I’m sure most of you have seen the How to Train Your Dragon movies. But how many of you have read the book How to Train Your Dragon by Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, translated from the old Norse by Cressida Cowell? Yeah, I didn’t know it was a book either until a while ago, when I saw it on display at Barnes and Noble. It is the first in a series of at least ten books. I decided to give it a try and write up a post comparing and contrasting the book and movie. Off to the library.
The book was unexpected. Meaning that it appeals to younger readers of Elementary age (it appealed quite successfully to my ten-year-old brother; he could not put it down), and even though it was written in a brilliantly funny style, there was, well, language that is not often appropriate. But since How to Train Your Dragon is my absolute favorite animated film, I decided to finish it, and when I was done, I was glad I did. It is written as Hiccup’s memoir on how to become a Hero the Hard Way, and in third person. The author did a brilliant job in pulling this off. But I did not like it enough to try out the rest in the series.
“A classic.” – The New Viking Times
Here is a short summary: Ten-year-old Hiccup Horrendous III and a group of other Viking boys from the Hooligan tribe on the island of Berk capture their own dragons to train. This is hard work, and they fail on the day where they show off their dragons and their training talents. The boys are banished from the Hooligan tribe, far from the village of Berk. The boys encounter a problem: there are two “gobsmackingly” humongous dragons by the cliffs — human-eating dragons, the Green Death and the Purple Death, and it turns out that it is up to Hiccup and his dragon Toothless to save the island of Berk from these Seadragonus Giganticus Maximus’s.
For the spoiler hater’s sake, and if any of you care enough to read the book yourself to find out about the ending, I won’t finish the short summary. But isn’t it so different from the movie? Though not completely; even the illustrations and descriptions of Hiccup and a few other characters were pretty accurate. I found it interesting that even the second HTTYD movie took some ideas from this first book as well: the two Alphas (the super huge dragons) and the fight between them.
The most interesting thing to me, however, in contrasting the book and movie(s), was the relationship between the dragons and the Vikings of Berk, and how that relationship changes in the end. For instance, in the book, the dragons are friendly pets that must undergo training, just like dogs. In the movie, the dragons are, at first, animals that ought to be feared. The main sport in Berk is dragon killing, because the dragons are monsters that can destroy a small Viking village. Toothless, however, teaches Hiccup, who in turn teaches the rest of Berk, to realize that dragons should not be killed, they should be revered as the fearful creatures that they are, and that it is possible to live together, evoking a symbiotic relationship between dragons and men. When you compare the two themes, you can understand why the movie was way more popular than the book. At least, that was the impression I got.
I might as well add here that I read an article from a blog called The Imaginative Conservative on the topic of dragons in children’s literature, and how they are wrongfully portrayed as tamable animals in popular children’s literature, while talking of a book called Landscape with Dragons by Michael D. O’Brien. Take Eragon, for example. Yet, for centuries, dragons have always been the sort of creatures that cannot be tamed, but feared. They are powerful, dangerous, and best left un-reckoned with. Consider the Hobbit. The dragon Smaug was portrayed thus, and correctly, making it more realistic and terrifying.
“It is good that our children fear dragons, for in the fearing, they can learn to overcome fear with courage. Dragons cannot be tamed, and it is fatal to enter into dialogue with them. The old stories have taught us this.” – O’Brien
Also, there is another blog that has something on fairy tales and dragons: Read Brightly. I like G. K. Chesterton’s quote she put in. The movie How to Train Your Dragon adheres to this wisdom in that dragons are not playful and unharmful (He’s not a tame Dragon) but can and should be killed … at least in the beginning.
“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” – G. K. Chesterton
When it comes to dragons, who they are, and the relationship they have with humans, the movie How to Train Your Dragon is my favorite: it took both ideas and turned them around, notice. At first, we kill the dragons, they are dangerous. At the end, we learn of their worth and potential for friendship. In my opinion, dragons are, after all, fanciful creatures, and we can pretend that they can be and do anything, can’t we? After all, that is the main reason why I like Eragon … (besides the fact that it is nearly plagiarism of Lord of the Rings. Well, I won’t go that far.)
At any rate, there’s the review for the book and the movie How to Train Your Dragon with a little insight on the place that dragons have in our stories and imagination. Have you ever read the book, seen the movie, and/or have any opinions on this discussion? Comment and let us know!