The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle

by Hugh Lofting

Part 6, Chapter 1: New Popsipetel

Additional Information
  • Year Published: 1922
  • Language: English
  • Country of Origin: England
  • Source: Lofting, H. (1922). The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. London, England: Lippincott Publishing.
  • Readability:
    • Flesch–Kincaid Level: 4.2
  • Word Count: 1,427
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Keywords: 20th century literature, british literature, children's literature
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Jong Thinkalot had not ruled over his new kingdom for more than a couple of days before my notions about kings and the kind of lives they led changed very considerably. I had thought that all that kings had to do was to sit on a throne and have people bow down before them several times a day. I now saw that a king can be the hardest-working man in the world—if he attends properly to his business.

From the moment that he got up, early in the morning, till the time he went to bed, late at night—seven days in the week—John Dolittle was busy, busy, busy. First of all there was the new town to be built. The village of Popsipetel had disappeared: the City of New Popsipetel must be made. With great care a place was chosen for it—and a very beautiful position it was, at the mouth of a large river. The shores of the island at this point formed a lovely wide bay where canoes—and ships too, if they should ever come—could lie peacefully at anchor without danger from storms.

In building this town the Doctor gave the Indians a lot of new ideas. He showed them what town-sewers were, and how garbage should be collected each day and burnt. High up in the hills he made a large lake by damming a stream. This was the water-supply for the town. None of these things had the Indians ever seen; and many of the sicknesses which they had suffered from before were now entirely prevented by proper drainage and pure drinking-water.

Peoples who don't use fire do not of course have metals either; because without fire it is almost impossible to shape iron and steel. One of the first things that John Dolittle did was to search the mountains till he found iron and copper mines. Then he set to work to teach the Indians how these metals could be melted and made into knives and plows and water-pipes and all manner of things.

In his kingdom the Doctor tried his hardest to do away with most of the old-fashioned pomp and grandeur of a royal court. As he said to Bumpo and me, if he must be a king he meant to be a thoroughly democratic one, that is a king who is chummy and friendly with his subjects and doesn't put on airs. And when he drew up the plans for the City of New Popsipetel he had no palace shown of any kind. A little cottage in a back street was all that he had provided for himself.

But this the Indians would not permit on any account. They had been used to having their kings rule in a truly grand and kingly manner; and they insisted that he have built for himself the most magnificent palace ever seen. In all else they let him have his own way absolutely; but they wouldn't allow him to wriggle out of any of the ceremony or show that goes with being a king. A thousand servants he had to keep in his palace, night and day, to wait on him. The Royal Canoe had to be kept up—a gorgeous, polished mahogany boat, seventy feet long, inlaid with mother-o'-pearl and paddled by the hundred strongest men in the island. The palace-gardens covered a square mile and employed a hundred and sixty gardeners.

Even in his dress the poor man was compelled always to be grand and elegant and uncomfortable. The beloved and battered high hat was put away in a closet and only looked at secretly. State robes had to be worn on all occasions. And when the Doctor did once in a while manage to sneak off for a short, natural-history expedition he never dared to wear his old clothes, but had to chase his butterflies with a crown upon his head and a scarlet cloak flying behind him in the wind.

There was no end to the kinds of duties the Doctor had to perform and the questions he had to decide upon—everything, from settling disputes about lands and boundaries, to making peace between husband and wife who had been throwing shoes at one another. In the east wing of the Royal Palace was the Hall of Justice. And here King Jong sat every morning from nine to eleven passing judgment on all cases that were brought before him.

Then in the afternoon he taught school. The sort of things he taught were not always those you find in ordinary schools. Grown-ups as well as children came to learn. You see, these Indians were ignorant of many of the things that quite small white children know—though it is also true that they knew a lot that white grown-ups never dreamed of.

Bumpo and I helped with the teaching as far as we could—simple arithmetic, and easy things like that. But the classes in astronomy, farming science, the proper care of babies, with a host of other subjects, the Doctor had to teach himself. The Indians were tremendously keen about the schooling and they came in droves and crowds; so that even with the open-air classes (a school-house was impossible of course) the Doctor had to take them in relays and batches of five or six thousand at a time and used a big megaphone or trumpet to make himself heard.

The rest of his day was more than filled with road-making, building water-mills, attending the sick and a million other things.

In spite of his being so unwilling to become a king, John Dolittle made a very good one—once he got started. He may not have been as dignified as many kings in history who were always running off to war and getting themselves into romantic situations; but since I have grown up and seen something of foreign lands and governments I have often thought that Popsipetel under the reign of Jong Thinkalot was perhaps the best ruled state in the history of the world.

The Doctor's birthday came round after we had been on the island six months and a half. The people made a great public holiday of it and there was much feasting, dancing, fireworks, speech-making and jollification.

Towards the close of the day the chief men of the two tribes formed a procession and passed through the streets of the town, carrying a very gorgeously painted tablet of ebony wood, ten feet high. This was a picture-history, such as they preserved for each of the ancient kings of Popsipetel to record their deeds.

With great and solemn ceremony it was set up over the door of the new palace: and everybody then clustered round to look at it. It had six pictures on it commemorating the six great events in the life of King Jong and beneath were written the verses that explained them. They were composed by the Court Poet; and this is a translation:


(His Landing on The Island) Heaven-sent, In his dolphin-drawn canoe From worlds unknown He landed on our shores. The very palms Bowed down their heads In welcome to the coming King.


(His Meeting With The Beetle) By moonlight in the mountains He communed with beasts. The shy Jabizri brings him picture-words Of great distress.


(He liberates The Lost Families) Big was his heart with pity; Big were his hands with strength. See how he tears the mountain like a yam! See how the lost ones Dance forth to greet the day!


(He Makes Fire) Our land was cold and dying. He waved his hand and lo! Lightning leapt from cloudless skies; The sun leant down; And Fire was born! Then while we crowded round The grateful glow, pushed he Our wayward, floating land Back to peaceful anchorage In sunny seas.


(He Leads The People To Victory in War) Once only Was his kindly countenance Darkened by a deadly frown. Woe to the wicked enemy That dares attack The tribe with Thinkalot for Chief!


(He Is Crowned King) The birds of the air rejoiced; The Sea laughed and gambolled with her shores; All Red-skins wept for joy The day we crowned him King. He is the Builder, the Healer, the Teacher and the Prince; He is the greatest of them all. May he live a thousand thousand years, Happy in his heart, To bless our land with Peace.