Dana Salman's Reviews > How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
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Finally, finally! I found it!

Boy, where do I start? Okay, to make things clear: I did see the movie first (it was one of Dreamworks' best ever!) but that didn't necessarily mean I had expectations for this book based on that. I did check up on it before reading it, so I was fully prepared with the knowledge that it was completely different from the movie when I started. Still, no matter how much I loved the movie, I loved this book too. The characters are likable (as story-book characters, anyway; I doubt anyone would want to meet a real Gobber the Belch in person) and the idea and plot are original and entertaining. I think this version earns the title of How to Train Your Dragon alot more than the movie; Hiccup, who already isn't real Viking material, is set up to train an impossibly small yet needy, whiney, vain, ungrateful, disobediant, proud, cheeky, self-centered brat of a dragon Toothless (don't let all those adjectives set you off, he's still cute!), which he quickly understands could take alot more than just the simple advise of Yell At It to accomplish. It doesn't matter that he can speak Dragonese; luck just isn't on his side. He'll have to train dragons his own way.
The morals of this story are well-delivered. You can tell how Hiccup's methods pay off when, having treated Toothless with kindness and generosity such that no other Viking has, Toothless finally feels grateful enough to help him defeat the Green Death. This book is mainly aimed at nine-and-up-year-old boys, but I bought it for me, and I ended up reading it to my little sister, who enjoyed listening to it and surprisingly was able to overlook the fact that it was nothing at all like the movie she loved. Toothless was still her favorite character (and Hiccup mine!)

*****

2013:

I feel like I should update this review, given the amount of likes it's getting, and plus because the above review looks pretty mediocre to me now. Also, since then, I've read (and reread) the rest of the Hiccup books as well. Actually, this will be more like a list of reasons why you should read these books rather than an actual review of this one.
So, to get right to it:

Reasons to read the How to Train Your Dragon (series) by Cressida Cowell:

1. Our little Hero in Training, the smallish boy with the longish name of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third, is in my opinion one of the sweetest protagonists in literature, alongside Bilbo Baggins, playing the excellent role of reluctant hero. He reminds me a little bit of Jim Hawkins from Treasure Island, although less inclined to thoughts of glory. He's a selfless, modest, polite, and extremely kind little kid just trying to stumble along in doing what's right. And although his overall personality doesn't go through any drastic change as the books progress, it's enjoyable to see his little moments of triumph, when he realizes there is still one last thing he can do. There is some character development in the last few books, when the story starts to get darker and Hiccup grows older, but in the end I like him the way he is. This is the kind of character who makes you smile when he's happy, cry when he cries, get mad when he gets mad, and cheer silently in your head when he stands up after falling. Although the books wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable or funny without his friends, who provide most of the comic relief (although Hiccup himself does make quite a few smart sarcastic comments), Hiccup is the real soul of the series.

2. The fantasy world Hiccup and his friends inhabit is filled with places as fantastic and incredible as they are treacherous. And they're filled with lots, and lots, and lots of dragons, of every shape and size, from the tiny Nanodragons, some of which glow like worms, to the Monstrous Seadragons the size of mountains, that can be found in the depths of the ocean or in dark underground tunnels and caves. The dragons in these books are unlike any other dragons I've read or watched. Oh sure, you'll find the occasional ultimately-smarter,-nobler,-high-and-mightier-than-thou dragon of the old fairy-tales (that conversation with the Green Death was reminiscent of Bilbo's little chat with Smaug), and there are quite a lot of blood-thirsty-no-mercy killing machine dragons equipped with weapons even worse than fire-breath; but the best of the dragons in these books are as distinctive as the human characters they share their world with - the ones that argue, pick a fight, pick on others, pick their noses, smirk, laugh, snort, show off, show up, groan, complain, play tricks, play with their masters, play with each other, and give the occasional helping hand (or claw) in a crisis the humans can't seem to solve on their own. In fact, you could describe these dragons like misbehaved little puppies. The relationship Hiccup has with his own dragon Toothless is one of more than just Master and Beast; it's one of a boy and his pesky younger brother, or a Model-A student and his trouble-maker friend. Mostly it's that of two companions who've been through a lot together and who stick together through thick and thin; not precisely out of loyalty or friendship, but because they wouldn't have it any other way.

