I received a copy of Heidi when I was in grade school; it turned out, so I found out later, that it was a book my Grandma Williams read to Mom before she entered kindergarten. It was a book of a joyful little girl (Heidi herself); a taciturn but ultimately loving Grandfather; a goat herding boy named Peter; Peter’s Grandmother and an aunt of his; and the people she met in Frankfurt, including Clara, the girl she is taken to act as a companion to. Heidi is only truly at happy in the mountains, but she is the one who brings her joyfulness to both her Grandfather and Clara.
Heidi is about both the simple joys of eating browned cheese on bread with goat’s milk on the side, and about the beauty of the Swiss Alps. Though fewer people travel to see the Great Plains, reading the book reminds me how my mom loved traveling through them when I was traveling to visit my biological father (and back) when I was younger… at that age I saw little of interest in the desolate flatlands, instead listening to my radio or the tapes Dad made me of his playing (he was a clarinetist). It also reminds me of the trip we took to the Grand Canyon… I took pictures which are now lost… The Grand Canyon, perhaps, was equal in majesty to the Swiss Alps. When I was older, Mom and I went to the Ozark Mountains… and again, perhaps those rolling green hills were as lovely as the icy beauty of the Alps…
A greedy cousin takes Heidi to see Clara, who as a girl who is crippled needs a companion. Heidi does bring Clara joy–for instance, when she manages to sneak kittens into the house, and when she turns out to be a lackadaisical student for their teacher. Yet the character Heidi can only be happy in the Alps. Kept from those beauteous slopes, she grows thin and unhappy–though she is reassured that if she prays, eventually her prayers will come true–and in fact in a roundabout way they do: the doctor discovers that the “ghost” haunting the house is Heidi sleepwalking. In her dreams she dreams she is back in the Alps. So Heidi is sent back to the Alps.
Yet without Heidi, Clara is unhappy. More, she has longed to see the Alps that Heidi used to talk about. For a while, Clara is sick… but finally Clara comes to the Alps, and there Clara learns to walk. The fresh air of the Alps can, it is implied, cure any sickness. It is the naïve creed of Heidi that the optimism of the mountains that causes joy:
All things will work for good
To those who trust in Me;
I come with healing on my wings,
To save and set thee free.
It is a coincidence uncommented on that in the Bible, it is in the mountains (Mt. Sinai, for instance) that the Israelites receive the Word of God and that God is called “El Shaddai” (a God of the Mountains) and later on in Israelite history the Israelites’ enemies mistakenly believe Israel’s God is only “a God of the Mountains” and cannot defeat Israel’s enemies on the plains within Israel.
With that in mind, there is something almost holy about mountains–whether in Israel or in the Swiss Alps.