Rereading: DOCTOR DOLITTLE’S ZOO by Hugh Lofting

Cover art by Hugh Lofting.

Okay, I’ve given up trying to read these in chronological order. Lofting wrote them following two timelines, one with a younger Doctor, one with an older one, accompanied by his assistant Tommy Stubbins. The first book published in 1920, “The Story of Doctor Dolittle,” is, of course, the young Doctor just learning to speak to animals, and traveling to Africa. The second, published in 1922, and my favorite, “The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle” is the older Doctor traveling to the South Atlantic. The third and fourth published in 1923 and 1924, “Doctor Dolittle’s Post Office,” and “Doctor Dolittle’s Circus” follow the younger Doctor. This, the fifth book, published in 1925, is about the older Doctor, and is a direct sequel to “Voyages.”

Sadly, it’s not as exciting as that book, which was full of thrills and adventure. This one has the Doctor back home in Puddleby trying to get his long-neglected house and garden in order, and working on plans to upgrade his private zoo (in his garden) to hold more animals. After consulting some of the animals already there, a plan is drawn up to create large housing complexes for mice and rats, “The Rat and Mice Club,” as well as similar housing for stray dogs, foxes, badgers and squirrels, plus a main street with shops where they could buy food and such. Of course, the Doctor insists all the animals obey a code of non-aggression in his zoo, and the animals are so happy to have these new opportunities, they agree.

Much of the middle of the book focuses on stories told by inhabitants of the Rat and Mouse Club at a series of evening events attended by the Doctor and Tommy. These stories within stories are often entertaining, but leave the Doctor himself with little to do but listen, with Tommy recording. The last section of the book finally brings action and adventure, as the Doctor and his household become involved in the mystery of Moorsden Manor. First, a mouse who lives there reports a fire in the basement. The Doctor and friends rush there to raise an alarm and put it out, but find the owner very hostile. The reason why becomes the mystery, and it’s good fun seeing it all roll out.

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