Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘All Creatures Great and Small

When reviewing my latest selection of favorite books, I realized that the majority of them were about animals. The books brought to mind an essay I wrote back in high school about how God cares for his creation. I’m sharing my essay here for your enjoyment. 

One day a reddish-brown squirrel darted out beside a car in the parking lot of the high school that I attended. The curious creature freely explored the area until some boys spotted it. Then the squirrel found itself having to dart from stomping feet and flee from hurtling stones. It tried to retreat back under the car, but the boys began to shoot objects under the car. The squirrel was allowed no peace. Even as it slumped to the ground, barely able to breathe, the boys weren’t content. They finished it off.

Did you know God loved that squirrel? But it’s such a tiny creature! Why would a squirrel matter to God? The Bible quotes Jesus as saying, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father.” (Matthew 10:29) When the Bible referred to a sparrow, the term typically meant any small bird. Jesus used the sparrow to emphasize how God values even the most insignificant life.

What about snakes and spiders? Who could love them? Surely not God! Well, think about the donkey. This brutish animal doesn’t win awards, the way that the stately horse does, but Jesus didn’t use a horse to ride through Jerusalem on Palm Sunday the way royalty often did. Instead he used a common donkey. “Behold the King cometh unto thee and sitting on a donkey.” (Matthew 21:5)

It’s something to think about, isn’t it? God created and cares for all animals. (If you really think about, why would God make and love what He doesn’t like?) Just imagine. God who is big and all powerful cherishes not only the big and strong or cute and loveable, but even the tiny and insignificant animals.

“All creatures great and small. The Lord God made them all,” wrote Cecil Frances Alexander in her Hymns for Little Children. The Bible does not in any one verse declare, “God loves all animals, including butterflies, frogs, birds, dogs, and squirrels.” Scriptures however do show God’s love for all his creation.

The first chapter of Genesis includes an account of God creating the animals. Other portions of the Bible tell too of God’s care for animals.

  • Matthew 6:26: “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father cares for them.”
  •  Matthew 8:20: “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests.”
  • Psalms 104: 10-11, 14: He sends the springs into the valleys, which run along the hills. They give drink to every beast of the field. He causes the grass to grow for the cattle.
  • Psalm 104:18: The high hills are a refuge for wild goats.

Clearly, it hurts God to see a butterfly have its delicate wings ripped off its tender body, a frog pelted with stones, a bird plummet to the earth from a slingshot, or a dog being kicked. Shouldn’t we then, as God’s caretakers of the world, also love his creation?

James Herriot is a master storyteller. Today I’m reviewing the 20th anniversary edition of his book All Creatures Great and Small, which is subtitled “the warm and joyful memoirs of an animal doctor”. In this first memoir of several, Herriot shares how he became a veterinarian assistant and all the adventures this occupation entails. His stories are funny, gritty, riveting, eye-opening, and a host of other positive adjectives. I’ve enjoyed reading Herriot’s memoir this week, as much I did when I first discovered it as a young person.

When I initially read All Creatures Great and Small, the animal stories are why I liked it. One that appears frequently is that of Tricki, a Pekingese dog, who is owned an elderly widow by the name of Ms. Pumphrey. She dotes on Tricki so much that she overfeeds him. And she doesn’t just overfeed him dog food or even meat scraps. No, this dog also receives cake and other sweets. Because of Herriot’s respectful care of Tricki, he earns the prestigious title of Uncle, with which comes various favors including invitations to parties.

There are numerous other memorable animal stories too. Some our sad, such as that of a widower whose fourteen-year-old dog is his best friend. The dog’s swollen abdomen is due to inoperable cancer. Others are happier, such as that of the young farmer whose livelihood depended on a cow who had developed a bad case of summer mastitis. After a night of having her udder massaged every thirty minutes, along with other care, the cow surprises everyone by returning to normal health. Finally, some stories just show the varied nature of being a vet. For example, there’s the incident where Herriot proclaims a cow to have a broken pelvis and not capable of ever walking again, only to have the cow walking about the next morning in the fields as if nothing had ever been wrong. Or there’s the incident where a farmer tries to get Herriot to sign a statement that said his cow had died from lightning, when clearly she died of heart failure. There are many priceless tales!

Upon my recent rereading of All Creatures Great and Small, I found it to be as rich in stories about people as animals. In 1937, there was usually two or three vacancies with an average of eighty applicants for each one. For that reason, Herriot feels appreciative and excited about the opportunity to interview for an assistant position in the country. He spends the drive to his interview trying to imagine his prospective new boss. Once he arrives, however, he finds that the employee has left to visit his mother. He waits a couple of hours, during which time various clients come by to call on the doctor, before Mr. Farnon actually returns. The whole situation makes Herriot wonder if a joke was being played on him.

There are numerous other memorable characters too. An outstanding one is Mr. Farnon, who hates to admit to mistakes. When Herriot and Farnon receive a call to visit a neighbor, they argue over the correct name. Farnon turns out to be the one in the wrong, but instead he admonishes Herriot to be more careful in the future. Similar situations repeatedly happen. Farnon more than once blames Herriot for an incorrect diagnosis or for a careless use of the practice’s car. Another outstanding example is Tristan, who is Mr. Farnon’s brother. After failing his vet exams, Tristan turns up for a visit and never leaves. He then becomes the subject instead of Farnon’s wrath, except the difference is Tristan often deserves it. For example, when the three take on the simple task of raising hens and then pigs, Tristan cann’t even keep the livestock contained in a pen. Finally, there are the locals, many of whom believe that they knew more than the vets, and always enjoy an opportunity to prove the vets wrong.

When I first sat down to write this review, I struggled with deciding on what highlights to share. There are so many excellent qualities about Herriot’s memoir, including simply how well he writes. His stories foreshadow what lies ahead, hold conflict and no easy solutions, offer food for thought, and finally just simply entertain. I’m eager to have time to reread the rest of Herriot’s memoirs!


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