertaining enough.
This was a fun read, though not up with the best of the series. It leaves only “Gub-Gub’s Book” not reread, and I didn’t like that one so much, but I may get to it again eventually.