Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Heidi by Johanna Spyri

This was one of my favourite books when I was little—one I read many times. I knew it well because it was among my mother's favourite books when she was small. Thinking about it these days, I must wonder if it is so well-known these days. I so rarely hear people talking about it.
The book was originally written in German by the Swiss Johanna Spyri. It's the story of little five-year-old orphan Heidi, who is left to live with her reclusive grandfather after her grandmother dies. The Alm-uncle, as her grandfather is called, is full of bitterness because of his son's early death, but when Heidi comes to live with him, he begins to thaw.
Heidi makes friends with Peter, a shepherd-boy, and his blind grandmother. But then one day her Aunt Dete comes back to collect her. Dete has work in Frankfurt as a maid in a big house, where there is a lame little girl who needs a companion. Before she knows it Heidi has been whisked away to live in a gilded cage.
I haven't read this book for quite some years now. I remember it being a perfectly delightful, heartstring-tugging story. Now as I look back through it I wonder if it might not be a little cliched, a little sentimental (after all, just how many stories of plucky little orphan girls melting hard-hearted guardians are there?) but I really think there's more to Heidi than that. There's a lot of...well, you might call it moralising, but I really think it's more theologically sound than that. For example, the most memorable part of the whole book when I was little, was this:
But if somebody thinks that nobody knows about a wicked deed, he is wrong; God always knows it. As soon as He finds that a man is trying to conceal an evil he has done, He wakens a little watchman in his heart, who keeps on pricking the person with a thorn till all his rest is gone. He keeps on calling to the evildoer: 'Now you'll be found out! Now your punishment is near!'”

I have always thought of the conscience as a little man with a pointed stick in consequence of this passage! And indeed, Heidi isn't without a good spice of humour, ranging from the worst case of bad conscience the Alps have ever seen, to the Sesemann family servants sitting up late to catch their ghost.
Heidi is a great little book—a beguiling story, wonderful descriptions of Switzerland, and an eager desire to edify. Recommended for little girls of all ages.


Willow Locksley (The Writers Block) said...

Just wanted to stop by and "leave my card", so to speak, and tell you that I love what you are doing with this blog!


- Willow Locksley

Anonymous said...

I loved this book as a child, too! When I read this book to my son, I noticed that compared to many translations at the library, it included many more references to the bible, hymns, & just good doctrine. Also how happy the grandmother was in her faith.

I think many modern translations & editions leave out the very best part, the Christian part, especially the emphasis on repentance.

My hardback copy, which was published in 1963 for $1.25, says that they used the Helen B. Dole translation, copyright 1927. I would like to find another one, as it is falling apart.


Suzannah said...

Goldnrod, that's interesting--I should look around and see if it was the Helen B Dole translation I read when I was smaller--or whether I have a treat in store for me when I discover her!


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