Heidi by Johanna Spyri

Johanna Spyri’s Heidi is a novel that is not only an enduring classic (first published in 1881, still going strong, a perennial favourite, and still remarkably enjoyable), but also one of those books that can be read and perhaps even should be read on a multitude of different and equally rewarding levels. As with many children’s classics I consider personal favourites, my review will consist of primarily musings and detailed analyses of certain parts and aspects of the narrative.

I remember being entranced by the fact that Heidi’s aunt made her wear ALL her clothes so there would be nothing to carry on the journey to Grandfather. It was a hot spring day when Heidi made that first climb up the mountain to her grandfather’s cabin. I felt sorry for her being so over-dressed but I knew right away that the aunt was a “bad person.”

As soon as they got to Grandfather, even though he was thought of as a “bad person,” I could tell he was good. It only made the aunt more bad for leaving her niece with someone considered to be dangerous.

There you have the wonder of Johanna Spyri’s writing. She didn’t come right out and say who was bad, good, or otherwise but showed these qualities by her storytelling. Her heavy religious message did not bother me as a child because it fit right in with what I had been taught. It didn’t bother me during this rereading either, even when Clara’s grandmother was clearly preaching Christian theology, because it is done with so much love and understanding while doing no one any harm.

I did notice that the first half of the book is more interesting and exciting while the second half has more lessons, as it were, and gets a bit serious. It turns out that Ms Spyri wrote two books: Heidi’s Years of Learning and Travel, then Heidi Make Use of What She Has Learned, later combined into one. Those titles hint at the shift in emphasis. I did always like the first half the most, but remember being so happy when everything turned out well for Heidi, Peter, Clara and all the grandparents.

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