All Creatures Great and Small Summary

James Herriot

All Creatures Great and Small

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All Creatures Great and Small Summary

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All Creatures Great and Small is a nonfiction book by British veterinary surgeon and author Alf Wight, written under the pseudonym James Herriot, first published in the United States in 1972. It is a compilation of Herriot’s two earliest books for the British market, If Only They Could Talk (1970) and It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet (1972), and is based on his real experiences working as a veterinarian, and the most memorable and unusual animals and pet owners he met along the way. It explores the bond between humans and animals, as well as the hardship people in the United Kingdom experienced during Herriot’s life, and the resilience and humanity that it took to get them through it. He wrote six additional memoirs based on his life between 1973 and 1992, which were released in five volumes in the United States. The series was massively popular in both countries, and was adapted into two major motion pictures in 1975 and 1976, as well as a successful BBC television series that had a run between 1978 and 1980, and a second run between 1988 and 1990. The first was directly based on Herriot’s stories, while the second was inspired by his tales but featured original scripts.

All Creatures Great and Small takes place during the first two years in the veterinary practice of animal surgeon James Herriot, and is told through a series of anecdotes about healing animals, dealing with farmers and other animal owners, and adjusting to the culture of the Yorkshire Dales as he comes into his own as a veterinarian. The book opens with Herriot hired as the assistant to veterinarian Siegfried Farnon, who owns a practice in the town of Darrowby. Herriot, Siegfried, and Siegfried’s brother Tristan run their practice out of Skeldale House, a boarding house run by Mrs. Hall, who keeps their living quarters and prepares their meals. The practice is kept running by Miss Harbottle, Siegfried’s secretary who tries to keep her boss’ disorganized ways under control. Told in anecdotal fashion, the book features Herriot’s stories of the people and animals he encountered in the Dales. He often has to rush to farms in the dead of night to tend to animals, and while the farmers are suspicious of him at first, they warm to him and he admires them for their ability to make a living in the harsh, poverty-filled climate of the Dales. They often farm with very few resources, and the Great Depression has hit Great Britain hard. He also encounters some wealthier clients, who are often eccentric and provide many of the book’s more humorous anecdotes.

Although Herriot finds the Dales beautiful, he has a hard time adapting to the harsh winters, which were not common in the big city he came from. However, he comes to appreciate the beauty of the snowy countryside. When the spring and summer come around, he can fully appreciate the countryside’s natural beauty. As his career advances, he becomes essential to the business and helps his business partners with their personal conflicts. Siegfried and Tristan are very different in personality and temperament, and James respects Siegfried for his knowledge and how seriously he takes his job. However, he does become friends with the more eccentric Tristan, who likes to play pranks on both James and his less humorous brother. Tristan helps James with his romantic life, and introduces him to people around the village. A frequent visitor to the clinic is Mrs. Pumphrey, an eccentric and wealthy woman who wants only the best for her beloved dog, Tricki Woo. Herriot winds up being named Tricki’s honorary uncle and receives expensive gifts and event invitations from Mrs. Pumphrey, which liven up his challenging life in the Dales.

The latter part of the novel follows Herriot as he falls in love with the daughter of a local farmer named Helen Alderson. He meets her when he’s treating one of the farm animals and quickly becomes infatuated with her. He joins the music society to get to know her better, and eventually finds the courage to ask her on a date. Their first date is at a fancy hotel restaurant, and it doesn’t go well. He doesn’t ask her again, and they don’t see each other until she brings her dog in for treatment and specifically requests him as the vet. The old feelings rushing back, he decides to ask her out again, this time to a movie theater. The date is beset by mishaps again, but Helen still expresses interest in seeing him for a third time. Soon, they’re seeing each other regularly, and Herriot asks her to marry him. They honeymoon at the same time as the season when animals must be tested for tuberculosis, but Helen has no problem spending her honeymoon touring the countryside so James can test the local cows. The novel ends with Siegfried making Herriot a full partner in the veterinary practice, proving to Herriot that he chose the right profession.

James Alfred “Alf” Wight, best known by his pen name James Herriot, was a British veterinary surgeon and author best known for his popular series of books based on his life’s work. A veteran of the Royal Air Force, he was named a member of the Order of the British Empire, and the enduring success of his books has turned the town where he practiced into a tourist destination.