At five years of age, Heidi finds herself dragged up into the Swiss mountains by her aunt to live with her forbidding grandfather, a man whom the villagers fear and shun even though most of them have forgotten whatever past crimes he may have committed. Contrary to all expectations, however, Heidi loves her new home and her new family. She goes daily to frolic with the goats on the mountainside and revels in the beauty of nature all around her. Then one day her aunt returns, determined to place Heidi in the house of a wealthy family who want a companion for their ailing daughter. Will Heidi ever find her way home?
The only memories I had of reading Heidi as a child were regrettably confused with some film versions, leading me to read this time around with increasing terror. I was initially convinced that some very dire things were going to occur, most likely the deaths or imminent deaths of Heidi’s friends and family up on the mountain. At the very least her grandfather was sure to do something desperate that would set the villagers against him once more. Fortunately, this book was actually the feel-good type of story I would have otherwise expected from the period and I was able to enjoy the light-hearted tale with as much joy as Spyri could have wanted.
Heidi includes some disagreeable characters, as well as a trying period in which the girl finds herself removed from her beloved home, but overall the story dwells on the happy moments and glosses over the more painful ones. Grandmother may be blind, but she has good company to cheer her. Her grandfather may be alone and sad without Heidi, but only a sentence or two tells us; the rest is silence. And Heidi may have been heartbroken the entire time she dwelt in the city, but God, she tells us, willed it so because it was better that way. So much joy comes from the few sorrows that it seems almost ungrateful to think about them.
Despite all the talk of providence and waiting for God’s time, however, the tale never seems preachy. It all unfolds so naturally, making elements that might otherwise seem too good to be true, or at least cliche, seem believable. Peter suddenly applies himself to his studies, the doctor conveniently decides to move, and Clara miraculously regains her health and I accepted it all. The characters find nothing odd about it, anyway. They seem to think that people should change for the better and good things should come to those who wait. Their cheerfulness, trust, and hope almost cannot fail to rub off, at least a little.
I closed the pages of Heidi feeling unusually refreshed. Though I had enjoyed the company of the characters and followed their story with interest, I was not sad to see them go (as I often am), but felt that the tale, too, had come to its natural conclusion. Heidi somehow makes everything seem right with the world, and that is a rare gift for a book to have.
*This post is part of the Year of Re-Reading Challenge being hosted by Lianne at Caffeinated Life.