Monday, January 14, 2013

Hugh Lofting wrote Doctor Dolittle stories

Hugh Lofting
It is the birthday of English writer Hugh Lofting (1886), whose numerous stories about Doctor Dolittle and the animals with whom he conversed have delighted children for generations. He originally wrote them in letters to his children when he was stationed at the front in France and Flanders during World War I. He said later that the war was too horrible (and, at times, too dull) to write in letters to his children so he chose the fanciful stories instead.

As a boy, Lofting's proclivity for collecting all sorts of little creatures in the yard and bringing them inside (and keeping them in his mother's linen closet), might have foreshadowed his later career. Lofting was born in Maidenhead, England, west of London. His father was English and his mother was Irish. He was educated at a Jesuit boarding school, Mount St. Mary's, and decided to become a civil engineer, mainly so that he could travel the world. He enrolled for a year at Massachusetts Institute of Technology but finished his education at London Polytechnic.

Early in his engineering career, Lofting worked on projects in Canada, West Africa, and Cuba. Then he decided to become a writer. He moved to New York, got married and had two children and wrote magazine articles. When World War I began, Lofting worked for the British Ministry of Information in New York but then became a lieutenant in the Irish Guard and was sent to the front. He was severely wounded in the war and sent to England, where he was joined by his family. Lofting's wife encouraged him to turn the Doctor Doolittle letters into a book.

After he recovered, Lofting and the family returned to New York. On the ship, they met an English journalist and novelist, Cecil Roberts, who was delighted with Lofting's stories and subsequently showed them to publisher. After the first Doctor Dolittle book was published, Lofting sent Roberts an inscribed copy. The Story of Doctor Dolittle: Being the History of His Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts, Never Before Published (1920) was the first in the series. It was instantly popular and young readers in Britain and America clamored for more.

The series also includes The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle (1922), Doctor Dolittle's Post Office (1923), Doctor Dolittle's Circus (1924), Doctor Dolittle's Zoo (1925), Doctor Dolittle's Caravan (1926), Doctor Dolittle's Garden (1927), Doctor Dolittle in the Moon (1928), Doctor Doolittle's Return (1933), Doctor Dolittle's Birthday Book (1936), Doctor Dolittle and the Secret Lake (1948), Doctor Dolittle and the Green Canary (1950), and Doctor Dolittle's Puddleby Adventures (1952). Lofting also wrote a book of poetry and other children's books.

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