The Story of Doctor Dolittle

Hugh Lofting first created the character of Doctor Dolittle in letters home to his children while he was in WWI. The first book in the series is The Story of Doctor Dolittle: Being the History of His Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts Never Before Printed.

Dr. Dolittle is a medical doctor, but he has a lot of pets. He begins to lose patients when they are scared by the number and kinds of pets he keeps. Someone suggests he become an animal doctor. His talking parrot tells him all animals have languages and teaches the doctor several of them. The doctor’s fame spreads far and wide since he can now diagnose and treat animals for the exact ailments they tell him about.

There’s only one problem. Animals aren’t paying customers. As much as the doctor dislikes money and wishes he didn’t have to bother with it, a certain amount is necessary to live.

So he and the animals devise ways to economize plus make some money.

Then birds bring word that monkeys in Africa are very sick, with many of them dying. They’ve heard of Doctor Doolittle and wonder if he can help them.

So after making arrangements for his house and the animals who will stay home, and finding a boat and supplies, the good doctor sets off along with several of his animal companions. They experience several misadventures during their travels and their time in Africa.

I had not realized that there were a number of books with Doctor Doliitle as the main character until I set out to read about him. I had thought that there was one main chapter book. This book is the first written, but others tell of time periods before this book. So some sets of the Doolittle books are arranged in the chronology of the settings rather than publication order. I prefer publication order of any series because that’s how the story would have originally unfolded. Sometimes we don’t care much about the back story until we come to know and care about the characters and their world. I listed to the audiobook very nicely read by James Langton. But it was put together in setting order, so I had to search through several beginnings of chapters in The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, which had been placed first, before finding this story (the beginning of the different books wasn’t marked).

Also, I didn’t realize the set I listened to was “fully updated for the modern listener.” I would much rather read and listen to books in their original words. One new illustrated edition has taken the liberty of adding an “updated magical twist.” So if you prefer original classics, check for these things before choosing a volume.

Some editions say they have removed “ethnically insensitive” parts of the story. I assume this one did since it’s “revised for modern readers.” Generally, I’d rather leave stories as they were and explain why certain things are no longer done or said. I don’t know what things were removed from these books. Perhaps, especially in the versions designed for children to read themselves, it is better to adapt them without those offensive elements.

I hadn’t intended to read Doctor Dolittle until this set came up in a “2 books for one credit” sale on Audible. I’m glad to be more familiar with it now, but I don’t think I liked it well enough to read the other two books in this set.

I have not seen any of the film versions.

I’m counting this book for 20th century classic for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.

The Adventures of Pinocchio

The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi was originally written in serial form for a children’s magazine in Italy in the 1880s. Collodi had ended the series with the fifteenth chapter. But readers clamored for more, so Collodi gradually added eleven more chapters. The series was published as a single book in 1883.

The story was meant to be didactic. A poor woodcarver named Geppetto begins to carve a marionette out of a piece of wood given to him by his friend. Before the puppet is even fully carved, he starts making trouble: sticking out his tongue, calling names, pulling Geppetto’s wig off. He’s wild and self-willed and won’t listen to anyone. And, of course, he gets into various kinds of trouble. Gradually he begins to be disciplined by his hardships and turns into “a real boy.”

Parts of the story are comedic, but parts are scary. Some are darker than I’d expect in a children’s book.

Pinocchio doesn’t have Jiminy Cricket as a companion. Instead a Talking Cricket tries to advise Pinocchio–and Pinocchio throws a hammer at him and kills him!

The Blue Fairy is here the Maiden with Azure Hair. Other familiar characters are the evil theater director, a shark (not a whale) that swallows Pinocchio, the friend named Lamp-wick who tempts Pinocchio to the Land of Toys. And there are several more characters I had not heard of before.

I was glad that Pinocchio didn’t change in one sudden burst of realization. Rather, he gradually learned a bit, fell back, went forward, fell back again. Most of us mature and learn that way.

The chapter titles or headings seem to me to give away much of the story. Chapter 17 is “Pinocchio eats sugar, but refuses to take medicine. When the undertakers come for him, he drinks the medicine and feels better. Afterwards he tells a lie and, in punishment, his nose grows longer and longer.” Chapter 23 is “Pinocchio weeps upon learning that the Lovely Maiden with Azure Hair is dead. He meets a Pigeon, who carries him to the seashore. He throws himself into the sea to go to the aid of his father.” Maybe that was the style then.

