Sunday, February 01, 2009

Newbery Winners II

In this, the second installment of my newest and possibly most pointless project, I take on 1923's winner, The Voyages Of Dr. Dolittle, by Hugh Lofting. Because of the 1967 movie starring Rex Harrison, this is a book that probably quite a few adults think they're familiar with, even if they haven't read it. Well, as with most of these cases, if you haven't read the actual book, you miss the nuances (like Moby Dick being about more than a guy chasing a whale).

The narrator, one Tommy Stubbins, begins at the moment when, as a nine-year-old lad, he came to meet the man who can talk to animals and became his assistant. Dolittle is a very cheerful man, a little round childlike fellow who doesn't stand on ceremony and has a duck for a housekeeper. He learned the languages of the animals from Polynesia, a parrot. Well, anyhoo, Tommy and the doctor travel together to Spidermonkey Island, which is a floating island, in a search for one of the world’s great naturalists, an Indian named Long Arrow. They encounter him, but find it difficult to leave the island, for reasons which I won't go into in case anyone cares to read the book.

Though I wasn’t highly impressed with the book with the first few chapters, after they get to the island, a plot breaks out. And even before then, there are two memorable scenes involving Dolittle interrogating a dog at a murder trial and pretending to participate in a bullfight in Spain.

In all, it’s an amusing, if lightweight, bit of fantasy, part of the wide British reaction to the horrors of WWI. Two items of interest that people who have not read the book might not know are:
  • Although this is the book that won the Newbery, it's actually the second in the Dolittle series, The Story of Dr. Dolittle being the 1920 debut. I was unaware of this even after I'd finished the book.
  • The book has mildly racist overtones, with several uses of the N-word and a healthy serving of the white man's burden as a plot point.
Recommended for kids: With the excision of the N-word or a very confident adult who can explain the standards of the time, sure.

Recommended for adults: For its historical and cultural impact, but not its literary value.

1 comment:

Michael5000 said...

I am liking this Newberry project.