Who is Hugh Lofting?
Hugh Lofting was a British children's author, most well known for writing the Dr. Dolittle series of books. The books, about a man who talks to animals, were later adapted into several feature films. Hugh Lofting originally started writing the series in letters home to his children from the front of the First World War, and his family were so delighted by the stories that they suggested he attempt to find a publisher for them.
Though the Dr. Dolittle books have fallen out of popularity in recent years, many people who grew up in the 1950s remember reading Hugh Lofting with fondness. Dab Dab, Gub Gub, Polynesia, and other animal characters were brought to life by Lofting's vivid writing and drawings, which also included a message of kindness to animals and respect for others. Dr. Dolittle and his animal companions traveled all over the world in Lofting's books, with each one opening in a new and fantastic location, ranging from Africa to the bottom of the ocean inside a giant glass snail.
Hugh Lofting was born in Maidenhead, England in 1886, and after finishing school at Mount Saint Mary's, a Jesuit boarding school, he decided to train as a civil engineer, because he was interested in traveling the world. He studied in America at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a year before returning to England to finish his degree at London Polytechnic. Hugh Lofting quickly realized his dreams of traveling, taking postings in Rhodesia, Canada, and Cuba before returning to America and marrying Flora Small in 1912.
In the United States, Hugh Lofting and Flora started a family, and he began a job performing technical writing and illustration. However, the First World War broke out, and because Hugh Lofting was a British citizen, he was drafted. At first, he was able to work for the British Foreign Office in New York, but then he was commissioned and traveled to Europe to take part in the war. The front had a profound effect on Hugh Lofting, and it was there that he was first struck by the character of Dr. Dolittle, seeing military horses in action and wishing that there was someone to tell their story. In his letters home, rather than covering the dreary and depressing world of the war, Lofting began sending illustrated stories about Dr. Dolittle and his animal friends.
Injured in the war, Hugh Lofting returned to America and found a publisher for his stories. The Story of Dr. Dolittle, published in 1920, became an instant success. He would follow with 12 more Dr. Dolittle books, the last coming out after his death. Flora passed away in 1927, and Hugh Lofting remarried shortly thereafter, only to have his new wife take an illness and die as well. In 1935, Hugh Lofting remarried for the last time, to Josephine Fricker, and the family moved to Topanga, California, where Lofting died in 1947.
Recent releases of Hugh Lofting's books have been edited to excise content that was viewed as racist. The era in which Hugh Lofting lived saw the beginning of major changes in racial attitudes, but this did not appear to be reflected in his books, many of which featured highly stereotyped characters and illustrations. His family remembered him as a loving and caring man and wanted his books to reflect that image rather than dated material. As a result, some of the text was changed and several images were removed.
I have read that the idea of The Story of Doctor Dolittle came to Hugh Lofting after he saw the destruction of regimental horses that were wounded in battle. It is said that Lofting was asked how Doctor Dolittle originated and Lofting said that he had been extremely impressed by the behavior of the mules and horses under fire that he invented the “doctor” to do for them what could not be done in real life.
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