All Creatures Great and Small

All Creatures Great and Small Study Guide

All Creatures Great and Small is a novel written by James Herriot, the pen name for James Alfred ‘Alf’ Wight. It is the first book in a series, followed by the novels: All Things Bright and Beautiful (1972), All Things Wise and Wonderful (1977), The Lord God Made Them All (1981), and Every Living Thing (1992). The titles of the series books follow the lyrics of a popular Christian hymn. The books were originally published by a British publisher as a series of shorter books in an eight-book series, which were later combined by an American publisher to form the five longer novels of this series. The novels met with much commercial success.

All Creatures Great and Small is a partially autobiographical, fictionalized account of Herriot’s experience as a British veterinary surgeon. The books are commonly categorized as memoirs because of the wealth of autobiographical material that Herriot used; yet, because the material is fictionalized, the books are also often categorized as novels. The books have also sometimes been categorized as short stories because of the anecdotes that appear in each chapter. While many of the stories in the chapters do stand alone, there is also a progression of character and plot throughout the chapters.

The stories within All Creatures Great and Small mainly center on country life of farmers, and are told through the eyes of a country veterinarian. A significant part of the stories contain Herriot's observations about the relationship between man and beast in the country. The book is set in the 1930s to 1950s in the Yorkshire Dales of England. However, many of the stories Herriot tells in the novel were loosely based on real events and people from the 1960s and 1970s.

Herriot’s writing in the All Creatures Great and Small series documented a period of change for the veterinary industry, with many ancient treatments being obliterated and new drugs being discovered and put into use. The 20th century was also a period where society was more well-to-do and many more people could afford to keep animals as pets, rather than as beasts of burden. This increase in disposable income in society led to veterinarians shifting focus from working with beasts of burden to pets such as cats and dogs.

The book has been adapted for film and television, with the film All Creatures Great and Small premiering in 1975, starring Anthony Hopkins and Simon Ward. Soon after, the book was also adapted into a British television series, which was on the BBC as a popular series with the same name, All Creatures Great and Small, for a run from 1978-1980, and revived and continued from 1988-1990.

James Herriot’s writing was popular for the warmth and joy he was able to convey in his stories about animals. For his contributions to arts and sciences, he was awarded an Order of the British Empire, a British order of chivalry, in 1979 (Tabor). Although popular in many countries, the books initially enjoyed much more commercial success in North America than they did in the UK. There are more than 60 million copies of Herriot's books in print. Some of his books have been on the New York Times bestseller lists, and critics have called his books classics.