Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

All Things Wise and Wonderful is the third in a series of four books by James Herriot in which he describes his life as a country veterinarian in Yorkshire, England, the other volumes being All Creatures Great and Small (1972), All Things Bright and Beautiful (1974), and The Lord God Made Them All (1981). Herriot was past fifty before he wrote his first book, but his warmth and humor coupled with a lively and readable literary style immediately launched his works to the best-seller lists.

All Things Wise and Wonderful takes place during World War II. Herriot has been drafted into the Royal Air Force, and he is experiencing being away from Yorkshire for the first and only time in his life. The volume consists of forty-eight untitled chapters, most of which begin with an Air Force experience that reminds the author of something that he had encountered in his veterinary practice in the town of Darrowby. He then launches into a story about his animal patients or their owners, the latter being frequently as colorful and unpredictable as their pets or livestock.

Throughout the book, Herriot addresses such matters as the kind of medicines that were used in the 1930’s and 1940’s, gradual changes in equipment, and difficulties in diagnoses. He compares the practice of the 1930’s and 1940’s with what became possible after the war. For example, the introduction of antibiotics saved animals from many diseases that had previously been incurable. He discusses epidemics that hit the area and one occasion when a number of local dogs were poi-soned by a source that was never determined.

Herriot describes the day-to-day things encountered in veterinary practice, the despair that accompanies the inability to save a life, and the euphoria that results from solving a particularly difficult case. For his readers, as for his student interns, he never tries to glorify the job, at the same time being able to convey his own deep satisfaction with his chosen work.

While All Things Wise and Wonderful moves chronologically through Herriot’s military experience in World War II, the multitude of other stories included are in no particular sequence. The book begins with his initial training in the Royal Air Force and ends with his return to Darrowby, his wife Helen, and his young son Jimmy.