More great than it is small…

Posted Nov 18 2010, 7:00 am in

Book Hungry is at it again. This month’s pick: All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot, a book about the misadventures of a country vet in Yorkshire, England, set in the forties. The book gets its title from this quote, a hymn actually:

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.
-Cecil Alexander

The book was also the basis of a television series that aired on the BBC in the seventies.

It’s a first-person account of what reads like Mr. Herriot’s apprenticeship in the practice already established by Siegfried Farnon.  This selection is a departure from our usual material; it’s not fiction. But it’s a lovely, often poetic glimpse into a mind profoundly happy with his work and with life.  Herriot’s prose is never intrusive but rich in description that conveys not only the Aww factor in treating animals, but also the Eww and Ohh. We’re treated to scenes in which Herriot is immersed up to the shoulder in animal er, canals, kicked by beasts as large as automobiles and bemused by the eccentricities of his neighbors.

But one thing remains steady throughout the narrative – Herriot is a content man. Reading this novel reminded me often of writer Elisabeth Black. (If you are not following her already, do so now. I’ll wait.

You’re back? Good.)

Beth’s tweets and blog posts frequently reflect the wonder and sheer joy to be alive that the rat race quite effectively obliterates in many of us. Similarly, Herriot describes his settings, often editorializing in ways that reflect his joy at being able to be part of them.

For a city girl like me, this book was an education. I’ve never seen a cow in real life. I mean, EVER. I’ve never seen any animal give birth.  I know absolutely nothing about the ailments and maladies common to birthing newborn anythings – except humans. I was often compelled to run for the dictionary to look up terms I wish Herriot had explained in greater detail, but it was so clearly not his mission to educate, but to share, to make us understand why he loves his job.

And that he does, most admirably.

Please visit my Twitter Sisters’ blogs for their reviews of this classic.



5 responses to “More great than it is small…”

  1. I’m assuming I was the only one who didn’t really care for this book? *sigh* I guess I’m the odd duck out this time :(

  2. abby mumford says:

    i’m like you, patty, i’ve never seen an animal give birth before, so i was definitely cringing during those parts. herriot’s writing was so real. ewwwwwww. i’m fine if this is my only experience with an animal birth.

  3. I think being from the city helped me enjoy this one too. I am glad you liked it, but I see you didn’t mention the magnifying glass. LOL.

  4. Patty says:

    No magnifying glass but lots of wrinkles forming from all the squinting!

    Karla, I’ll admit I didn’t care for it at the first chapter – wondering what the point of it was. But Herriot’s love for life pulled me in.

    Abby, I’m with you there – I can live with never seeing these scenes up close and personal. Interesting, though, how much can go wrong? I mean, I thought animals were doing this sort of thing unassisted since the dawn of time….

  5. Linda G. says:

    I agree–both about the book and about Elisabeth. :)

    It’s so interesting to read so many takes on the same book. All I can say is, stay hungry!