If Only They Could Talk-Reading James Herriot

All Creatures Great and SmallThese days I am enjoying James Herriot’s omnibus collection ‘All Creatures Great and Small’. I must confess I am great fan of James Herriot’s writing and have read most of his books including the other omnibus collections ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ and ‘All things Wise and Wonderful’. A few years ago, I also came across the authorised biography of James Herriot (by his son Jim Wight), in a London bookstore and without much ado picked it up.

I recall I first encountered James Herriot, almost 20 years ago when in school. The CBSE English Core Curriculla, that we were taught had a wonderful James Herriot story titled ‘God is Near’.  Even after almost two decades I remember the old lady and her brood of aging dogs and how James Herriot, country vet practising the Yorkshire Dales took care of the dogs and the old woman, who wanted to know from the young and kindly vet, if animals had souls and will she be reunited with her beloved dogs in hereafter.  

For the uninitiated, James Herriot’s books are wonderful stories of his experiences as a practising vet in the Yorkshire countryside. Herriot writes with a great and often self depricating humour and compassion about his life and its intersection with numerous farmers and their animals in the beautiful Yourkshire dales. The imaginary village of Darrowby, where Herriot’s practice is based, his senior partner, the curiously named and quirky Siegfried Farnon and his unflappable brother Tristan, their housekeeper Mrs. Hall and the accountant Mrs. Harbottle are characters I have come to adore. James’ wife Helen and her travails in the early days of their courtship and marriage, her stoic acceptance of life with the dedicated vet are hugely enjoyable reads.

The most wonderful thing about Herriot’s stories are that most of them appear to be based on real incidents and portray characters based on real personalities. He writes with such skill that they leap out of the pages, transport the reader in a different, kinder and a charming world. Herriot makes a lot of fun of himself, readily admits to his failures as well as the limitations of the veterinary medicine particularly in the early decades of the last century, shares the disappointments and the successes of his practice and above all highlights the most wonderful and humane nature of his work.

James Alfred Wight, took on James Herriot as his pseudonym, when he decided to try his hand at writing his experiences as a country vet. Wight, was born in 1916 in Sunderland and grew up in Glasgow. He attended the Glasgow Veterinary College and after training as a vet, he moved to Thirsk (Darrowby, in his books), a town in Northern Yorkshire. He worked with Donald Sinclair (Siegfried Farnon, in his works) for more than 50 years in Thirsk,  attending to all manner of farm animals and pets.  He took up writing much later and his first book ‘If Only They Could Talk’ was published in 1972. He has since than delighted and charmed millions like myself and a blurb on the back of the book I am presently reading informs that he has sold more than ’14 mn copies in Pan editions’.

Alf Wight succumbed to cancer in 1995. James Herriot, continues to delight millions of readers even today. His books have a quality of timelessness about them. Pick one up today and if you are feeling a little low,  it will surly make your day.

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