Heidi and its messages of God’s love

The original (1881) book of Heidi by Johanna Spyri is fascinating and charming and did not leave my eyes dry reading it.  It was written during a time when there was great concern about children leaving the healthy country air for the dankness and blandness of the cities.

Much like Pollyanna, it contains the peculiar frankness of tone that older children’s literature had.  If you’ve read the original Grimm’s Tales in their 1880s form, the language is very similar.

But what I didn’t know from watching random pieces of the several film versions through the years was that it provided the young reader with two different messages of God’s love regarding physical health.  Heidi loves people very much and wants to help them.  The book provides two instances of her being able to help people with love (and good food).  They are messages of God’s love because Heidi is taught why in one case that though she has done good and the person’s life is better and their joy in Christ is the greater the physical healing she hopes for will not happen in this world.  In the other case the physical healing happens, but it is not due to the love and good food, but rather to an opening of the person’s heart more fully to God and the manifestation was physical healing.

The first person was open to God already and was the means by which Heidi could learn more about God.  It was the other way around in the second case.

I can’t wait until my girls are old enough to read it for themselves.


4 thoughts on “Heidi and its messages of God’s love

  1. I’m pleased you’ve been reading the children’s literature of old. I was really blessed by all those tales and continue to be today. One thing I think that has really gone awry in our culture is that kids don’t have access to those stories anymore.

    I’ve blogged about Nancy Drew a few times. She was another favorite, but the old 1930’s versions. She was given a make over at some point in the 50’s and it really opened my eyes to the power of social engineering, to political correctness. Gone is our gracious but spunky heroine, only to be replaced by these somewhat narcissistic and superficial girls.

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  2. I love Heidi and have read it many times over and over since I was a child. A book with a similar theme of moving to the country from the city is my all-time favorite, Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. I’ve pulled it out once a year since my mom bought it for me at a used book store when I was in 5th grade. I read it to my girls and they loved it as well. I very much identified with the main character and her timid, cautious ways from being raised by an over anxious aunt in the city (only I wasn’t raised by an aunt but my mom was an anxious worrier). When the aunt had to move with her sister who had need of a warmer climate due to illness, Betsy ended up having to stay with the dreaded Putney cousins on their farm who (gasp!) actually made children do chores of all things! Betsy was surprised by the casual ways they expected her to do very grown up things like finish making the applesauce for dinner on her very first night there and how she was left to figure out how to sweeten it herself. Her city aunt would never have allowed her to cook in the first place fearing the poor dear would burn herself. “How much sugar should I put in? she asks. Her aunt casually says “Just put in as much as tastes good to you and I guess it will taste just fine to the rest of us.” Then her aunt leaves her to it without hovering or correcting the fact that she started out by putting in teaspoons at a time. She lets Betsy discover on her own that this amount made little difference and she had to figure out that she may need to put in larger amounts to have any effect on the taste.

    As a child, I loved how Betsy learned to overcome her timidity and how to be more daring and willing to try new things. When confronted with challenges, rather than being paralyzed by fear she learns to think things through by asking herself “What would cousin Ann do?” Cousin Ann was a little intimidating to Betsy at first but she ends up admiring her because of her no-nonsense practical way of looking at problems and finding a solution. Reading it as an adult, it gives me a perspective on my own parenting practices and how to encourage my girls to try new things (and to let them fail) while being nonchalant about the outcome. It reminds me not to hover and try to control but to instead be nearby for advice and guidance.

    A real-life look into the early independence of children is to read the online diary of Ruth Campbell Smith. Her granddaughter has posted her diary entries from 1925-1927 from when she was raising her young children. At only 7 and 9 years old, her boys were allowed to go downtown by themselves (they lived in Indianapolis) and were sometimes left home alone with their infant sister and younger 5 and 2 year old brothers while mom went downtown to shop. Also of interest is how she hired a woman (they were not wealthy by any means) to handle the household when she gave birth to her daughter. She stayed in bed ten days and just tended to the baby while the woman took care of everything else. For many months after her daughter’s birth she paid a laundry service to wet wash the laundry which was returned for her to hang to dry and iron. Ruth was a workhorse though besides this help when she was giving birth. What she accomplishes in a day makes me blush with shame at how much easier we have it today. What is nice is that Ruth’s two youngest daughters are able to add comments which give more insight into her entries about what it was like growing up then. For instance, school followed the calendar year, so you started a new grade in Jan and ended that grade in Dec. with the summer off in the middle of a grade.

    If you are interested in reading the diary, start here. You have to start at the bottom of each page and read each entry to the top of the page then hit “newer entries” to read it sequentially.


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  3. I loved Understood Betsy!
    My favorite edition of Heidi is the Illustrated Junior Library edition with illustrations by William Sharp. There are many German words left in that edition with the definitions as footnotes.


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