Heidi by Johanna Spyri

February 27th, 2022

Heidi felt to me like one of those books I should have read in childhood but never did, and I was a little hesitant to read it as an adult because I was worried I would find it too sappy. In fact, I found it totally charming, despite its many references to God and despite the problematic/ableist ending.

At the start of the book we meet Heidi, an orphan who’s being taken to live with her grandfather, who we’re told “drank and gambled away” his big farm and supposedly “killed somebody in a quarrel” in Italy. Heidi’s grandfather has a pair of goats and lives in a mountain hut; he regularly sees Peter, the kid who’s the village goatherd, but is otherwise cut off from society, and people imagine he won’t be thrilled to be taking care of Heidi. But Heidi, who is five, is all sweetness, and quickly wins her grandfather over: she’s excited to be in the mountains, and happy to see him, and delighted by his hut and his goats. Heidi’s idyllic mountain existence is interrupted, though, when her aunt arrives to take her to Frankfurt, where she’s to be a companion to a young girl who can’t walk/uses a wheelchair. The girl, Klara, turns out to be smart and kind, and Heidi has some adventures in the city, but she misses her grandfather and the countryside terribly. She starts sleepwalking, and when Klara’s dad has her talk to his friend the doctor, the doctor says Heidi needs to go home. So back to the mountain she goes. Eventually the city folks come to visit—first the doctor, then Klara and her grandmother—and the mountains help cure everyone of their ills and sorrows.

Heidi’s caring and kindness and generosity could be grating, but somehow weren’t: she’s just so happy to be running around with the goats and listening to the sound of the wind in the trees, and she’s equally happy reading hymns to Peter the goatherd’s blind grandmother, or watching her grandfather make things out of wood, or talking with Klara or the doctor. She’s not particularly well-developed as a character, but her sweetness is winning enough that I didn’t mind.

I also love the descriptions of places in this book—Heidi’s grandfather’s mountain hut with its table and cupboard and the hayloft where Heidi sleeps; the pasture where the goats graze, with all its herbs and wildflowers; the snow in winter piling up to the windows; the half-ruined house in the village where Heidi and her grandfather start spending the winters. I like the descriptions of summer, like this: “The sky was a deep blue, and the sun shone on the green mountain. Everywhere there were flowers: delicate primroses and great patches of blue gentians and golden rock-roses nodding in the sunshine.” And I like the descriptions of winter, like this: “In the evening, the moon shone over the vast snow fields, and the next day the whole mountain glittered like a crystal.”

Leave a Reply

Subscribe without commenting