Saturday, August 24, 2013


God is good to all of us. He knows what we need better than we do. And just because he thinks it is better not to give you what you want right now doesn't mean he isn't answering you. You shall have what you ask for but not until the right time comes.

Most of us are familiar with the story of Heidi.  It is, after all, one of the world's best selling books and perhaps the most well-known works of Swiss literature. Written in 1880 by Johanna Spyri, this classic children's novel speaks of faith, love, the importance of education, and the beauty and freedom of life in the Alps.

The Plot:

After the early death of her parents, Heidi is raised by her aunt Dete until the age of 5.  When Dete accepts a new position, she take Heidi to live with her grandfather who has lived in seclusion high in the Swiss Alps for years.  At first, Heidi's grandfather resents her presence, but she soon wins him over with her innocence and love of life.  She in turn finds peace and happiness playing on the mountainside with Peter, the goatherd, and the goats.

Three years later, Dete returns to take Heidi to Frankfurt to live as a companion to Clara Sesemann, a wealthy girl who has lived as an invalid.  Though Clara takes to Heidi instantly, things don't go as smoothly with other members of the household.  Heidi's country manners and lack of education mortify the housekeeper Fraulein Rottenmeir and cause no end of trouble between them.  Even though Heidi finds comfort in the arrival of Clara's Grandmamma, she still longs to return to her life on the mountain.  As more time passes, it seems like that will never hapen.

My Review (Caution - Spoiler):

This story is one that I have been familiar with my whole life, but I haven't ever taken the time to read the original novel until now.  The book was originally subtitled "for children and those who love children", and I think that is a very apt description.  The simplicity and beauty of the story is enough to warm the heart of anyone who reads it.

I think what really makes this story so beautiful is it's setting.  Having been to Switzerland myself, I know that the beauty described is not exaggerated.  And Spyri's writing makes you want to live on the mountain to.  The fire-like sunsets, the wind whipping through the pine trees, the purity of the is no wonder Heidi and Clara each grow strong and healthy here.  Life on the Alm is one of peace, freedom, hard work, and friendship.

Though the characters and plot of the novel are pretty simple, there are still many themes woven into it that are great for children (and adults) to hear.  The importance of simplicity and faith in life as represented by life on the Alm.  The need for education and human connection as represented by life in Frankfurt and the village.  And, perhaps most important, the belief that everything in life is subject to God's timing. That we are in the situations we are in for God's reasons and that no matter where we find ourselves God will bring good out of it.  Though Heidi's life in Frankfurt does not bring her pleasure, it ultimately gives her a love for learning and makes a way for Clara to get well.

There is a reason that this story is a classic.  It has all of the ingredients to capture the imagination of the young and young at heart.  If you haven't already read this story for yourself or your children, don't put it off any longer.  Though we are all familiar with it, there is no substitute for the real thing.

The Movie:

 There are dozens of adaptations of this classic story and most people have their favorite.  The one I am most familiar with is the 1937 version starring Shirley Temple, Arthur Treacher, and Mary Nash.  It has been a long time since I have seen it, but from what I remember it follows the basic plot with some variations here and there.  Fraulein Rottenmeir is much more of a villain and the Grandfather has to fight hard to get Heidi back.  A classic Shirley Temple film, and a nice adaptation.  

The other popular adaptation is the 1993 TV miniseries starring Noley Thornton, Jason Robards, Jane Seymour, and Patricia Neal.  I haven't seen this one, but it is one of the more well-known adaptations out there.     

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Happy Birthday To:

H. P. Lovecraft
August 20, 1890

From even the greatest of horrors irony is seldom absent.
-The Shunned House

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Rescuers

Mice are all for people being free, so that they too can be freed form their eternal task of cheering prisoners--so that they can stay snug at home, nibbling the family cheese, instead of sleeping out in damp straw on a diet of stale bread.

Though many people are familiar with the title The Rescuers due to the popular Disney film, most don't realize that it was based on a children's book series.  Published in 1959, this story by English author Margery Sharp tells the story of three courageous mice and strives to teach children about overcoming fear, doing without for the sake of others, and the importance of friendship and loyalty in accomplishing any task.

The Plot:

The Prisoner's Aid Society is a group of mice whose mission is to bring comfort to prisoners throughout the world.  But a new challenge has arisen that will require more than just the ability to provide comfort.  A Norwegian poet is being held deep in the dungeons of one of Europe's most notorious prisons, and the Prisoner's Aid Society decides that he must be rescued.  They send Bernard (who works in the pantry of an unnamed embassy) to solicit the help of Miss Bianca, the pet mouse of the son of an ambassador.  They want her to travel to Norway to find a mouse who can communicate with the prisoner.

At first, Bernard feels that he cannot ask Miss Bianca to embark on so dangerous a mission.  She just seems too delicate and pampered to become involved in something like that.  But though Miss Bianca is definitely on the pampered side, she decides to set all of her fear and selfishness aside to help the poor poet.  So begins an incredible journey for the mice as they learn to trust each other and overcome their fear to bring relief and freedom to a suffering man. 

My Review (Caution - Spoilers):

Like most people, I had no idea that the Disney film The Rescuers was based on an actual book series.  It turns out that the film is actually based on the 2nd book in the series, so don't be looking for too many plot similarities in this book.

This is one of those books that isn't all that bad, it just doesn't reach the heights of "classic" literature.  The story and characters are very simple and straightforward.  This makes a perfect little read for your kids, it just doesn't capture the adult imagination like other children's classics do.  As an adult, you would want to know more about the poet's background, why he was in prison, and what this said about Cold War society.  But kids will simply identify with the mice and only really care about their story.  Sharp understands this and the story is definitely geared towards them.

But though the plot is simple, the overall themes are very important for children to hear.  In Bernard, they gain an understanding of what it means to look out for those weaker than you and to not let personal feelings get in the way of your task.  In Miss Bianca, they learn that sometimes you have to go through uncomfortable situations in order to do what is right and that loyalty to friends and family is very important.  

Again, this is a very simple story that is perfect for younger children to have read to them.  Adults shouldn't expect too much from it, but it is definitely one I would recommend as bedtime reading.  The pace is good, the characters easy for kids to sympathize with, and the lessons are important ones for kids to learn.  A sweet story overall that deserves a bit more attention than it normally receives.

The Movie:

Of course the film version is the 1977 Disney adaptation.  It stars Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor as Bernard and Bianca.  Again, plotwise it has more to do with the 2nd book in the series (Miss Bianca) but it is still well done (and well loved) film.        

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Emma Approved

It's going to be Emma!  The creators of the wildly popular (and very well done) web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries will be bringing another popular Austen story to the modern world.  The official title will be Emma Approved and will focus on the vlog of a young entrepreneur who also claims to be a fantastic matchmaker.  As in The LBD, this series will take the Austen original and change it to a modern setting and will also incorporate lots of social media aspects. Creator Bernie Su says that this story will most likely operate in the same universe as The LBD, so fans may get to see a familiar face or two in some o the episodes.

I am a huge fan of the original series and I can't wait for this one.  I think Emma is the perfect Austen story for this type of adaptation.  Emma Approved is set to premier this fall, so if you have been living under a rock and still haven't watched The Lizzie Bennet Diaries now is the time to correct that.