Goodreads: All Things Wise and Wonderful
Series: All Creatures Great and Small #3
Age Category: Adult
James Herriot begins training in the Royal Air Force during WWII, but still finds time to visit his pregnant wife Helen and reminisce about his veterinary practice in the Yorkshire Hills.
I was intrigued by the third volume in James Herriot’s series about being a vet in the Yorkshire Dales because I knew that Jim would be heading off to the Royal Air Force. What would this mean for his charming animal stories? Would the book become a WWII memoir instead? Would we ever see Tricki Woo again? The answer is complicated. The book switches between brief anecdotes about Herriot’s time in the RAF and his memories of Darrowby. Often, the parts about his time in the RAF are just a few sentences that lead him into a vet story instead of an RAF story. In the end, I have mixed feelings about All Things Wise and Wonderful. I suppose Herriot could not have left out his time in the RAF completely, yet these parts often seem tangential to the book, as if Herriot was well aware of what his readers actually wanted–the Yorkshire Dales.
In thinking about my reaction to All Things Wise and Wonderful, I did wonder how Herriot could have mentioned his time in the RAF and yet still made the book feel a bit less choppy. I even wondered if he actually needed to mention the RAF at all. His books typically skip through time, with Herriot telling stories about his vet adventures before he was married, and then returning back to his “present.” If he just mentioned some of his training and then spent longer sections on his visiting his pregnant wife and meeting his son, it seems rather like that would have been well and good. Just enough to let readers know what his “present” is, while still launching him back into of his veterinary past. Because the joke is that, after finally getting trained to fly, Herriot is asked to have a surgery that then disqualifies him from flying. And, because he is in a reserve profession, he is unable enlist in another part of the military. Herriot gets sent home! His time in the RAF seems relatively minor.
In some respects, Herriot seems to understand his time in the RAF was relatively minor, and he really does not dwell on it. Sometimes I wondered why he bothered to bring readers back to his present, or frame narrative, at all. A section, for instance, might begin with a few sentences on a fellow trainee being odd, with Herriot using his observation to launch into a remark that animals can be odd, too. Then off we go into another memory. Why bring up the odd fellow at all? Why not just tell the animal story?
Because the animal stories are where Herriot really shines. He has some amusing incidents to relate about his time in the RAF, such as getting a tooth pulled by an incompetent dentist, but, by and large, his best writing is reserved for his time in Darrowby. This usually pertains to the animals, but, of course, his anecdotes about his colleagues Siegfried and Tristan are always worth a laugh, as well. The only character in Darrowby that Herriot does not really make come alive is arguably his wife Helen. Typically Herriot brings out the humor of human nature, but Helen is always presented as kind, generous, loving, and supportive. The perfect wife. It probably made for a happier marriage, but her character is one of the duller ones in the books.
Though some of the transitions from frame narrative to memories are clumsy, All Things Wise and Wonderful still brings Herriot’s signature charm, humor, and warmth to his stories. Joy, heartbreak, and wonder all mix together in his vivid depiction of life as a rural vet making this third installment well worth the read.
3 thoughts on “All Things Wise and Wonderful by James Herriot”
It sounds like the book could do with a revamp. Reader’s expectations today are very different to when this was written.
Yeah, I wasn’t really sure what the intent was here. It was like Herriot felt some sort of pressure to maintain the chronology and keep indicating that he was really in the RAF and not doing vet stuff. But none of his books are that concerned with the timeline, anyway, so why get bogged down with reality now? Parts of the books are fictionalized, anyway!
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This reminds me that I should read the first book! It sounds like a lovely read.