Hugh Lofting (1886-1947) is known for his books about Doctor Dolittle, an MD who learns the languages of animals. While recognized as books for children, the themes and ideas in them – the destruction of war, the complexity of ecosystems, the draw and danger of discriminating against those who are different – are serious and of universal concern. Lofting himself says “I make no claim to be an authority on writing or illustrating for children. . . . There has always been a tendency to classify children almost as a distinct species. For years it was a constant source of shock to me to find my writings amongst ‘Juveniles.’ It does not bother me any more now, but I still feel there should be a category of ‘Seniles’ to offset the epithet.”
His lesser known, later books hold some especially intriguing thought experiments. In ‘Doctor Dolittle in the Moon,’ published over 4 decades before the moon landing, Lofting explores a different kind of ecological system, dominated by intelligent plants, and driven by cooperation rather than competition – similar to current research discoveries here on Earth. Descriptions of his quest for learning plant languages, delving into the history of the moon and its inhabitants, and investigating the ability to extend his life to accomplish more of his work, are well worth the quick read.
Hugh Lofting would be turning 128 this year, yet his books remain to continue to challenge us with relevant ideas and challenges.