My son is really, really into dragons right now. To the point where he wouldn’t let me tell him a story about an intrepid princess defeating a dragon, because he likes dragons better.
How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell Young Hiccup, about 11, is about to undergo his initiation rights. In his Viking tribe, the Hairy Hooligans, all potential members must prove that they are heroes by capturing and training and adolescent dragon – the bigger and fiercer the better. Hiccup’s father is the chief, so there’s extra pressure on him. Hiccup, however, is too timid to pick out the fiercest dragon from the cave, and also not good at yelling, the preferred and only known method of training dragons. This felt to me like a story that was almost really good. Hiccup can communicate with his dragon, Toothless, even though it’s only a Common or Garden, by speaking to it in Dragonese. But though he eventually saves the day, he never actually manages to train his dragon or convince him that cooperating could be beneficial to both of them. If he was developing a new and improved dragon training method, that he should end up with a trained dragon. Also, the combination of a lot of 9-year-old level potty humor and a high level of bullying and social aggression left rather a bad taste in my mouth. Lightening Bolt thought that both of these were fine – Hiccup was nice to his friends, after all.
We had a date to see the movie together as well. What a difference! They changed so much that only the basic setting and the character names remained, but most of the changes actually felt like improvements to me. OK, maybe they didn’t really need to have quite so many fight scenes – but Hiccup did manage to train his dragon where everyone else was trying to kill them – and the bullying levels were turned down. The only odd thing was that they killed off Hiccup’s mother, alive and well in the book, seemingly only for a single joke and to complicate Hiccup’s relationship with his father. It’s rare for me to prefer a movie version to the book, especially if I’ve read the book first, but this is one case where I did.