3. The story itself is just plain fun to read through. The books start out as seeming completely disconnected, of The Whacky Adventures of So-and-So variety (Amazing World of Gumball? Misadventures of Flapjack? Well, some Cartoon Network show). You might even roll your eyes at the juvenile humor clearly aimed at the nine-and-under-year-olds these books were originally written for. In the last few books, however, everything gets sewn neatly together in ways that'll leave you gobsmacked, and then things start getting a bit more serious (and it's for this reason that, although they may say it's safe to do so, it's best not to read the books out of order, or at least not the last four). But yes, for the most part, How to Train Your Dragon is just great for laugh-out-loud-until-you-cry moments. Even the villains, though mad and dangerous when angry, provide much of the humor. The dragons too, as I've said, are hugely entertaining; besides Toothless, there's One Eye the Sabre-Toothed Driver Dragon who hates humans, or Ziggerastica the self-proclaimed god. Now that I think of it, in regards to the humor part of the series, I'd liken it most to the anime One Piece: it may seem childish in some parts and the characters don't feel like they're taking anything seriously, but when things get nasty they can pull their own, and you find yourself saving your laughs for later.

I can think of plenty more reasons if I sit here long enough, but the three I've given provide a nice long essay in themselves, so I'm sure they'll suffice. All that's left to say is that I give this series a strong recommendation. I'm not saying everyone who reads it will like it (the same way, I suppose, that not everyone who watches One Piece for the first time will instantly fall in love with it, although I certainly did), but I think all that matters is your ability to love adventure, to love the characters, and to tap into your inner hero. And if not a hero, there's always at least someone who appreciates heroism somewhere inside you, which is probably why you read books about them in the first place.

****

2014:

Hehe, me again. Well of course. So the second movie is out. I have to say, although it was amazing, I'm pretty sure I prefer the first movie better. The first film's poignant moments were treated with more subtlety, and it came off as an overall very charming film without really trying too hard. It's like the directors were so scared of tarnishing its reputation that they decided to take everything that was good about the first film and crank it up to overblown levels of 'epicness', without really paying it the amount of attention it deserved so that all these conflicting elements - comedy, drama, action, cutsey-ness - flowed easily from scene to scene.

Anyways...
I came up with a fourth reason, haha. You have to read more of this overlong review of a book series that's still probably only being bought because people loved the movie so much (that's me being a hypocrite, la di da da...)

So, reason number

4. Despite it being a children's book series, these books don't talk down to kids. And when I say that I don't only mean that the narrative is surprisingly very adult, using normal literary vocabulary rather than over-simplified written-like-you-say-it kid-speak (say, like, I don't know, The Lightning Thief). Some of the situations Hiccup gets himself in are truly intense. It's one of the reasons why, though I do love the films, I would love for a one-hundred-percent faithful cartoon animated series to be adapted from these books - I want to see these scenes! Watching Httyd 2 in cinema I got the feeling that the directors were trying to make Hiccup look a little more 'badass' (that awesome fire-sword though...). I'm not gonna say that book-version Hiccup is much of a badass himself (in the end he'll always be the nicey-nice guy) but because he's so unexceptional and pathetic-looking other characters get that much more shocked and afraid when he does manage to put one over on them. He doesn't always manage to keep his coo, and wins don't come easy - he panics, and gets scared, and very often has to fight for his life, but that's what makes the danger seem more real, and Hiccup more like a hero (especially considering that he's still a kid). Aside from the aforementioned sketch with the Green Death, my most favorite scene of the series, I would really love to see Hiccup looking for the witch in the dark of the tree-prison, or riding away on the back of the Windwalker with a murderous hundreds-strong dragon hoard on the chase, or scrambling up the mast of a sinking ship trying to get away from an axe-wielding madman in the midst of a storm, fully animated. Not like a regular kids' cartoon but something more along the lines of Avatar: The Last Airbender. On page a lot of these situations may sound ridiculous, but if you really allow yourself to picture it that way it's nothing short of entertaining.
Plus Hiccup is an expert sword-fighter in this version.
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Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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Kayla Perry Very good and thorough review! I'm excited to get to the books where things take a darker turn, but I still find young Hiccup and bratty Toothless endearing.


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