John Dolittle was not particularly happy working as a doctor in the tiny English village of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh. He was shy, introverted, and didn't get along particularly well with people. He loved animals, though, and his large house was filled with pets of every type, much to the aggravation of his sister, Sarah and his patients. His life changed when his friend Matthew Mugg, the Cat's-Meat Man suggested that he become an animal doctor instead of a people doctor, and when his African Grey parrot, Polynesia, offered to teach him the animal languages.
Over the course of his career as an animal doctor and naturalist, Doctor Dolittle learned over a hundred different animal languages; some from his teacher, Polynesia, but many through his own diligence and observation. Being able to understand his patients made him the best animal doctor in the country. But since animals rarely have health insurance and are generally unable to pay, the Doctor usually teetered on the brink of poverty.
Early in his career, he learned of an epidemic striking a community of monkeys in central Africa and undertook an expedition to save them, accompanied by some of his closest animal companions: Jip the dog, Gub-Gub the pig, Dab-Dab the duck and Chee-Chee the monkey. He had many adventures in Africa and cured the monkeys of their illness. In gratitude, the monkeys persuaded the Pushmi-Pullyu, a rare two-headed antelope, to accompany Dolittle back to England.
The Doctor was able to pay off some of his debts and make money for his animal clinic by exhibiting the Pushmi-Pullyu in a circus. He became a partner in the circus in order to ensure that the animals were treated decently. He went on to produce an all-bird opera that was the sensation of London.
After a time, he retired from show business to resume his practice in Puddleby, occasionally going on voyages to remote parts of the world. One method he liked to employ in his travels was to open the atlas to a random page and blindly stick a pin onto it; where the pin landed would be his next destination. He reached the North Pole in one such expedition, but never publicized his accomplishment because the polar bears asked him not to, fearing that it would lead to a rush of humans coming to exploit the polar coal deposits.
He took on a young lad named Tommy Stubbins as his assistant, who also began learning animal languages and became the Doctor's Boswell. He traveled to Spidermonkey Island and found the Great Glass Sea Snail, a gigantic gastropod with a transparent shell.
Unlike his portrayals in the movies, Doctor Dolittle was a short, tubby man, with thinning hair and a somewhat bulbous nose. He was humble and self-effacing, although capable of intense anger whenever he encountered animals being abused. His houskeeper, Dab-Dab the duck, complained that his animal patients took advantage of his good nature and would never give him time to work on his writings. His Puddleby neighbors regarded him as an eccentric, although certainly clever with animals. The scientific community, for the most part, rejected his theories of animal treatment as the work of a kook or a charlatan, the latter impression being unfortunately reinforced by his brief stint in the circus.
Game and Story Use
- A historical or time travel campaign set in early Victorian England might encounter Doctor Dolittle as an NPC.
- Okay, it would have to be a fairly cinematic campaign to permit him to talk with animals.
- Perhaps he only thinks he's talking with them and actually only possesses a high degree of animal empathy
- Yeah, that's a pretty lame justification. Still, it might work.