All Creatures Great and Small by James Harriot

June 6, 2011
By Anonymous

All Creatures Great and Small

In his story All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot bids the reader to see the many challenges and rewards of being a veterinarian. This book was published in 1972 and was on the New York Times best seller list for thirteen weeks. “Heartwarming. . . memorable. . . an attractively lively and cheerful style”, writes the Columbus Dispatch. James Herriot has published two other books by the names of All Things Bright and Beautiful and All things Wise and Wonderful. This is a book for any one who enjoys an entertaining animal story (or a memoir) and a tale that has not only a superb main character but one that contains an excellent cast of subordinate characters. However, this story leaves many questions in the mind of the reader.

Though most books have an unequivocal genre, All Creatures Great and Small balances on the line between animal fiction and a memoir. The story is written by and about James Alfred Wight who chose the pen name James Herriot to keep his identity a secret. He also changed the names of the many other people involved in the story for the sake of their privacy. His stories are only partially autobiographical as some are very loosely based on any true event and therefore can be considered primarily fiction. The book is written in the style of a memoir, with the author explaining details about his life and veterinary career. The genre of All Creatures Great and Small walks a tightrope, balancing between animal fiction and a memoir.

All Creatures Great and Small has not only a marvelous main character but also an impressive cast of subordinate characters. The two most compelling characters are James’ employer Siegfried and his brother Tristan. Both are profoundly developed but the brothers are polar opposites. Siegfried is James’ proprietor, and when he is in a difficult situation, he can be quite a hypocrite. “ During the gradual deterioration I had brought the matter up with Siegfried now and then and he had expressed sympathy and concern. “That won’t do at all James. I’ll have a word with Hammond about it. leave it to me.”. . . I dug my nails into my palms as he smiled at me with kindly eyes. “Really James”, he said, “can’t understand why you keep things to yourself. Heaven knows how long your car has been in this condition, yet never a word from you.” Siegfried is not at all organized and before hiring a secretary, he kept the money he earned in a pot on the corner of the mantlepiece. Despite these shortcomings, Siegfried truly cares about his work and this is something that is evident throughout the book. However, Siegfried is not the only absorbing character in this volume. His brother Tristan is almost the exact antithetical of of him. Tristan despises hard work and would much rather stay at home and relax. Likewise, when Siegfried put him in charge from keeping some pigs, Tristan was much more interested in the personalities of the pigs than the actual payoff of owning the them. Tristan also has a tendency to make mistakes (such as letting the pigs and chickens that the brothers were keeping escape) and this often leads to spectacular shouting matches with Siegfried. As can be seen, All Creatures Great and Small has an engaging cast of subordinate characters.

All Creatures Great and Small leaves many questions hanging in the mind of the reader. The most prominent of these questions is how does James deal with the many challenges in his job? There seem to be many obstacles and very few rewards. Many of the chapters begin by either explaining how little time James was able to sleep or with the ringing of a telephone in the middle of the night. He must also deal with challenging surgeries or cures. “I gasped as I felt my way around. “I’m afraid it’s impossible to turn a calf completely round in this small space. And to pull it out without bringing the head round would certainly break the mother’s pelvis.” The farmers provide yet another problem to the many that James must face as many of them disagree with the diagnosis or cure that James prescribes and they let him know in no uncertain terms. “Cranford rounded on him. “Shut up, you great gumph! You’re as bad as this feller here. It was lightning that killed my good cow. Lightning!” All Creatures Great and Small leaves the reader with many questions, the answers to which are most often not in the story itself as with most good literature.

All Creatures Great and Small is a piece of literature that is both serious and humorous, heartwarming and heartbreaking. The exceptional cast of subordinate characters help bring to life this wonderful story that hangs in the balance between animal fiction and a memoir of a very special kind of man’s remarkable career. The narrative leaves many questions in the readers mind, yet there is no better tale than one that tells not only how the characters live their lives, but makes us ponder how we live ours.

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