Sunday, March 27, 2011

Heidi - Johanna Spyri

 Isn't it amazing that a novel that was written for children should become one of the most famous books to come out of Switzerland?! It shows how good Heidi is and I thoroughly enjoyed sitting down and reading this about six months ago.

 Heidi is of course a very famous children's novel written in 1880. It is very 19th century in writing style and narrative. For instance the title is typical, Heidi's Years of Wandering and Learning! Un-necessarily long and now commonly abridged to just Heidi!! After having read it I don't think that today's youngsters would be able to read it! Young people today are Harry Potter fans and J.K. Rowling's books are very clearly written and of today's style. Johanna Spyri obviously wrote in the style of her time and children of today just wouldn't understand, or even comprehend it. I as a forty year old took some time to get into the swing of its style, so a young child wouldn't have much hope.

  So in many respects Heidi has passed from being a children's book into being a simpler to read 19th century classic for adults. It is isn't as difficult to pick up and start reading as is Charles Dickens for instance, so Heidi would be a good starting point before delving into some of the heavier classics of the time. Once into the book the style becomes simpler and easier to read and you get into the rhythm of it very quickly. Picking up a heavier novel of the time after Heidi would then be somewhat easier. It is a good starting point if you are contemplating a go at the classics and want something light to start with.

  I would not give this to a child to read as it would be too difficult for them to read now. It says volumes about the literature of its day and the children's ability to read it compared to our generations dumbed down-ness. As an adult I really enjoyed Heidi, the style once you get into it is quite basic and the story is very much child driven. But for an adult it is still a surprisingly rewarding read.

 Heidi as a character is just wonderful!! She is a very precocious little girl with a big heart, combined with an insightful intelligence. The story starts with her being dumped unceremoniously on her unwilling grandfather who is in self exile in the Swiss alps. She slowly softens his heart and they get on famously. He is then obviously unhappy at losing her when the aunt who dumped her takes Heidi away to be a companion to a crippled girl in the city. He despises the aunt's self-regard and lack of his or Heidi's wishes to stay together. We can see why he has exiled himself.

 In short Heidi and the crippled girl get along very well but the house keeper is somewhat of an ogre and is unable to accept Heidi or her ways. She is cruel to her, and yet the girl's father who has to travel a lot is very kind hearted, as is his mother. They both see the attitude from the house keeper and put her back in line. But Heidi is homesick and falls ill. A kind doctor recognises her malaise and she is sent back to her grateful grandfather who is so happy he breaks his exile and starts to visit the local village.

  Heidi herself is friends with a Shepard boy named Peter who tends to her grandfathers goats. He skips school alot and Heidi teaches him to read and write so he can read to his blind grandmother. She is an amazingly unselfish person!! Of course we as adult readers can see Spyri's train of thought, and it is to be seen today in animated movies. It is never syrupy or overly goody two shoes. Heidi is just an amazing young girl who inspires those she meets with her kindness.

  The crippled girl, along with her father and Grandmother come to visit. After all sorts of adventures the cripple, after her wheel chair is destroyed by a jealous Peter, learns to walk. Her father is over joyed and financially looks after Heidi, her grandfather, and the village.

  It is all happy endings, but remember this was a children's book and it reads as one. But it is still a wonderful read. Heidi is a lovely character and the reader just falls in love with her!!! She is one of the more memorable fictional characters I have come across. The book is also very heavily christian in tone. It doesn't quite go into shoving the Bible down the readers throat but it does say to children 'be good, say your prayers, believe in god, etc'. I didn't find it too bad, but it shows how a children's book was used to instill into them the difference between right and wrong.

 Heidi then is a lovely book. As an adult I'm sure you will enjoy it and the style of its writing. It has dated in terms of its religious under tone as we of today witness the slow demise of religion within our world. As a character Heidi is truly lovely and a neat young girl. Her heart is big, she cares about those a round her, and she has a very keen intellect. Just the sort of kid we as adults like!! Put aside any reservations you have about this being solely a kids book because it isn't. You read the Harry Potter books don't you? Then read Heidi because it is the 1880's equivalent. Somewhat dated but still a very good and satisfying read. Believe me after you have finished it you'll be mulling it over in your mind for some time afterwards, and you will never forget the Little girl called Heidi, she is a real cracker of a character!


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