Tuesday, November 21, 2006

On Reading (And Watching!) James Herriot

A Guest Post from Claire...

Denny and I have recently been watching (via library DVD copies) episodes from the excellent, long-running BBC series, All Creatures Great and Small. The series of programs ran in the U. K. from 1978 into the late 1980s and were based (pretty authentically) on James Herriot’s best-selling books of veterinary life in the Yorkshire Dales in the period just before and after the Second World War.

I had seen only a few of the programs when they first aired on American TV and Denny didn't remember seeing them at all. However, we have spent many delightful hours while on long auto trips, listening to readings of the Herriot stories by Christopher Timothy, the actor w
ho played Herriot throughout the BBC series. Absolutely terrific!

But now, we are enjoying ever so much watching the series together. They have been precious hours for us, providing a wonderful tonic for our otherwise intense lives as pro-life activists. The humor, the pastoral lifestyles of the Yorkshire farmers, the fascinating development of veterinary practice in these key years, the interaction between the residents of the Farnon household, the innocence, the sadness -- so much of the trials and triumphs of men is captured in these episodes. We have laughed a lot but we have also been moved to tears as we've watched these lives played out...so different from and yet so alike our own.

But as delightful and moving as the TV episodes have been for Denny and me, they kindled in me a desire to get back and re-read the Herriot books themselves. Yes, the series has done a fine job in describing the unique characteristics of James and Helen, Siegfried, Tristan, the many colorful clients, and even the animals that Herriot so marvelously brings to life in his books. Yet there is nothing like going back to the source in order to get the full flavor of what made the Herriot stories, as the Yorkshiremen might say, so champion!

Now, just in case you are unfamiliar with the basic outline, let me quickly give a primer for you.

James Herriot started out in Yorkshire right after graduating from veterinary college in the early 1930s. He delved right in to a big livestock practice (with just a smattering of dogs and cats) and had to win over the tough, taciturn folk of the Dales. No easy task for a young outsider...and a vet with new ideas, no less. Herriot's descriptions of the antiquated medicines and techniques they used to treat animals in those days is enchanting especially as he ties them in with the particular cases he’s working on. Remarkably, he manages to take even uninitiated city kids like myself into the joys, the surprises, the chal
lenges and even the disasters of his exciting, richly rewarding life.

So, again, the TV series is very good but the books...well, I think the books are even better and are well worth your time. If you’ve never read them, you’re in for a special treat. If you have, do take the time this winter to re-read them. You'll regret having left James and his friends on the shelf so long.

And finally, if you're looking for an especially appropriate gift for the readers on your Christmas list (including those parents and grandparents who love their children enough to read aloud to them!), you can't go wrong with James Herriot.

A few suggestions: All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Things Wise and Wonderful, The Best of James Herriot, James Herriot's Dog Stories, James Herriot's Cat Stories, and James Herriot's Yorkshire Stories.