All Things Wise and Wonderful is primarily autobiographical, but the numerous descriptive sketches of friends, neighbors, and animals that Herriot includes in his work demonstrate his literary talent, warmth, compassion, and sense of humor. While his anecdotes are skillfully crafted, the work is in no sense fictionalized. It is the result of the efforts of a master storyteller who can hold the attention of readers of all ages. James Herriot is a man in love with his life and the Yorkshire Dales of northern England. The land is beautiful, however harsh in winter, and the people are colorful and eccentric.
One of the recurring themes in this book relates to the homesickness that Herriot feels while serving in the military. He had been married only a short time before he was drafted, he was older than most of the men with whom he was serving, and while he wanted to serve his country, he felt somewhat out of place. His stories frequently show how he missed his wife and infant son and the countryside in Yorkshire. For example, he had a dream about an old cow that could not be cured of a debilitating ailment. Therefore, it was sold at the market, only to escape from the dealer and find its way home. Herriot concluded that he had this dream because he, too, wanted so desperately to return home.
The personal quirks of Siegfried and Tristan Farnon, with whom Herriot had lived and worked, provide the source for numerous other stories in the volume. When he first arrived in Darrowby, Herriot found work with Siegfried, who was the only practicing veterinarian in the area. He learned much from the older man but also found problems in gaining acceptance...
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In All Things Wise and Wonderful and the other volumes in this series, Herriot was not writing specifically for the young adult audience. While his books have a great appeal for readers of all ages, however, they are of particular value for young people because of some of the themes that they explore. Herriot is almost daily confronted with decisions relating to life and death. His concern is not only for the animals he treats but for their owners as well. He fully realized his awesome responsibility when one pet owner committed suicide when his dog could not be saved; this was the only close relationship that the man had with another living being. Herriot’s accounts help others to come to terms with some of the experiences that they are confronted with in their own lives. The books are of worth in addressing the elements that form healthy relationships and in elucidating those things in life that have lasting value.
Any young person considering a career as a veterinarian would certainly benefit from reading Herriot’s work. While it is clear that Herriot is in love with his profession and is deeply committed to it, it is a job that is not for everyone. On the one hand, there is the joy on the faces of a young family when their dog has been saved from a near-fatal collision with a car. On the other hand is the image of being shirtless in subfreezing temperatures in the middle of the night while helping a cow with a difficult birth.
All Things Wise and Wonderful creates respect for the veterinary profession and inspires the young reader with a compassion for life. In addition, it is worthy of attention for its literary attributes alone. Herriot’s work will not easily be surpassed in the breadth of its appeal or in the perception of its subject.