Handle It Like Herriot

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All Creatures Great and Small may be the most charming book in the English language (also, a story for skippers if ever there was one). Alfred Wight, the man behind the pen-name James Herriot, uses peace-laden prose on earthy subjects to craft his reminiscences of his veterinarian days in the 1930s. But while his literary genius is worth a book of its own, the topic du jour is actually the attitude Herriot incarnates.

Throughout All Creatures, Wight leads readers through true stories that depict themes of his past. Most commonly, these stories end with the protagonist frustrated and laughing at himself. If the stories are taken only on the plot and not on the attitude of the author, this book would be as aggravating as a nearby cubicle-dweller’s sneezing during cold and flu season. But Wight handles each aggravation in such a way that most reviewers call the book a “joy,” a “delight,” “full of wonder,” and “heartwarming.” How can a life of frustration be all these things?

Delight in the Dales

Readers of Herriot know that most of his stories include a brief pause, usually where the protagonist is driving on a sunny day over a hill or something like that. He’s constantly in a hurry, and yet he almost always stops for a stroll. He glories in the Yorkshire Dales in which he practices, he lauds the wild fells that hover above him.

From yorkshiredalesphotography.co.uk

He also appreciates his work; he keenly loves animals, especially the sight of new ones being born, and he feels strongly about his role in caring for them. When he is successful, no matter how he is criticized, his heart swells. When he is helpless, it breaks. But even then, he’ll look around and see his beloved Dales, maybe have a pint with his friends the Farnons, or turn to his dear Helen and see how gracious she’s been to him.

All of Wight’s books share a theme–that life is a blessing, meant to be considered seriously, and because of its seriousness, not to be taken somberly. It’s as if he’s been given a priceless ticket to an elite-only fair, (Wight would actually prefer a soccer game) and must see it all, and must feel it all, and even when it’s not what he would like to see, he knows it’s a prize.

Handling It

In your frustrations, with your overdrawn budgets and your crazy young children and your difficulties understanding your wife and your irritating young-person jobs, try to remember that you’re in the Dales.

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