When I was a boy, my parents took me to see Doctor Dolittle - a charming musical film in which Rex Harrison played a globetrotting veterinarian who had the ability to talk with animals in their own language. It quickly became my favourite movie and I watched it every time it was on TV. I was vaguely aware that the title character was based on a series of novels, but I never read these books. Until now.

Hugh Lofting's 1920 novel "The Story of Doctor Dolittle" introduced the title character. He was an M.D. but he had so many pets in his home that his patients refused to visit, and his sister eventually moved out, leaving no one to care for him. His pet parrot Polynesia taught the Doctor the languages of other animals and soon he developed a reputation as the most effective veterinarian in England. His reputation spread to Africa, where he was asked to come and cure a colony of sick monkeys.

On his journey, he was kidnapped by an African king, hunted by pirates, and rescued an old man from a cave. Most of his success was due to the help of the local animals.

It is worth noting that at least one scene does not age well. When we first encounter the African king, he is angry at the white Europeans thanks to the exploitation he experienced from previous imperialist visitors. These seemed progressive for a book written a hundred years ago; but a few chapters later, the king's son asks the Doctor to fulfill his dream of becoming a "White Prince". This scene has been cut from some editions, but it was left in the one I read, and it will not sit well with most modern readers. It appears that some racial epithets were removed from this edition.

Despite that, the story is fun, even for a grown-up like me. Lofting leads us from adventure to adventure and it is Dolittle's kindness to animals that is his greatest strength.