Doctor Dolittle in the Moon may be one of the animal communicator’s less well-known adventures, but it served as childhood inspiration for the science writer Oliver Morton. In The Moon, Morton considers our nearest cosmic neighbour in all its many forms: scientific, historical, cultural, artistic, political. With such an ambitious agenda, a great deal inevitably has to be left out, though an incredible amount is still crammed in.
The story of Dolittle’s lunar excursion, published in 1928, was the ninth in Hugh Lofting’s series about the doctor. It made use of the then-prevalent theory that the Moon originally flew off from the young, molten Earth, leaving a gap that became the Pacific Ocean. Since the 1980s we have understood it differently. In the early solar system, between the orbits of Venus and Mars, there were two planets that some astronomers now call Tellus and Theia. A collision at a speed of about ten kilometres per second destroyed both, their fragments subsequently coalescing into our world and its companion.
Lunar fiction goes back a long way: in the second century AD, Lucian of Samosata imagined flying to the Moon. Fifteen hundred years later, Johannes Kepler’s Somnium gave a detailed account of the Moon’s inhabitants, while Kepler’s English contemporary John Wilkins wondered if these Selenites, as he called