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Review: How to Train Your Dragon

The Go Go trail is back! From 21st June to 5th September, 85 sculptures will be stationed around the city before they are auctioned off for Norfolk charity Break. Dragons have been around (in one form or another) for more than a millennia, and you can find lots of dragons here in the Information Store. The first in our series of dragon blogs is written by library services assistant Jess.

dragon trail

One of the miniature dragon sculptures meets Snap, dragon-in-residence at Norwich Castle Museum

I first encountered the How to Train Your Dragon series in 2005, quite a while before the film came out in 2010. I picked up the book off my cousin’s bedside table, and stayed up late to read it…and the next one, and the one after. I love all 11 of the books that have been published so far, and I also love the film. To me, the best thing about the books and the films is how different they are from each other. Yes, there is a tribe of Vikings. Yes, the main character is Hiccup. Yes, there is a dragon called Toothless. That’s where most of the similarities end.

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 All the books in the Dragons series come with tooth and claw marks

In How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell (QUICK READS 823.9 COW) Hiccup and his best friend Fishlegs are both very weedy. In Viking tribes this is not a good thing, and so they are often bullied by the other Viking boys, including Hiccup’s cousin and main rival Snotlout. We join the boys as they prepare for the first task of initiation into their tribe: catching their very own dragon. Hiccup does indeed catch himself a dragon, which he names Toothless, but Toothless is far smaller than the dragons that the other boys catch- barely as long as his forearm. After catching their dragons, the boys have to train them. Hiccup doesn’t feel that the “useful” instructions provided by The Book of Dragons (“yell at it!”) are much help! Much to the disappointment of his father, Chief of the Hooligans, Hiccup tries to talks to his dragon in its own language, Dragonese. Hiccup’s story is about an outsider looking in and trying to belong. Hiccup is not what a Viking should be, but he never stops trying to do his best and prove to his father that he is capable of being his heir.

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A rather unflattering self-portrait of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, heir to his tribe of Vikings

Since the series is aimed at younger readers there are little drawings of the various dragons scattered throughout the pages, with handwritten notes or dragon portfolios from Hiccup himself. This is a great way of drawing the reader further into the world of Hiccup and family. An overarching plot featuring Hiccup’s nemesis is interspersed with books that focus more closely on the friends that Hiccup makes inside and outside his tribe. But the theme stays true to that of a young boy trying to live up to the expectations placed on him. There are quite a few twists that even have me going ‘Is everything really going to be alright this time?’, and keep me waiting eagerly for the next instalment. The twelfth and final book in the series is hopefully due to be released later this year.

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It isn’t so easy to get dragons and Vikings to mix on film.

As I have mentioned before, the film is completely different to the books!

In the books Vikings work with dragons, riding them and hunting with them from the start. However in How to Train Your Dragon (DVD LOBBY 791.43) Vikings and Dragons are at war with one another. The dragons steal cattle and the Viking try to kill them in return. Making a name for yourself in this world is all about killing a dragon, and this isn’t easy for weedy Hiccup. Being the clever Viking that he is, Hiccup creates a number of inventions to help him. Due to his history of causing mayhem, nobody believes him when he finally manages to down a dragon. The creature stuck in his net is the famed Nighty Fury, the offspring of lightning and death itself. Faced with a helpless prey and a knife, it’s clear what any other Viking would do. But Hiccup doesn’t- he simply can’t. Instead, he frees the dragon, and thus begins the tale friendship, leading to Hiccup being the first Viking ever to ride a dragon.

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Toothless’ strength is more than a match for Hiccup’s brains- luckily, they make a great team

The story provides touching moments throughout, but the animation is perhaps the most impressive. Director Chris Sanders, who previously worked on Disney’s Lilo and Stitch, has done a magnificent job of designing the dragons themselves. All of the breeds feel very different, but all feel like dragons. Toothless’ face is so expressive and his movements so lifelike that you cannot help but fall in the love with him.

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This is apparently a ‘smile’!

The themes of growing up and trying to fit in and find your place still feature in the film, as well as conflict between Hiccup and the other Vikings his age. Hiccup is frequently ridiculed for being, well, Hiccup- going against the wishes of his father, ignoring Viking lore and acting very differently to his friends. But Hiccup never hesitates to do what is right. I am still moved by certain scenes, even though I have seen them at least half a dozen times already. If you’re after more adventure, two seasons of TV shows are available on Netflix, with a third released in June this year. The second movie shows the other side of the Viking/dragon conflict, along with a whole island of different dragons.

Dragon-tuppence

Stay tuned for more about the dragons that live here in our library

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One thought on “Review: How to Train Your Dragon

  1. I never had a chance to read the ‘How to Train Your Dragon series,’ but I will start reading them now for sure!

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