Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Story of Doctor Dolittle

by Hugh Lofting
Listened to playaway in May 2008

I listened to the playaway of this book because another children's librarian told me that a patron had mentioned some objectionable words in the book. Knowing the original Doctor Dolittle's history and reputation for being racist, I guessed what the words were.

Prince Bumpo, who lives in Africa and wants to be white is part of the problem. I imagine that the original book had some not so flattering pictures of Bumpo and his black mother and father.

Listening to the book, however, I didn't have to worry about any offensive images. The shocking words actually came from some of the animal characters. At one point, as I remember it, the monkeys are getting sick. The lions are asked to help Dr. Dolittle, but they won't because they don't think it's their problem. The female lion gets angry at her husband and the other male lions and tells them to "work like n-----s". You fill in the blanks.

I think there's another scene in which the parrot, who has an acerbic tongue anyway, says something in the same vein. Now, a year later, I can't remember exactly what he said, but it was also a racial slur. I think it was the word "coon."

The company who published this audio version of Doctor Dolittle used the original edition. There has been more than one re-issue of Dolittle. I can't seem to find out how many and what exactly was cut in each one, but this playaway version is the original.

I imagine they used it because it was cheap and, possibly, in the public domain. No one has complained about it and it's been checked out of the library several times. We have a books-on-tape of the same version that has circulated a lot. No complaints. Huh.

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