I don’t know about you, but people who create something positive and creative in hard times always humbled and fascinated me. While others feel sorry for themselves, escape into happy memories, or drift into thoughts about a better future ‒ “when we leave this behind, one day, soon” ‒ the positive and creative fight back with the most powerful weapon: their minds. I like to think that I would fall into the second group, but, alas, occasionally catch myself feeling sorry for myself, making excuses, postponing…
One of my creative and positive idols was born on this day in 1886. Hugh Lofting. While in the trenches in France and Flanders in the First World War, Lofting saw horrible things that he couldn’t write about in letters to his family. And the brief pauses between horror were so tedious that he didn’t want to write about that either. So, Hugh decided to entertain his children with stories he made up and illustrated.
Lofting loved animals, and the way people treated them in war appalled him. Doctors had time and means only for human patients, and wounded animals were killed and discarded. That prompted Hugh to make up a doctor who stops treating humans and decides to learn the animal language so he can help them. That is how Doctor John Dolittle was born. He lived in a fictional village Puddleby-on-the-Marsh in West Country. And his adventures were the subject of more than ten books still loved by children and adults.
“I was thinking about people,” said Polynesia. “People make me sick. They think they’re so wonderful. The world has been going on now for thousands of years, hasn’t it? And the only thing in animal language that people have learned to understand is that when a dog wags his tail, he means ‘I’m glad’! It’s funny, isn’t it? You are the very first man to talk like us. Oh, sometimes people annoy me dreadfully – such airs they put on, talking about ‘the dumb animals.’ Dumb! Huh! Why I knew a macaw once who could say ‘Good morning’ in seven different ways.”
Animal misfortune wasn’t the only thing that inspired him. Lofting believed that children should be taught from an early age that communication can settle disagreements even with those who seem very strange and foreign to us.
“What is war?’ I asked.
Oh, it’s a messy, stupid business,’ he said, ‘Two sides wave flags and beat drums and shoot one another dead. It always begins this way, making speeches, talking about rights, and all that sort of thing.’
But what is it for? What do they get out of it?’
I don’t know,’ he said. ‘To tell you the truth, I don’t think they know themselves.”
Doctor Dolittle’s team includes: Jip ‒ a dog, Polynesia ‒ a parrot, Gub-Gub ‒ a pig, Too-Too ‒ an owl, Chee-Chee ‒ a monkey, Dab-Dab ‒ a goose, a white mouse named Whitey, and the Pushmi-pullyu. Everything is quite simple actually and that is probably the reason why the series is iconic. Many don’t know that Lofting also wrote a work for adults, published only in the United Kingdom. Vanity for the Slain is a long poem about the futility of war, which he couldn’t grasp.
What about you? Into which group do you fall? Whose attitude during hardships inspires you?