All Creatures Great and Small, By James Herriot



     All Creatures Great and Small is the chronicle of an English country vet in the mid-twentieth century. In this series of books, James Herriot, captures the people and the animals of the Yorkshire Dales in such a way, that we fall in love with all of them, almost immediately.



Typical Yorkshire lane


About James Herriot

    James Herriot was the pen name of James Alfred Wight. Even though he was fifty-three years old when he wrote his first book, which became an instant best seller, he was still a private person who enjoyed his country veterinary practice. His friends knew him as Alf Wight. His son, also a vet, worked beside him for over twenty years at the Yorkshire animal hospital, known as Sinclair and Wight in Thirsk, England.


James Herriot (Alf Wight) and Bodie

    Even though much of his life was shared in all of his books, he remained a very private man until his death in 1995. His son has written a book about his father that tells the story of an interesting man.

Alf Wight's (James Herriot's) original vet practice is now a tourist attraction in Thirsk.

    The original surgery was at 23 Kirkgate, Thirsk, but moved in 1997 to purpose built premises on the Thirsk Trading Estate. The original building, along with an adjacent one, has now been turned into the famous 'The World of James Herriot' centre. (Thirsk,org)

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References

"Go Yorkshire Go" website, (http://www.goyorkshirego.com)

Herriot, James, 1972, All Creatures Great and Small, New York, St. Martin Press,

The World of James Harriot, http://www.worldofjamesherriot.org/tour.htm

Thirsk.org, http://www.thirsk.org.uk/herriot1.html

Wight, Jim. 2000. The Real James Herriot: A memoir of my father. New York: Ballantine Books

    The very first chapter draws us in as he describes the fact that being “face down on the cobbled floor in a pool of nameless muck, my arm deep inside the straining cow, my feet 'scrabbling' for a toe hold” and “ stripped to the waist and the snow mingled with the dirt and dried blood on my body” and how “they didn’t say anything about this in the books” in veterinary school. (Herriot, 1)

 Mr. Herriot has been compared to Charles Dickens, and Emily Bronte in the way he describes the places and characters in his books. This vet’s practice and experiences, goes from the barn, where he delivers a breach calf to the sitting room where he cares for Mrs Pumphrey’s attention demanding little dog, “Tricky Woo”.

    To say that the first story in the book is incredible, only implies that subsequent chapters are less than riveting. This is simply not the case. Herriot’s descriptions of the locals and his insight into human nature is amazing and entertaining. In one passage, he describes an interesting observation about the Yorkshire farmers.

    “A short time in practice has taught me that all farmers are experts with other farmer’s livestock. When their own animals were in trouble they tended to rush to the phone for the vet, but with their neighbours’ they were confident, knowledgeable and full of helpful advice.” (Herriot, 144)

    In many chapters Dr. Herriot describes the travel to a distant farm, where the vet was called to save some poor creature. It is with great style and accuracy that riding in an old car is brought to life. It is easy to feel every bump and see the cold rain, mud and snow of the trip that often lasted for an hour or more.

    One of the more endearing, repeating stories, is that of Mrs. Pumphrey’s dog, Tricki Woo. It was well known around the animal hospital that when Tricki Woo went “cracker dog” that only James was the vet to call. It seems that Tricki Woo preferred Dr. Herriot to any of the other vets. The gifts that James would later receive, from Tricki Woo, testified to this fact.

    Early in the book we get to know some of the many characters of the town. The most important are the other residents of “Skeldale House.” The owner of the veterinary practice was Siegfried Farnon. He is described at times as both benevolent and maniacal. His brother, Tristan, comes across as almost too laid back. This puts these two on very opposite ends of a personality spectrum.


    An important aspect of the story is how James was accepted (or more accurately not accepted) by the townsfolk. Siegfried had spent five previous years gaining the trust of the farmers of Yorkshire and they did not warm to the idea of an “assistant” treating their animals, rather than “Mr. Farnon.” This first book in the series describes the journey from assistant to accepted vet by the people of Yorkshire.


Thirsk, England
   

The early surgery of James Herriot from the PBS TV show.

    Although the book is written as though it is autobiographical, it is not. For example, in the stories Herriot writes that he received a partnership in the practice as a wedding gift. Wight (and Herriot) were married in 1941, but he did not become a partner until 1949. (Wight, Jim)

    He also took other license with the telling of stories. For example, some tales are told as though they happened in the 1940’s when in truth they occurred in the 60’s. (Wight, Jim)

Other Herriot books:

  • If Only They Could Talk (1970)
  • It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet (1972)
  • Let Sleeping Vets Lie (1973)
  • Vet in Harness (1974)
  • Vets Might Fly (1976)
  • Vet in a Spin (1977)
  • James Herriot's Yorkshire (1979)
  • The Lord God Made Them All (1981)
  • Every Living Thing (1992)
  • James Herriot's Cat Stories (1994)
  • James Herriot's Favourite Dog Stories (1995)
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