My boyfriend introduced me to How To Train Your Dragon, the animated fantasy film, and I loved it. We then watched the sequel, How To Train Your Dragon 2 (creative) and I loved it more. We’ve re-watched them several times. I didn’t even know there were books. So, at his suggestion, I read How To Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell.
Spoiler Warning: There will be some.
How To Train Your Dragon is the first in a series of twelve children’s books about Hiccup, the son of a Viking chief, as he overcomes great obstacles on his journey to become Heroic.
Visually, it’s a nice little book. It has childlike handwriting and drawings throughout, so it’s perfect for Cowell’s target audience; the idea is that the book was genuinely written by Hiccup – hence his illustrations and annotations – and she was just his Old Norse translator. A nice touch.
The descriptions are as vivid and not complicated – as you’d expect in a children’s book, and there are also some witty moments.
The key plot points are clearly identifiable:
- Hiccup is a below average Viking boy who wants to achieve but struggles under the pressure of being the Chief’s son
- Snoutlout is Hiccup’s cousin, eager for Hiccup to fail so he can become chief instead
- Hiccup is concerned about not fulfilling his father’s Viking expectations
- It is only when Berk is placed in danger, Hiccup’s usefulness and value is recognised
These are (no surprises here) “obvious” for an adult reader, but this the sort of good narrative structure a children’s book should have, so I wanted to point it out.
However, it is very different to the films. An enlightening comment, I know.
The characters are different – without seeing them frequently “onscreen” like you would in a film, I felt forced to rely on a few, infrequent small illustrations and their initial descriptions at the start of the book to remember who they are; it was hard to keep track of the long-winded Viking names.
Another striking difference between the book and the film is that in the film, Berk is an island scared of, and enraged by, dragons because they believe they are violent creatures that need to be destroyed. The community is only persuaded to think otherwise following Hiccup’s discovery of, and his blossoming friendship with, Toothless the Night Fury, one of the most legendary and fearful dragons in existence. However, in the book, Berk is an island that already believes that dragons can be, and should be, domesticated pets. It is only once the Viking boys in training are given the useless handbook How To Train Your Dragon, Hiccup must create his own, personalised, methods to tame his dragon Toothless.
A second significant difference is that in the book, the dragons can talk. This creates a new layer of characterisation because they can communicate thoughts and feelings with each other, and their owners. This means that, instead of the smiling but silent Toothless from the film, he is whiny and always back-chatting. It’s very difficult to see him as the loveable, heart-warming, protective but powerful and incredibly rare Night Fury from the film – the Toothless I love.
I’m so clearly biased – sorry – and I preferred the films to the book. I can see exactly why kids would love this sort of book though: it’s funny, it’s adventurous, it’s easy to read and it’s imaginative.
I won’t read the rest of the series, but at least I now have a flavour of the writing which inspired two films I greatly enjoy.
How To Train Your Dragon 3 is in production and is due to be released in 2019.