I was recently tagged on Facebook in a challenge to name the ten books that had most influenced me. (I haven’t yet completed the challenge because I have tendencies toward procrastination. Just tendencies, haha.) But one book I know will be on my list is Heidi by Johanna Spyri. At first I was surprised that I had put Heidi on my list, but then I did some thinking about this book I read so long ago.
It is amazing to me how often I have thought about this book over the years. Is it because I read it at such a formative age? Is it because it truly is a wonderful book? Certain books from childhood are still some of my favorite books, even now. They were loved early and loved long!
I admired the character and had a desire to be like her. She was brave. She helped people. Yet she was vulnerable too; she was an orphan and lived with her grandfather, who she didn’t know at all at first.
I think I was also intrigued by Heidi’s close friendship with Peter, who tended the goats on the alpine meadows. This pairing of a boy and girl together as main characters was somewhat new to me at the time. Usually the girls mostly hung out with girls and the boys with boys. But whenI got older, I would see this type of pairing again, in a wonderful way, with Scout and Jem in To Kill a Mockingbird and then with Meg and Calvin in A Wrinkle in Time.
Another thing I loved about this book – and still do, to this day – was its sense of minimalism. I mean, Heidi slept on hay. She ate mostly bread and cheese. She lived in a small house, a cabin, really, in the Swiss Alps.
I have always felt that in many ways, Heidi had everything she needed. Her food was simple. And tasty! (I like bread and cheese. We won’t discuss how much I like bread and cheese!) I am drawn to small houses, which is a good thing since that’s what we have. (I’ll bet that Heidi’s house, however, was not cluttered like my house! I am working on it, though!)
Sleeping in hay. . . well, that won’t work for me. I like the sound of it. The idea of the sweet-smelling hay in the simple loft. But I’m allergic, and the one time I went on a hay ride, my eyes turned so red, I had to take my contacts out and be half blind, rather than wear my thick glasses in front of the boy I had a crush on. (The hay ride was really fun, before all the sneezing , itching, and pile of Kleenex kicked in.)
The character of the grandfather is interesting to me. He is a hermit, and in some ways reminds me of one of those mysterious figures that appear sometimes in traditional tales, like a crone, a wise woman, a magician, a bean-seller.
On a lighter note, added bonuses for me with Heidi were her braids and her name. I coveted those braids, even though my chin-length baby-fine hair would not have made lovely, thick, glossy braids!But I wanted my hair to look like Heidi’s and like Pollyanna’s in the movie with Hayley Mills, and like Betsy in the Betsy Tacy books. I also wanted a name like Heidi, or Melinda or Katrina, or Marianina. (Yes, really.) As you can see, I was firmly grounded in reality.
And on a MUCH lighter note, I have enjoyed reminiscing about Heidi as I wrote this blog, and the only down side is that I seem to have a tune stuck in my mind now. It begins “Oh, VRENili, my PRETty one,” and has the words “My HOME it is in SWITzerland, it’s made of wood and stone.” Trust me, it gets old fast.
The descriptions in the book of nature, of the meadow, the mountains, and the pines above the Grandfather’s house are beautiful, and I enjoyed knowing that Heidi spent so much time outside. I often think about how Heidi fell asleep at night, seeing the stars outside her loft window, and listening to the wind in the pines.