Wednesday, April 3, 2013

James Herriot: A Gift to Generations

Not long ago I purchased a book containing three of James Herriot’s classics. Even though I have long known of the popularity of Herriot’s work and had once taken a photo of Herriot’s former veterinary office when I was on a visit to England with my mother, I had never read his stories.

As soon as I began reading his work, I was delighted at his gentle conversational style, his humor, and the images he creates of the characters and quaint English countryside where he worked so many years as a veterinarian.

The classics were, of course, All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful, and All Things Wise and Wonderful. The titles were inspired by the first lines of a children’s hymn and poem written by Cecil F. Alexander in 1848 titled, Maker of Heaven and Earth:

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

Born James Alfred Wight (commonly referred to as Alf Wight), Wight adopted his first pet at age twelve, an Irish Setter. The bond he formed with his dog led to his interest in veterinary medicine. He graduated from the Glasgow Veterinary College in 1939 and moved to Thisk in Yorkshire County, England in the early 1940s where he settled down, married, and began practicing veterinarian medicine.

Although the veterinarian had literary ambitions early on, he didn't begin writing seriously until the age of fifty with the encouragement of his wife. Because self-promotion for doctors and veterinarians was frowned upon in England at that time, Wight adopted the pen name, James Herriot, and wrote his books on a portable typewriter in front of the television in the evenings.

Wight's former Veterinary Surgery Clinic

Herriott released several writing collections in England. In the United States, his New York publisher combined these writings into volumes. Herriot’s first two books were combined and released as All Creatures Great and Small in 1972. This volume made the name James Herriot famous. Subsequently, All Things Bright and Beautiful was published in 1974, and All Things Wise and Wonderful in 1977.

His son Jim Wight, who was also a veterinarian and partnered with his father in later years, writes in the Introduction to the volume of classics I mentioned above:

James Herriot was a gifted writer, with the ability, through the use of simple words used in the right context, to convey to the reader his love of the countryside and his job as a country veterinarian. He was a great observer of human nature.

Wight passed away in 1995 at the age of seventy-eight at his home in Thirlby, near Thisk, Yorkshire. His tales of his veterinary practice and life in the English countryside have delighted generations of readers, and will continue to do so for generations to come.

Whenever you feel the desire for uplifting stories, read or reread some of James Herriot's wonderful work.


Elizabeth S. Brinton said...

I used to read his books to my daughter and we both loved them. Thank you for the reminder.

Jennifer Lamont Leo said...

I adore James Herriot's books. They're also great to listen to as audiobooks on long car rides.