Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 630
All Things Bright and Beautiful is the first of three sequels to James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small, all of which were originally intended for adult readers. Focusing on the sometimes unusual events in the life of a veterinarian, this book will interest young readers who enjoy animal stories and books about other cultures. It also has the appeal of much young adult fiction because it treats a young man’s attempt to accomplish developmental tasks, such as establishing new relationships and selecting a career. More a collection of sketches than a sustained autobiography, Herriot’s account is admittedly subjective, focusing on his attitudes and feelings and generally ignoring factual details about his overall life. He creates a portrait of a changing society, one in which veterinary medicine is slowly developing.
In chapter 2, Herriot explains that he will not say much about World War II. Instead, he emphasizes the ordinary events of his life, particularly the Yorkshire Dales, the animals he treats, and his work, each of which he views with loving respect and humor. Thus, Herriot waxes eloquent about the Yorkshire landscape, as when he describes a snowy Christmas Eve and the sun on the crumbling walls of a country path. He also discusses the joy of treating small animals, especially dogs and cats, which sometimes results in free service to people such as the Dimmocks. It is the worrying and wondering about his patients that he believes is at the heart of veterinary service.
Herriot also emphasizes moments in his life that keep him human. For example, he is humbled in his attempts to judge a pet show, to please his prospective father-in-law, to carry a set of books home on the tram, and to act sophisticated for animal surgeon Granville Bennett. Perhaps even more effective are those scenes in which Herriot struggles to provide life, comfort, and dignity for his patients. He treats the births and deaths of animals frankly, with little melodrama, providing insight into such varied events as the death of baby calves, the lambing season, a dog’s epileptic fit, and the mercy killing of a horse with lockjaw. Herriot clearly sees the value of animals of all varieties: cattle, horses, sheep, dogs, cats, and even goldfish.
In one sense, All Things Bright and Beautiful is also a collective biography, a series of sketches about the people in Herriot’s community. Herriot’s attitude toward them is sometimes ambivalent. He can be patronizing, as when he discusses fake veterinarians and the eccentric behavior of his patient’s owners. More often he is sympathetic, praising the Yorkshire farmers’ determination, courage, and humor, as when he tells of a man who loses his farm because of stillborn calves and a widow who stoically accepts the death of several cows. His various sketches also examine the difficulties outsiders have in becoming part of a community and their desire for respect. Ultimately Herriot himself hopes to be accepted and respected by his partner, his wife, his father-in-law, the sophisticated Granville Bennett, Richard Carmody, and the farmers of Darrowby. He finally believes that he is successful just when he has to leave Darrowby to join the military.
To some extent, Herriot needed to fictionalize his experiences, changing the names of the people and the towns he mentions. He has also included conversations and specific details that, at least partially, must have been invented in order to structure his narrative. Even so, the book itself sometimes reads like the humorous ramblings of an old friend. Ultimately, Herriot’s characters and their stories are entertaining and informative, while his self-deprecating humor and appreciation for life are very appealing. As a result, this book and others in the series continue to be popular with both adults and young adult readers.