All Creatures Great and Small Essay - Critical Context (Masterplots II: Nonfiction Series)

James Herriot

Critical Context (Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

The English have always been especially fond of animal stories. In fact, they can be said to have invented the animal-story genre. British authors have concocted a whole menagerie of animal adventures: a black horse down on his luck (Anna Sewell); a bear, a pig, and an owl cavorting in a hundred-acre wood (A. A. Milne); a lost collie trying to find his way home (Eric Knight). Following in this tradition, tales of a rural veterinarian doing battle with the forces of ignorance and disease seem particularly appropriate. Yet unlike other writers of animal stories, Herriot found it unnecessary to embellish his tales with fanciful elements. “I’ve played down lots of anecdotes,” he remarked, in answer to certain skeptical readers. “What happens with animals is unbelievable.”

Still, Herriot was surprised at the commercial success of All Creatures Great and Small. “I’m on a gorgeous wicket,” he chortled. “No one had thought of writing funny books about cows and pigs before. And it’s nice to make people laugh.” The book inspired other veterinarians to try their hand at similar writing. In Ms. Veterinarian (1976), Mary Price Lee encouraged young women to follow her in this field long dominated by men. Animal Doctor: The History and Practice of Veterinary Medicine (1973) by Leon F. Whitney and George Whitney provided an overview of veterinary medicine. The Wonder of It All (1979) by Jeanne Logue and...

(The entire section is 468 words.)