I have distinct memories of my dad chuckling while silently reading weathered copies of James Herriot’s writings. As an adult, on a one years stint back in Mozambique, I picked up those same copies of Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small series and I read, for the first time, literature I could truly call exquisitely written and heartwarming. Literally. It made me feel warm from the inside out – the quarks and foibles of lovable and unlovable humanity, the insight into people and their animals, life in mid-century northern England. They were a study in cultural anthropology written by an untrained master with a keen eye for insight into the human condition. Years later I picked up the audio biography of Alf Wight, his birth name, and listened during a road trip through the hill country of Texas. When he died, I was near tears. (That’s the thing about biographies. They always die at the end.) My appreciation for this man transcended his skill as a writer and was informed by his humility and magnanimous spirit.
Herriot’s fame as a writer eclipsed his fame as a practicing veterinarian in rural England and after his death his office and home became as museum, visited by thousands annually. Last year on a trip to visit the land of the Yorkshire dales and moors, a visit to the World of James Herriot was on the top of my list. Absolutely kid-friendly, the museum covers the history of veterinary medicine with interactive exhibits, has a fully intact floor plan of a mid-century home, and includes a large section of the making of the TV series. Visitors can get behind the cameras and interact with the set. As in every older home, visitors can visit the cellar, equipped as a air raid shelter circa WWII. Covering such a vast array of interests, this museum can be thoroughly enjoyed by every demographic. No wonder it often wins top marks on the likes of Trip Advisor.
For most of my readers, including myself at present, a jaunt down the lane to Thirsk, Yorkshire is not a possibility at this time. Be consoled! Far more cheer and lasting pleasure awaits you if you simply pick up his books and begin to read. In a world fatigued by the use of hyperbole, I commend the Chicago Times review, which was not resorting to exaggeration when it stated that “‘Miraculous’ is not too strong a word” when reviewing his works. Grab a cuppa, tell your book club, and get to reading.
“I think it was the fact that I liked it so much that made the writing just come out of me automatically.” – James Herriot