I was surprised to learn that Pinocchio is “the most translated non-religious book in the world.” Another surprise learned from Wikipedia is “Children’s literature was a new idea in Collodi’s time, an innovation in the 19th century. Thus in content and style it was new and modern, opening the way to many writers of the following century.”

Most of us are familiar with the Disney version of Pinocchio. I wonder if anyone, particularly if any children or families, read the unabridged original book today. By today’s standards it might seem a little too long and didactic. Then again, kids might enjoy reading about Pinocchio’s antics and seeing him get his comeuppance several times over. Personally, just when I was starting to get a bit tired of the story, Pinocchio began making some real advances.

I read this book for the classics in translation category of the Back to the Classics Reading challenge. In all honesty, I chose it mainly because it was short. I’ve read some hefty Russian tomes, like War and Peace and The Brothers Karamazov, for this category in past years. But I just didn’t feel like getting into something like those this year. However, I do also like reading the original versions of familiar stories.

I listened to the audiobook by Librivox which, as it’s read by volunteers, is a mixed bag. But it’s free. I also looked up portions on the online Gutenberg version here. Both use the translation by Carol Della Chiesa.

Have you ever read The Adventures of Pinocchio? What did you think of it? Do you think children today would like the longer original version?

Peter Pan

I’ve seen several movie version of Peter Pan: the Disney cartoon, of course, a 2003 live-action version, and Hook. But I had never read the book by J. M. Barrie.

Peter was originally a character in Barrie’s book The Little White Bird. A few years later, the chapters about Peter were extracted and published separately as Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Later Barrie wrote a play with Peter as the central character, and later still he expanded the story into a novel, Peter Pan and Wendy, in 1911. These days it’s usually published as just Peter Pan.

Some think that inspiration for Peter came from Barrie’s older brother, who died young and was always thought of as still a boy. The name “Peter” came from the son of friends, the Llewelyn Davies. “Pan” was from Greek mythology.

You’re probably familiar with the story, but Peter lives in Neverland with Lost Boys. Occasionally he travels around. He lands outside the Darling family nursery and is captivated by the stories he hears there. He entices the daughter, Wendy Darling, to come to Neverland and be the Lost Boys’ mother. Wendy’s brothers, John and Michael, come, too. They have a lot of adventures with fairies and a Neverbird and Indians and pirates. The pirate captain is a man named Hook due to the prosthesis he had to wear after Pan was responsible for cutting off his arm in a fight.

Though Peter is portrayed as fearless, cunning, and skilled with a sword, he’s also selfish and thoughtless of others’ feelings. I’m glad Barrie portrayed the immature side of his childishness rather than just making him idyllic.

Barrie had tried different subtitles and settled on The Boy Who Couldn’t Grow Up. But a producer didn’t like that and suggested changing “Couldn’t” to “Wouldn’t.” I think “wouldn’t” is much more fitting. If he couldn’t grow up, we’d feel sorry for him. But since he wouldn’t, that adds a little bit of exasperation with him and explains why everyone else did grow up.

A few years after Peter Pan was published, Barrie wrote When Wendy Grew Up. An Afterthought. Peter returns after a absence of some years and is dismayed to find that Wendy has grown up and married. But then Wendy’s daughter, Jane, goes with Peter with her mother’s permission. This was sometimes published separately, but it was included at the end of the volume I read.

There has been some criticism in modern times of the way that Indians were portrayed. Wikipedia says, “Later screen adaptations have taken various approaches to these characters, sometimes presenting them as racial caricatures, omitting them, attempting to present them more authentically, or reframing them as another kind of ‘exotic’ people.” I don’t recall that they were portrayed negatively at all: they were respected even as enemies, and eventually became friends. But they were written rather stereotypically.

I was surprised that the book was darker in places than I remember the films being, though I admit it has been a long time since I have seen any of the films. It seems like in the Disney version, there was a lot of fighting but no bloodshed or real injuries except Hook’s hand. But in the book, people did die.

