Heidi - A Child Moves The World

As the most famous and the most successful of Swiss personages, and as the best known child in literary history, Heidi has demonstrated an enduring presence for well over 100 years. The book has been translated into more than 40 languages and has appeared in published copies numbering in millions. With an established readership circling the globe " Heidi" has also been viewed with admiration in film and on television.

Neither the changes of literary currents nor the sharp barbs of the critics or even the pretenses of the editors can denigrate this enduring work. "Heidi" is a genuine phenomenon, but why, one might ask.

Coming into play in the book are many factors that work well together, resulting in one of the best known classics in the children's literary repertory. First of all, there is the power of its simple, yet pertinent fable, which is quite understandable to children. Moreover, there is the clarity of each of the characters; one knows exactly who and what they are. They are to be loved or to be detested.

In written form the timeless voice of nature is most symbolically heard through repetitious rustling of the mountain pines, and from it the power of love and trust in God are raised on high. The reader, both moved and gripped, can laugh, can cry and at his core becomes enriched of soul.

Additionally, there is Heidi's psychosomatic illness, which na´vely was misunderstood in faraway Frankfurt as her grief and homesickness brought her to the brink of collapse. An understanding doctor returns her to her original environment, the people and the animals she so dearly loved, and through it came a hoped for and unexpected result, as Heidi is restored to health. Klara also finds healing and the lonely grandfather finds his way back to his companions. It is a tribute to the book that with all of this, there is no lack of humor.

By its presence at that time the book "Heidi" must have had a revolutionary impact. That it poses a challenge of empathy for the place of a child rather than the usual moralistic adult perspective, is an additional positive aspect. A pioneer in the world of children's literature, Johanna Spyri elevated esteem for the child as a child.

Critics disparaged the author somewhat for too clearly delineating the good and the bad, the black and the white. But isn't that the charm, the essence of most fairy tales, which constitute a treasure-trove in volkliterature? It is said that the book is overly one-sided in the glorification of rural life and that from most perspectives pleasant endings are just unrealistic. Why then should we begrudge our children their need for fairness, for they will learn differently soon enough. Finally, isn't "Heidi" much too worthy, too good, too religious? There is no help for those who would deny the wonder and power of believing. Isn't it necessary not to completely lose ones belief structure in fundamental good, truth and beauty? Inevitably the voice of love speaks from its written word; we should not become too weary to heed it. A child moves the world; a child is able to induce positive changes in human beings. Might this portend an entirely new outlook therein?
Source: Juerg Winkler, Dorfstrasse 34, CH-8816 Hirzel

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