Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces All Creatures Great and Small Analysis - Essay

James Herriot

Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces All Creatures Great and Small Analysis

The area of Yorkshire known as the Dales, where this small-town veterinarian began practicing in the late 1930’s, has achieved the distinction of being known as “Herriot Country.” The popularity of Herriot’s works (heightened by a British Broadcasting Company television series) prompted a flood of correspondence addressed to “Dr. Herriot, Darrowby, England.” Although the names of the writer and the village are pseudonyms, the locals well knew the identity of this transplanted Scot who had brought them so much fame. The mail was faithfully delivered, although the real village is Thirsk, where James Wight continued to practice his trade. Official anonymity was necessary, as British veterinary etiquette did not allow advertising, least of all the sort that would come by virtue of being a best-selling author.

Herriot’s reconstruction of events, almost a generation after their happening, reflects his efforts to make a record of a way of life that was being inexorably effaced by the erosions of a more modern age. Herriot’s tales are therefore a testament to a disappearing culture and its sense of independence and kindliness—as well as its mean-spiritedness.

Herriot also describes the enormous transformations that were occurring in his own profession. The 1930’s were for veterinarians an age of transition between the old home remedies, still revered by many of his clients, and antibiotics and modern surgery. With the advantage of hindsight, Herriot can comment on the differences between the cures of the 1930’s and those discovered later.

These changing times, invariably looked upon by Herriot’s clients with the utmost suspicion, often set the stage for humorous confrontations. Herriot took on the task of re-creating the old myths faithfully, as if in preserving them he was paying tribute to the way of life which gave them birth. The farmers who are his clients seem to have a generations-old cure, steeped in superstition and tradition, for every barnyard ailment. Most maddening for Herriot is the fact that often, following hours of treatment with expensive medications, the healing effect becomes apparent only after the farmer, impatient with the newfangled stuff, dispenses his great-grandfather’s cure-all. Predictably, this success is followed by caustic comments concerning the inexperience of new “vitneries” and annoyance with expensive drugs that are much less effective than the old remedies and are therefore a waste not only of the farmer’s time but also (much more important to the stingy Yorkshire Dalesman) of his money. One of the Dalesmen’s revered myths has to do with “worm i’ th’ tail”: If a cow for any reason refuses to get up, it is blamed on a worm being in that cow’s tail. The cure to the condition is to cut off the cow’s tail to kill the worm, an act which invariably causes the cow to bellow in great pain and jump to her feet to avoid touching the painful stump to the ground....

(The entire section is 1211 words.)