Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sunday Salon: Reading Heidi (1880)

Heidi. Johanna Spyri. 1880/2009. Puffin Classics/Penguin.  320 pages.

I first read Heidi in the summer of 2011, and I just LOVED it. I knew it was a book I would want to reread again and again. I became kindred spirits with a book heroine, Hannah, when she had this to say about Heidi:
My favorite thing in the world to do is read a book. I read Heidi, which I love, then I read another book, then I read Heidi again. If I stopped reading Heidi in between the other books, I'd be able to read twice as many books, but the thing is I like reading Heidi. So I do.
There is something comfortable and satisfying and lovely about Heidi. Heidi is a nearly flawless heroine whose goodness and love prove transformational to those around her. Heidi, like Anne and Pollyanna, is an orphan. She's not quite all alone in the world, however. She has an aunt who has tired of her, an aunt who wants to be rid of her when it's convenient, yet, who wants to push her way back into her life when opportunity arises. All for Pollyanna's own good mind you--if you believe that coming from her. Of course, no matter the reason her aunt brings her to her grandfather, the truth is that it is ultimately the best for her. Heidi loves and adores her grandfather, accepts him just as he is and loves him unconditionally. And oh how he loves her, needs her! Heidi heals his heart, transforms his life in so many ways! And Heidi brings (new) life to others on the mountain as well. In particular, Peter's blind grandmother! Heidi has a big heart and so much love to give! And her compassion for others is remarkable, she seems to feel others sorrows as deeply as her own.

But Heidi's perfect life with her grandfather is challenged when her aunt returns knowing what is best for her. Heidi will be companion to a wealthy little girl, Clara, in the big city. She'll learn to read and write, her manners will be polished. It's an opportunity of a lifetime, even if it breaks two people's hearts. Yet even in sorrow there is joy and hope. For Heidi continues to be Heidi. She becomes close with Clara, and even close to Clara's grandmother! She also impresses Clara's doctor and Clara's father. I really, really LOVED the scenes between Heidi and Clara's grandmother. I loved how the grandmother teaches Heidi how to read, but more importantly teaches her about the Lord. The life lessons she teaches Heidi on faith and prayer are AMAZING.
Mrs. Sesemann had noticed the child's unhappiness, but let a few days pass by, hoping for a change. But the change never came, and often Heidi's eyes were red even in the early morning. So she called the child to her room one day and said, with great sympathy in her voice: "Tell me, Heidi, what is the matter with you? What is making you so sad?"
But as Heidi did not want to appear thankless, she replied sadly: "I can't tell you."
"No? Can't you tell Clara perhaps?"
"Oh, no, I can't tell anyone," Heidi said, looking so unhappy that the old lady's heart was filled with pity.
"I tell you something, little girl," she continued. "If you have a sorrow that you cannot tell to anyone, you can go to Our Father in Heaven. You can tell Him everything that troubles you, and if we ask Him,  He can help us and take our suffering away. Do you understand me, child? Don't you pray every night? Don't you thank Him for all His gifts and ask Him to protect you from evil?"
"Oh no, I never do that," replied the child.
"Have you never prayed, Heidi? Do you know what I mean?"
"I only prayed with my first grandmother, but it is so long ago, that I have forgotten."
"See, Heidi, I understand now why you are so unhappy. We all need somebody to help us, and just think how wonderful it is, to be able to go to the Lord, when something distresses us and causes us pain. We can tell Him everything and ask Him to comfort us, when nobody else can do it. He can give us happiness and joy."
Heidi was gladdened by these tidings, and asked: "Can we tell Him everything, everything?"
"Yes, Heidi, everything."
The child, withdrawing her hand from the grandmama, said hurriedly, "Can I go now?"
"Yes, of course," was the reply, and with this Heidi ran to her room. Sitting down on a stool she folded her hands and poured out her heart to God, imploring Him to help her and let her go home to her grandfather.
and much later...
When Clara and Heidi were lying in their beds that night, glancing up at the shining stars, Heidi remarked: "Didn't you think to-day, Clara, that it is fortunate God does not always give us what we pray for fervently, because He knows of something better?"
"What do you mean, Heidi?" asked Clara.
"You see, when I was in Frankfurt I prayed and prayed to come home again, and when I couldn't, I thought He had forgotten me. But if I had gone away so soon you would never have come here and would never have got well."
Clara, becoming thoughtful, said: "But, Heidi, then we could not pray for anything any more, because we would feel that He always knows of something better."
"But, Clara, we must pray to God every day to show we don't forget that all gifts come from Him."
And Heidi is then able not to only draw close to God herself, to learn to trust Him more and more, but she's able to reach out to others in their sorrows, in their brokenness and speak healing words of faith. She's able to minister to others because her own life has been changed. She's able to reach out to both her grandfather and Clara's doctor in their brokenness--speaking tender words of love and affection, offering hope and peace. And those scenes were so beautiful, so touching to me. 

I loved so many characters in Heidi. I didn't exactly love Peter, her friend on the mountain. He provides contrast to Heidi's perfection, I suppose, being greedy, selfish, jealous, and lazy. He was definitely no Gilbert Blythe!

Favorite quotes:
“God certainly knows of some happiness for us which He is going to bring out of the trouble, only we must have patience and not run away. And then all at once something happens and we see clearly ourselves that God has had some good thought in His mind all along; but because we cannot see things beforehand, and only know how dreadfully miserable we are, we think it is always going to be so.” 

“We must never forget to pray, and to ask God to remember us when He is arranging things, so that we too may feel safe and have no anxiety about what is going to happen.” 
 I happened to be reading Heidi around the same time I was reading the story of Joseph from the book of Genesis, and I couldn't help but notice how Heidi teaches some of the same lessons: God has us in situations that we wouldn't necessarily choose for ourselves, but, God knows best and is working His best for us.

Have you read Heidi? What did you think? Do you have a favorite character? A favorite scene? A favorite quote? How do you think Heidi compares with Anne Shirley and Pollyanna?

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© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

4 comments:

amanda @ simplerpastimes 6:30 PM  

The passages you've pulled from Heidi as lovely. I know I've read it, but I didn't remember how much discussion of faith it contained--I suppose as a child it just flew by me. I wasn't really planning on rereading this one, but I think I shall add it to my list now.

hopeinbrazil 10:28 AM  

I had seen several movie adaptations and had read condensed versions before I read the unabridged Heidi to my sons. I was really blown away with the Christian themes that had been left out of the other versions. I don't remember being as impressed with the sequels (Heidi Grows Up, Heidi's Children, etc.) Have you read any other Heidi books?

Becky 10:35 AM  

I haven't found a movie adaptation of Heidi that I can tolerate yet. I have read the two Heidi sequels. I liked them okay, but I didn't "love" them or find them as amazing as the original.

QNPoohBear 2:40 PM  

I read the Heidi books when I was a child. I loved the setting the most. Visiting the Alps was like seeing Heidi come to life. The best movie version aired on the Disney Channel in the 1990s with Jason Robards as Grandfather. The Shirley Temple version is a must-skip for fans of the book. None of the movie Heidis have short black hair though.

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