Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot, whose real name is James Alfred Wight, describes his first years of practice as a veterinarian in the Yorkshire region of England in the 1930’s. The work is composed of sketches that have some continuity but that are not arranged in strictly chronological order. Herriot begins with a compellingly detailed scene of a calf being born, and descriptions of such incidents from his practice make up much of the book. Animals become characters with roles that vary from the humorous to the tragic. He tells of puzzling and interesting cases, and he relates his mistakes and failures in treating cases as readily as he relates his successes. Herriot’s accounts convey the practice of a veterinarian in the 1930’s with accuracy. He presents cases which demonstrate the amount of luck that often combined with his medical training to produce triumphs, and he indicates the fine line between spectacular success and dismal failure. All Creatures Great and Small also serves to document advances in technology and knowledge in an age when many important discoveries were being made in the areas of both animal and human medicine. The excitement and frustrations of practicing veterinary medicine in an age of transition are quite evident. Sometimes Herriot is able to save an animal with a new drug or technique, and sometimes he loses an animal that could have been saved with a drug not yet discovered. Herriot balances the...

(The entire section is 554 words.)