Literary Daybook, Jan. 14

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

Published January 14, 2002 8:00PM (EST)

Today in fiction

On Jan. 14, 1991, Adrian Mole stocks up on supplies in case the war reaches England.
-- "Adrian Mole: The Lost Years" (1994)
by Sue Townsend

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
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Today in Literary History

On this day in 1886, Hugh Lofting, writer of the Dr. Dolittle series of children's books, was born. As a boy growing up in Berkshire, Lofting kept "a combination zoo and natural history museum" in his mother's linen closet, but Dab-Dab, Gub-Gub, Too-Too, Jip, Polynesia, et al. of Puddlesby-by-the-Marsh were born more from Lofting's desire to forget the present than to recall his childhood. As an officer in WWI, Lofting was horrified by the suffering of the horses and other animals at the front; to escape this reality, and to entertain his children, he sent home illustrated letters about "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." The letters eventually became "The Story of Dr. Dolittle" (1920), a book so popular that Lofting went on to write almost a dozen more. If the last books in the series were not as sanguine as those previous, this may reflect Lofting's despair that a second world war followed the first. A clue to his general view of adults can be seen in his reaction to discovering that he was an author of "children's books," at least as far as libraries were concerned: "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."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," email Steve King.

By the Salon Books Editors

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