Heidi

by Johanna Spyri

{ 1880 }

As a little girl I always pictured Heidi sitting in the sun on a mountaintop, with her hair in braids crossed over her head. I must have gotten the idea from a book cover I saw somewhere, and it got mixed up with the opening scene from The Sound of Music. But I’d never read the book or seen the Shirley Temple film until recently.

You don’t mind spoilers, do you? Chances are you already know the story of Heidi, and even if you don’t, there isn’t much to give away. Heidi is a sweet little girl whose parents died when she was young, and her aunt has been raising her. The aunt gets tired of it and takes Heidi to live with (Heidi’s) grandfather on a mountaintop in the Swiss Alps. Of course, the grandfather is crotchety and surly, but he takes an instant liking to Heidi. They live happily until the aunt comes back and snatches Heidi, because the aunt promised to bring a little mountain girl for a rich invalid girl to play with in Frankfurt. Heidi is quite miserable in her new surroundings, and they won’t allow her to go back home to her grandfather – until she becomes ill from severe homesickness. Then everything is wonderful on the mountain again, and when the invalid girl (Clara) comes to visit, she slowly regains strength and health and is able to walk again. Joy! The end!

If it sounds like a simple and sweet story, it is. Honestly, it was a much-needed refreshment after my attempt at reading The Pillars of the Earth. I felt like the sunny, healthy mountain air was doing me a lot of good, and the book was just as clear. It didn’t have a lot of conflict; the straightforward nature of the story was somehow charming.

Once I finished, I wanted to watch the 1937 film adaptation starring Shirley Temple. For some reason, I expected the plot to be virtually the same. It followed pretty closely until Heidi was taken to Frankfurt in the winter, and then I guess the filmmakers felt like more conflict was needed. Heidi helps Clara learn to walk, and Clara promises that if Heidi is still homesick at Christmas, she can go home. Unfortunately, Clara’s father has heard terrible stories about Heidi’s grandfather, and what’s more, he is unwilling to give up Heidi when she’s been so good for Clara.

Heidi and her crazy-hair grandfather

Meanwhile, Heidi’s grandfather has set out to rescue Heidi; he walks in his rustic mountain-man clothes, with his crazy mountain-man hair, all 100 miles to Frankfurt. Once there, he frantically grabs little children to see which one is Heidi, and then he’s swarmed by kids who think he’s Santa Claus. When he starts barging into houses, he’s arrested and thrown into jail, because the police think he’s just another drunk.

Back at Clara’s house, the evil governess gets fired for being a jerk to Heidi (she was a jerk all the time, but Clara’s dad didn’t know that). Oh yeah, when Heidi first came, the aunt told the governess she could sell Heidi to the gypsies for all she cared, since she (the aunt) would have nothing else to do with her (Heidi). Ok, back to Christmastime. After being fired, the governess wakes Heidi up in the middle of the night, saying she’ll finally get to go back to her grandfather. But, DUN DUN DUN, the governess takes Heidi to the gypsies! Heidi runs away screaming, and of course her grandfather, who has escaped from jail by now, rescues her. And steals a sleigh to get away because the governess is shouting that he stole her child.

The grandfather and Heidi are stopped by the police; he’s thrown back in jail, and the governess tries to take Heidi away again, but Heidi pleads with the police to listen to her. She throws out the name of Clara’s dad (a well-known figure in the community), and the governess presumably gives up. We just have to guess at what happens, because the next scene is Heidi, her grandfather, and Clara on the mountaintop in springtime. The end.

I’ll be honest, the movie was nowhere near as good as the book. Maybe part of it is that I don’t particularly care for Shirley Temple, but also, the sweet, simple plot of the book didn’t need all that extra drama. At least, that’s my opinion.

And isn’t that why you read my blog?

P.S. I’m really in love with the cover art by Maud and Miska Petersham, and I even found a used copy on Amazon for $6. Another great gift, if you need more ideas!

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