Saturday, July 7, 2012

Old Science: Doctor Dolittle's Garden

Doctor Dolittle's Garden
Another book finally made its jump from the TBR section of my house to the read-it shelves! Doctor Dolittle's Garden is the old-fashioned Hugh Lofting kind of Doctor Dolittle, dating from 1928 or so, with the Doctor busying himself with kindness and science with young Stubbins writing down notes and superstitious old Bumpo alternating college wisdom and barbarian foolishness (that last bit is rather cringe-worthy, actually).

I'm rather delighted by the book's careless refusal to acknowledge plot -- the first few chapters look at the stray dog club organized in the garden, moving in to an extended history of one of the dogs, with rather obvious satirical jabs at various adult topics that I would have cheerfully ignored as a kid. Then the doctor moves onto a study of insect languages, feeling the pages with some techno-babble that has the same attention to accuracy that I expect from Star Trek episodes (little to none, in other words). Cracking that gives us some tales recounted by maggots and water beetles, and some fine philosophy as to whether cockroaches are ever worthy dinner companions (I'm coming down with Dab-dab on the negative there), and then the subtle foreshadowings of all the side characters wanting to go on a trip while the doctor speaks wishfully of lunar traveling come crashing through with the arrival of the Giant Moth! Right in the garden!
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And here you thought this book was going to a a quiet anthropological, well, zoological study. No, suddenly it's space travel!  And Stubbin's moral dilemma -- obediently stay behind, or sneak along.

I think modern versions of this book do something with the rotten racial stereotyping, although I guess there's nothing to do about the lack of female characters -- only Dab-dab, the housekeeper appears, I think.

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