In the 2003 film, it didn’t dawn on me until fairly late that the same actor portrayed both the father and Hook. I read somewhere that the play usually does the same thing. Also, that film has something of a romance between Peter and Wendy, but in the book he always thinks of her as a mother.

I can’t say Peter Pan will be my favorite children’s classic, but I am glad to be acquainted with the original story now. I am counting it as my children’s classic for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Rose in Bloom Review and LMA Challenge Wrap-Up

Rose in Bloom in Louisa May Alcott’s sequel to Eight Cousins. In the first book, Rose was orphaned as a young girl and sent to live with her uncle Alec. She was also surrounded by several other great aunts, aunts, uncles, and seven boy cousins.

In this book, Rose and a few of her cousins are in their early twenties and about to embark on adulthood. They wrestle with possibly occupations, projects, and potential love interests. Evidently it was considered acceptable to marry first cousins in that era, because there’s a lot of speculation about whether Rose will marry one of hers.

Rose is set to come into a large inheritance, and her uncle has tried to train her well to be responsible and philanthropic rather that frivolous, self-important, and wasteful. She faces some temptations in these areas and wants to try the lifestyle of her friends for a while. This seems to involve a lot of parties and dancing at friends’ houses until the wee hours of the morning. She learns that some people are only interested in her because of her wealth. She has to decide between the “fast” life and a sedate but more useful one.

One of her cousins, Charlie, also known as Prince, has been indulged all his life and is in danger of going the wrong direction, especially in regard to one particular bad habit. Rose tries to help him overcome his wayward tendencies.

Louisa says in her preface that “there is no moral to this story. Rose is not designed for a model girl, and the Sequel was simply written in fulfillment of a promise, hoping to afford some amusement, and perhaps here and there a helpful hint, to other roses getting ready to bloom.”

When I was growing up, I warmed to stories like this that encouraged being good, or becoming better. Modern readers might feel it goes a little overboard. But I still find it a sweet story, and I think others would if they gave it a chance.

I was surprised that young people this age were still considered boys and girls at the time of this writing, and not read to marry or launch out on their own yet.

Much is said about Rose being a strong-minded girl. Evidently this was pushing the envelope even in Alcott’s day. A few sentences from the last paragraph of this exchange were included in the newest Little Women movie:

Rose’s voice was heard saying very earnestly, “Now, you have all told your plans for the future, why don’t you ask us ours?”

“Because we know that there is only one thing for a pretty girl to do: break a dozen or so hearts before she finds one to suit, then marry and settle,” answered Charlie, as if no other reply was possible.

“That may be the case with many, but not with us, for Phebe and I believe that it is as much a right and a duty for women to do something with their lives as for men, and we are not going to be satisfied with such frivolous parts as you give us,” cried Rose with kindling eyes. “I mean what I say, and you cannot laugh me down. Would you be contented to be told to enjoy yourself for a little while, then marry and do nothing more till you die?” she added, turning to Archie.

“Of course not; that is only a part of a man’s life,” he answered decidedly.

“A very precious and lovely part, but not all,” continued Rose. “Neither should it be for a woman, for we’ve got minds and souls as well as hearts; ambition and talents as well as beauty and accomplishments; and we want to live and learn as well as love and be loved. I’m sick of being told that is all a woman is fit for! I won’t have anything to do with love till I prove that I am something besides a housekeeper and baby-tender!”

That’s not quite as anti-domestic as it sounds, because Rose values both housekeeping and baby-tending. But she wants to accomplish something else before that stage of her life.

I enjoyed this exchange about novels with Rose and her friend, Kitty:

“I’m sure I’ve read a great deal more than some girls do. I suppose novels don’t count, though, and are of no use, for, goodness knows, the people and things they describe aren’t a bit like the real ones.”

“Some novels are very useful and do as much good as sermons, I’ve heard Uncle say, because they not only describe truly, but teach so pleasantly that people like to learn in that way,” said Rose, who knew the sort of books Kitty had read and did not wonder that she felt rather astray when she tried to guide herself by their teaching.

In Eight Cousins there was also much discussion of books one aunt felt were harmful to the younger cousins. I wondered how these compared to the “blood and thunder” books Louisa enjoyed writing.

