Every Living Thing Themes
by James Herriot

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Every Living Thing Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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As in the earlier books, Herriot celebrates the simple life. His farmers are still struggling with their harsh but beautiful environment, and his work deals with the universal issues of life and death. A calf is born, an old dog dies, a no-nonsense farmer reveals a soft heart for a "useless" pet. Compared to the earlier works, this book is perhaps less unified and more episodic, but the author's love for the bare landscape of the fells, the stark beauty of the Dales, is as strong as ever, and he takes time to describe the natural scene in considerable detail. More leisurely, and less harried now, he takes time out just to stop by the roadside and to admire the tenacity of the people who wrest a hard living from an unforgiving land. He is also increasingly aware of the nondomestic animals of his world, a concern not only for man's livestock and pets, but for the birds, deer, and other wildlife that surrounds him. This becomes especially notable when a young assistant who is a passionate conservationist opens Herriot's eyes to nature and conservation.

The author still believes strongly in the goodness of people, and with the exception of one stereotyped "villain," they are portrayed as compassionate and decent. In fact, with more maturity and the accompanying respect Herriot now receives, there are fewer attempts by his clients to "get the vet" and play tricks on him. This takes away some of the slapstick comedy of his earlier books and sometimes creates a lack of conflict. Also, some of the nonscientific cures of folk medicine are no longer a challenge, and Herriot himself has become something of a miracle worker, using modern medical advances such as antibiotics and other "wonder drugs" very successfully. There is less tragedy in this book, the animals almost always recover, and Herriot shows a somewhat childlike faith and admiration in the possibilities of science. If anything is missing, it is probably the lack of a darker side. Almost all the episodes have happy endings.