Literary Techniques

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 167

In this collection, Herriot continues a technique which has proven successful in his earlier books. Each chapter is complete in itself, an anecdote which is linked to the next one merely by its topic, cats. As has been pointed out by some of his critics, there is a certain danger...

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In this collection, Herriot continues a technique which has proven successful in his earlier books. Each chapter is complete in itself, an anecdote which is linked to the next one merely by its topic, cats. As has been pointed out by some of his critics, there is a certain danger of the formula becoming mechanical and the material becoming worn out. This is not true in the carefully selected tales of this book, which draws from Herriot's best work. There is enough variety to keep the reader's interest, and the author's strength lies, as always, in his colorful descriptions of the Yorkshire countryside, as well as his satisfaction with his work which shines through all his accounts. Stories about animals, especially domestic pets such as dogs and cats, sometimes tend to be sentimental, but Herriot manages to avoid this through his matter-of-fact style, as well as his realism, which does not gloss over problems and tragedies. The bonds between owners and animals are genuine and effectively understated.

Social Concerns

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 337

In his earlier novels, Herriot's major interest is in the people of Yorkshire. Tenacious, hard working, often desperately hard pressed for survival, their success or failure depends on their harsh land and their animals. And their personalities have been shaped by the sparse and beautiful landscape of the Dales. Their relationship with their livestock and farm creatures is by necessity intensely practical. Yet in many instances, they also demonstrate a close, warm feeling and concern which transcends the purely utilitarian considerations. In his volume of cat stories, Herriot's narratives take on a different aspect. By concentrating on a single animal, the cat, the emphasis shifts from the human aspects to those of the animal. In his introduction, Herriot himself explains that he has always had a special relationship with cats. "They were the main reason why I chose a career as a vet. In my school days my animal world was dominated by a magnificent Irish setter called Don with whom I walked the Scottish hills for close on fourteen years, but when I returned from these rambles, there were always my cats to greet me, arching around my legs, purring and rubbing their faces at my hands." Due to the topic, this collection of short stories serves to bring out the special characteristics of the feline as Herriot sees them — not cool and aloof, but friendly, affectionate, and interested in people. In many ways, these stories also reflect the warmer, more human side of the people of the small Yorkshire towns, since cats, unlike cows and sheep, do not have an intrinsic practical value, and were cherished mostly for their companionable qualities.

Recent years have shown an increased interest by suburbanites as well city people in an animal that makes an ideal pet since it can be kept completely housebound, needs little space, and is a great companion for older people in urban apartments. James Herriot recognizes this recent increase in felines as pets and their impact on the veterinary profession as well as his readership.

Literary Precedents

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 128

Many famous writers such as T. S. Eliot, Colette, Rudyard Kipling, Emile Zola, and Paul Gallico have cherished their cats and have written anecdotes, poems, short stories, and even novels about them. Herriot's cat stories differ from a large segment of literary cat tales because they are completely realistic, and the author has not tried to give the animals human traits and emotions. There is no worldly-wise Hiddigeigei as in Joseph von Scheffel's novel of the same name, no ridiculous Jellicle cats as we find them in T. S. Eliot's poems, and no social critics like Tobermory by Saki. Herriot's cats always remain feline, but they retain exactly those qualities which have impressed cat lovers everywhere. In the heroes of Herriot's stories readers can recognize their own pets.

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