I also smiled at a section where Rose and cousin Mac discuss the benefits of reading Thoreau and Emerson, knowing that both men were friends of Louisa’s family.

Although the Alcotts were ahead of their time in many ways, Louisa still seemed to hold to the idea that different classes ought not to marry: either that, or she was illustrating problems with that idea by her characters. Phebe started out as a maid from the orphan house in the last book, but was so sweet and industrious and bright that Rose and her uncle sought to give her a good education. Now grown up, everyone loves Phebe—until one of the cousins falls in love with her. Since she’s an orphan of unknown origin, her family tree could contain anybody, and what would it do to the good Campbell name if it should be joined with someone that could be unsavory? That seemed to be the thinking of the aunts, but Rose and Alec and a couple of others had no problem with Phebe becoming part of the family. But Louisa had Phebe prove herself worthy in other ways.

Overall, this was a sweet story of the choices and trials of growing into maturity.

Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

I’m going to wrap up my reading for Tarissa’s Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge here instead of in a separate post. I read:

I also watched the newest movie version of Little Women that was in theaters last year.

I always love spending time with Louisa and appreciate Tarissa’s challenge every June.

(Sharing with Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

Book Review: The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood

Legends of Robin Hood have been floating around since the 14th century. Scholars debate whether early ballads and stories were based on a real person. In his earliest versions, Robin was just a crook, sometimes short-tempered, according to Wikipedia. He did not rob from the poor, but he didn’t give to them, either. Some of the aspects we know of Robin survived from the earliest stories; others were added or adapted over the years. Wikipedia details Robin’s history and variations.

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood was the first version written specifically for children by Howard Pyle in 1883. This is the version many films and later aspects of the story are based on.

In this story, Robin is a yeoman, which seems to be a type of middle class between peasants and aristocrats (other versions cast Robin as a nobleman). He first becomes an outlaw by shooting an arrow at someone who shot at him first, subsequently killing the man. This man happened to be related to the Sheriff of Nottingham, who thenceforth became Robin’s enemy.

As Robin hid out in Sherwood Forest, others soon came to join him. Some who were poor and hungry had killed the king’s deer and fled the law. Others had goods and land confiscated by the king and had nowhere else to go.

To support themselves, Robin and his “merry men” stopped rich travelers and “invited” them to feast in Sherwood Forest, then demanded payment of them. In some cases, Robin divided up the money gathered in this way into thirds, keeping a third for his men, a third for charity, and giving a third back. Robin justified this theft because he figured those he robbed had either gotten their gain unfairly or, like wealthy clergymen, were keeping for themselves what they should be giving to others.

The poor loved Robin because he helped many of them. The classes that Robin robbed from, obviously, did not.

This book details many of the well-known stories about Robin—his first bout with Little John, his altercation of Friar Tuck (someone not in the earliest legends), the archery match in Nottingham where Robin went in disguise. Maid Marian in mentioned but never appears. Other stories I had not heard of were included as well, like how Robin met and helped Allen-a-dale to free his beloved from an arranged marriage, Robin’s deadly run-in with villain Guy of Gisborne, the recruitment of Midge, the Miller’s Son, and other tales.

The book came to a very satisfying end, until it got to the epilogue, where Robin’s death by betrayal is told.

There is an odd mention of “Cain’s wife had never opened the pottle that held misfortunes and let them forth like a cloud of flies to pester us.” That sounds like a convoluted version of Pandora’s box. And I chuckled at his phrase because a former pastor used to say it, and I didn’t know it came from this book: “There is many a slip betwixt the cup and the lip,” meaning plans don’t always work out like we hoped. Maybe it was a common saying that Pyle incorporated.

As I first started listening to the audiobook, I wished I had known of and read this book to my boys. The more I heard, though, the more I wrestled with whether that would have been a good idea or not. There’s something appealing about this version of Robin, “honest … in his own way”: someone who stands up for the little guy, who “never harmed harmless man,”  rights wrongs, bests the foolish and evil. But I could never condone vigilantism, for many reasons. And many differences in the book are solved by fighting. Plus there are copious amounts ale, beer, and the like consumed. If we had read the book as a family, we would have had to stop and discuss a lot of issues along the way. Setting aside those objections, though, the rest was fun.

