By Johanna Spyri
You really need to read this book to appreciate it. While we can love the idea of the little girl on the mountaintop, we can’t love her without getting to know her.
And I did love her.
We are greeted by fresh, pine-scented mountain air. Climbing dutifully up the path is little Heidi behind her determined Aunt Dede who carries a small bag of belongings for the little girl.
Aunt Dede has been offered a job in Frankfurt. She cannot take the girl with her; Heidi must go to live with her grandfather. But the old Alm Uncle is a bitter, lonely man – the villagers of Dörfli are shocked that anybody would send a child to live with him.
In a little cottage under the pine trees is Grandfather’s cottage; simple yet perfectly sufficient.
Grandfather is not keen to have the little girl stay; he tells Dede so. But Grandfather is not so bitter after all. My interpretation is that he feels nobody would want to live with him, not that he didn’t want her there.
When Dede exclaims what a burden Heidi has been all these years, Grandfather dismisses her in outrage, sending her away before she can say any more. Whatever he thought of Heidi’s sudden appearance, he clearly thought she deserved better than her Aunt Dede.
And so begins Heidi’s love affair with the mountain, the pines and the people who inhabit this alpine paradise; and they with her. From Grandfather to Peter the Goatherd to his blind grandmother, Heidi brings joy to everyone she meets.
Aunt Dede Comes Back
Just as their lives had fallen into a sweet, simple rhythm, Dede returns with ‘better’ prospects for Heidi; a job as a companion in far-away Frankfurt. We are never told that Grandfather does not want her to go, though we certainly feel the pain of his loss.
Heidi meets her charge, Clara, an invalid in a wheelchair who is told she will never walk. Her life is good – books and a warm bed and good food at every meal. She is treated as one of the family and so brings joy to this new household too.
But as her days in Frankfurt turn to months, Heidi begins to sleepwalk and loses her appetite. Whatever comforts and treasures a life in the city can offer, Heidi longs for home.
The Return Home
Returned home to her Grandfather and the doting citizens of the mountain, Heidi wants for nothing except her new friend. Luckily, Clara is delivered to her for a whole summer the following year. What ensues is blissful days of summer, warm glasses of goat’s milk and a jealous goatherd who, in an angry act of jealousy, still manages to save the day by forcing little invalid to learn to walk.
In and ending that is quite content, readers can want for nothing more than Heidi’s life to continue on as it is forevermore.
I loved Heidi for its simplicity. This is not a heroic, fantastical tale – it needed nothing outrageous to keep me turning the page. This is simply a love story between a girl and her grandfather; a girl and her mountain.
It’s all very…hmmm…wholesome; like a warm glass of milk before bed. Everything is very neatly wrapped up in a bow of feed-straw, but is that a bad thing? Given that it was originally published in 1881, a little wholesomeness is to be expected, surely.
Like any children’s book, it has a message, perhaps viewed as didactic, though I think the true message of this book is a belief in friendship and oneself rather than in God. Heidi’s ability to see the light in everyone – even herself – is what makes Johanna Spyri’s Heidi such a joy to read.