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All Creatures Great and Small–more than an animal story
All Creatures Great and Small
by James Herriot
Veterinarian James Herriot set the bar high for veterinarian memoirs when he penned All Creatures Great and Small. Humorous, touching, joyful, personal, this book had me smiling and laughing through the tales of this newly qualified vet who begins his career in the Yorkshire Dales where he falls in love with the land, his patients, and their hard-working owners.
Much of the book’s humor is self-deprecating as Herriot describes unfortunate circumstances in which he is enmeshed. Some come from his visits to various farms, often for middle of the night emergencies. A great deal of amusement arises from Siegfried Farnon, Herriot’s likable, dashingly charming, energetic, and volatile boss and from Siegfried’s younger brother Tristan. Although the brothers love each other, they are frequently at odds due to Tristan’s carefree attitudes.
Although I read this book over thirty years ago, my recent reread was a pure delight. The characters are down to earth and detailed so well the reader can easily picture them. There are customs and manners in the Dales that are foreign to twenty-first century denizens. Herriot is quick to contrast the tools, techniques and medicines available to him as a young vet in 1937 with those used later in his career. All of this is quite interesting, but Herriot’s storytelling abilities are what draw the reader in and keep him returning chapter after chapter. I was so sad when I came to the last page. The fun was over! I read this book with my book club, but I think I may “need” to do a reread of the other books in the series as well.
Notes: 1. The series is based on Herriot’s experiences and those of other vets. The characters’ names have been created for the series. Some of the nonfiction may be embellished.
2. It is hard to pull out a passage and say “See how funny this is” because so much of the humor relies on the context and the characters, but it is very funny.
3. There are at least two television series and a movie based on these characters.
4. I would be remiss if I did not note that the word d__n is sprinkled throughout the book. I did not remember this from my earlier reading. In this case I felt the usage fit the story and the characters. It is not used in a mean spirited way and did not detract from the book for me.
Publication: 1972—St. Martin’s Press
“Animals are unpredictable things so our whole life is unpredictable. It’s a long tale of little triumphs and disasters and you’ve got to really like it to stick it…One thing, you never get bored.”
I had learned enough of Dales ways to keep quiet at meals; when I first came to the district I had thought it incumbent on me to provide light conversation in return for their hospitality but the questioning glances they exchanged with each other silenced me effectively.
…now that I was away from the noise and stuffiness of the buildings, the silence and the emptiness enveloped me like a soothing blanket. I leaned my head against the back of the seat and looked out at the checkered greens of the little fields along the flanks of the hills; thrusting upwards between their walls till they gave way to the jutting rocks and the harsh brown of the heather which flooded the wild country above.
People who think farming is a pleasant, easy life should have been there to see the hunched figure disappear into the blackness and the driving rain. No car, no telephone, a night with the heifer, eight miles biking in the rain and a back-breaking day ahead of him. Whenever I thought of the existence of the small farmer it made my own occasional bursts of activity seem small stuff indeed.