Heidi is the most successful and best-known “literary” child of that most famous Swiss author, Johanna Spyri. In the eleven decades since Heidi first appeared, her presence has continued to shine as a significant life force. Heidi has been translated into about 50 languages and printed in an equivalent number of millions of copies. Heidi has appeared in print, in film, and on television all over the world. She has maintained her character despite the changing tides of literary trends, the pointed pens and pencils of her critics, and even the generosity of her closest admirers. How can such a phenomenon occur?
First of all there is the force of the fable itself, coherent and at the same time so simple, that every child can “see the light”. Moreover there is a certain dependable differentiation among the personalities that appear in the story: genuine, loveable, humorous, and completely natural Heidi; clumsy Peter (“close to being a fool, but not quite”, as C. F. Meyer observed); grumpy, patriarchal, strict but ever so kind Alm-Uncle (Alpöhi); blind, pitiable Grandmother; rich but at the same time poor, crippled Klara; stupid, hard-hearted Fräulein Rottenmeier; smart, loving Grandma; the friendly, understanding doctor. In all these cases it’s clear what kind of people these characters are.Does this paint too much of a “black and white” picture? In a certain sense, yes, but the story is depicted in such beautiful fashion that it helps the reader imagine events all the more colourfully. Is there a simplistic separation of Good and Evil? That may be true too, but this should not be considered alone – and in general this is the appeal of most fairy stories that comprise the most beautiful treasure of all folk literatures. Does it have an unrealistic “happy ending” in a world that is anything but happy?
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