The Cranky Old Reader

I'm a Goodreads refugee, looking for a new home. Old books for children, science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, and humor are my main areas of interest. I've little interest in books that were written after 1975 or so, and prefer books that are older still. There are, however, a few still-living authors that I respect.

Doctor Dolittle's Return

Doctor Dolittle's Return - Hugh Lofting Doctor Dolittle's Return is the ninth book in Hugh Lofting's classic Doctor Dolittle series. Remarkably, it features some of the most memorable and funniest moments of the whole series. That's a rare thing in a long series!The book directly continues the plot line begun in the preceeding book, Doctor Dolittle in the Moon. It should be noted that Lofting originally intended to end the series with that book, but for some reason changed his mind; five years after the publication of Doctor Dolittle in the Moon, Doctor Dolittle's Return was published.Almost all the old favorites are here: Polynesia, Dab-Dab, Jip, Gub-Gub, Chee-Chee, Too-Too, Cheapside the Cockney sparrow, Whitey the mouse, and the old lame horse. Not to mention our narrator, Tommy Stubbins, and Matthew Mugg, the Cat's Meat Man. The Pushmi-pullyu is entirely absent; his presence in the entire series is actually rather slight. He's a relatively undeveloped character, and vanished from view as the series progressed (my son often asked where he went). Also missing, unfortunately, is Prince Bumpo. However heis at least mentioned in the text; he's gone back to school, as I recall. On the other hand, even if he'd been included in the book modern publishers would doubtless have censored him out of current editions.As you might guess, the book tells how the Doctor returns from the Moon. The first half of the book covers the lives of Tommy Stubbins, the Doctor's assistant, and the Dolittle family of animals in England as they wait for his return; then the exciting moment when he does return; and the Doctor's convalescence, as well as the story of how he managed to escape from the Moon. There are many extremely charming and hilarious moments.The second half of the book deals with the quest of the Doctor for peace and quiet. He wants to write a book about the Moon, and perform Moon-related experiments, but the constant demands of his patients make his other projects nearly impossible to complete. This leads to what are undoubtedly the funniest moments in the entire series...but I'll avoid spoiling them for you.The solution that works is both logical and very aesthetically pleasing. And the ending itself is extremely moving, for all that it is quiet and almost anticlimactic. Lofting's writing style developed considerably over the course of the series, and in Doctor Dolittle's Return he brought a greater depth of feeling and thought to his work than ever before.Although it's roughly the same length as the other books in the series, Doctor Dolittle's Return reads very quickly indeed. In large part that's because it's one of the most lively books in the series; there are no dead spots that bog the flow of the story down. It felt as if the book flew by, far more rapidly than many of the other Dolittle books.I read the book to my seven-year-old son, Sebastian, and he absolutely loved it - I think it is his new favorite. He enjoyed all the Dolittle books very much, but his interest in this was was on an entirely new level. He had me bring the book with us in the car, so I could read it to him every morning and every night as we drove to and from the train station (I wasn't driving, of course). He had me read it to him in the evenings, instead of watching television. He giggled and really is the funniest book in the series, so far.And, in many ways, it feels like the perfect closing point of the series. There are three more Dolittle books, plus a stand-alone book by Gub-Gub the pig, but by all accounts these are more grim and sad, with a darker view of both human and animal nature (well, Gub-Gub's book is probably an exception, since it's an outright work of humor).I believe I read the entire series when I was young, with the exception of the Gub-Gub book (which is quite rare). But I don't remember anything past the end of Doctor Dolittle's Return. Is that because the later books were depressing? Or is it that I never read them? I'm not sure. I'll admit that I'm a little concerned, because Sebastian very much wants to continue reading the Dolittle series; as described, though, the final books may not be appropriate for him. We'll simply have to try and see. And if for some reason they're not appropriate for a seven-year-old, at least we'll have the pleasure of reading the first nine books all over again - at least one or two more times, before he's too grown-up to listen to stories read by his old Dad.

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