About 70 years ago, in a series of wartime letters from a British Army officer to his young son and daughter, a classic work of children's literature was created. Explained the father, Hugh Lofting, later:
"My children at home wanted letters from me--and they wanted them with illustrations rather than without. There seemed very little of interest to write to youngsters from the Front; the news was either too horrible or too dull. And it was all censored. One thing, however, that kept forcing itself... on my attention was the very considerable part the animals were playing in the World War and that as time went on they, too, seemed to become Fatalists...
"If we made the animals take the same chances we did ourselves, why did we not give them similar attention when wounded? But obviously to develop a horse-surgery as good as that of our Casualty Clearing Stations would necessitate a knowledge of horse language.
"That was the beginning of the idea: an eccentric country physician with a bent for natural history and a great love of pets, who finally decides to give up his human practice for the more difficult, more sincere, and, for him, more attractive therapy of the animal kingdom..."
And from that beginning, things progressed quickly. After Lofting's return from the war and resumption of his incipient writing career, the letters were shown to a publisher; The Story of Doctor Dolittle was accepted immediately, and the book's overwhelming success on both sides of the Atlantic prompted a series of sequels. Children of all ages loved the adventures of the gentle doctor from Puddleby and his unconventional household of human and animal friends.
And they still do. The Dolittle books have survived and have continued to find readers, even despite controversy over what some view as their "political incorrectness." Over the years, the stories have inspired an animated film, a radio serial, a movie musical, a couple of TV cartoon series, a stage show, and even (in "updated" form) a cinematic vehicle for a popular comedian. They've gone through several editions, and lately have been re-packaged, re-edited, re-illustrated, and even--unfortunately-- pirated on the web. Happily, it appears that they are here to stay.