There are many film version of Robin, but the only one I ever saw was the animated Disney one. I’ve seen the character in some shows like Once Upon a Time and Shrek.

I listened to the audiobook superbly read by Christopher Cazenove in a voice and accent perfect for this type of tale. Project Gutenberg has a version online here.

I read/listened to this book for the Back to the Classics challenge, but I am not sure which category to place it in yet. It would fit in two or three. I’ll wait til I read some others and then see where to place this one.

Have you ever read this version of Robin Hood? What did you think?

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

Book Review: A Little Princess

PrincessIn A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, seven-year-old Sara Crewe has grown up in India with her beloved father. Her mother had died years before. Now the time has come for Sara to go to a boarding school in England.

Her father takes her to Miss Minchen’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies. Because he is rich, he provides for Sara to have her own room, maid, and carriage. Because Sara’s father is rich, Miss Minchen fawns over Sara and sets her as her “star pupil.” Privately she dislikes Sara. Because Sara is so elevated, the older popular girls immediately dislike her.

Sara herself is largely unaware of what being rich means. She seems much older than she is, quiet, thoughtful, and serious. But she has a sweet disposition and befriends other outcasts, like the overweight and not very smart Ermengarde, a motherless younger child named Lottie, and the scullery maid Becky.

Sara likes to pretend, and her most frequent pretend is that she is a princess – not because she is haughty or thinks herself entitled to be a princess, but to remind herself to act as a princess would act. Acting as a princess helps her not to lash or or slap people, even when they deserve it.

Suddenly Sara’s world is turned upside down when her father dies amidst a massive business failure. With no time to mourn or even adjust to the news, Sara is relegated to the attic and now has to work at whatever Miss Minchen assign to her. Sara has no other relatives and apparently there is nothing like children’s protective services in that day and time: Miss Minchen is now responsible for Sara and her upkeep, so she’s determined that Sara will earn her keep.

Sara still pretends to be a princess to help her act right, and she pretends that she is a prisoner in the Bastille to make her situation a little more palatable. But she is sad and miserable. Demands are made on her all day, she’s scolded and denied food for the least infraction. She visits with Becky, who has the attic room next to hers, but Lottie and Ermengarde can only come up when they can sneak in unawares.

At Sara’s lowest point, she wakes up to find “a dream come true” in her attic room – a fire in the grate, good food, warm bed coverings, a stack of books. Where could they have come from?

Though A Little Princess isn’t written exactly in the style of a fairy tale, it has many fairy tale elements: a “princess” in disguise or down on her luck, facing various trials, hidden away in a dark place, only to have things change and put to rights at the end with the villains getting their due comeuppance.

I searched a bit to try to discover Burnett’s purpose in writing the book. I couldn’t discover anything except that Wikipedia said “The novella appears to have been inspired in part by Charlotte Bronte’s unfinished novel, Emma, the first two chapters of which were published in Cornhill Magazine in 1860, featuring a rich heiress with a mysterious past who is apparently abandoned at a boarding school.” Perhaps she just wanted to write a fairy tale set in her time. But Sara certainly seems to be an exemplary heroine: not perfect (she admits to having pride and a temper), but constant in her character, kindness, and interest in others no matter what her circumstances. Maybe Burnett set up a character children could look up to and emulate.

But one factor that stood out to me was the way people treat others based on their economic status. Sara was the same person in good times or bad. Neither she nor her father asked or expected that she be out on a pedestal when they were rich, and certainly no one deserves to be treated as Sara and Becky were just because they were poor. The difference came in how others perceived them. Sure, there are some rich people in every age who feel entitled and deserving of pedestals and accolades. But we need to treat people with kindness and consideration no matter what their circumstances.

There’s some mention of “magic” in this book, but it’s not as pervasive as in The Secret Garden. The view of English imperialism and Indian servants might be offensive to modern sensibilities.

I had never read this book, that I can remember, but some years ago I saw a film version which I’d like to see again now.

I didn’t like the cover (pictured above) of the audiobook I listened to, but I enjoyed the wonderful narration by Virginia Leishman.

C. S. Lewis said the best children’s books are good reading for adults, too, and I agree. I very much enjoyed getting acquainted with this classic.

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved)