Review: “Heidi” by Johanna Spyri

For the love of books

Johanna Spyri is one of the most famous writers in all of literature, and the publication of her Heidi granted her a permanent place on the bookshelves designated for children’s books.  Even the modern world is aware of Spyri’s iconic character, an angelic little girl who changes the lives of everyone around her with her warm, unselfish nature and caring disposition.  However, as the author said herself, Heidi is indeed only a novel for children and those who love children.  Otherwise, the plot is dreadfully boring.

Contrary to common behavior exhibited by young and older children, Heidi portrays its youth to be innocent.  True, Heidi is no more than five years old at the beginning of the novel, but it is nearly impossible that she could have had such an effect on adults.  It is a fact that people are unwilling to change their characters despite outside influences; no matter how endearing Heidi was as a very good-natured child, it is hard to understand how she managed to change her grandfather, Peter, and Clara.  Perhaps this mystery is part of the novel’s undying charm.

Nevertheless, some of the most touching moments in Heidi is when Heidi’s grandfather learns to love his granddaughter and when Clara conquers her paralysis.  Like Sara Crewe in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess, Heidi has an aura of exuberance and vitality that deeply affects anyone she meets.  A delicate children’s novel that carefully tries to be realistic while evading any melodramatic content other than its main character’s acts of kindness, the only problem with Spyri’s writing style in Heidi, English translation or not, is that its emphatic tone regarding Heidi’s sincerity as a person may be mistaken for artificiality within the story.

Reading Heidi is like reading the Bible—one knows what to expect from the direction of the storyline and the book’s content.  Before making her character too “noble,” Spyri should have realized that creating such an incredibly good character would also create a resounding holier-than-thou attitude throughout the story.  By the end of Heidi, it is clear that although this children’s classic has wonderful elements, it is after all a novel meant for children.

Original review: A classic novel for children, Examiner.com

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