Stephanie's Reviews > How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
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Jul 31, 12

bookshelves: middle-grade
Read in July, 2012

3.5 stars

This review originally appeared at www.readinasinglesitting.com.

According to the single page volume written by Professor Yobbish on the topic of how to train one’s dragon (never fear, it’s in the book), there’s really not much to it. All you need to do is yell at your dragon. Very, very loudly. Yell until those eardrums burst, and until the little blighter is cowering before you in a puddle of its own making.

Hey, if it works for those flustered parents in Kmart shrieking after Jaxxn and Kiilee, then, it’s bound to work on a dragon. Because bogan kids are way more of a handful than your average fire-breather.
They’re bigger, too, if Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III’s dragon is anything to go by. Hiccup’s dragon Toothless is teeny-tiny. With, obviously, no teeth. Even bogan kids have at least some teeth. For a while, anyway.

See, during his first Viking initiation test, Hiccup did a most un-Viking kind of thing. Rather than stomping all over his grubby peers and grinding them into the ground with his Obvious Dragon Knowledge (Hiccup only has knowledge in his favour; he has no upper body strength to speak of), he let compassion get the better of him. Pffft, compassion. Hardly Viking-like.

Anyway, clearly addled by this thinking-of-others business, he passed off the passably good dragon he first managed to kidnap to his buddy Fishlegs. Hiccup’s second kidnapping, unfortunately, netted him a chihuahua. One with scales and wings, admittedly, but other than that, clearly a chihuahua.

A wimpy teacup dragon with a yen for the high life doesn’t exactly scream rampaging and pillaging, does it now?

Particularly when the already soft Hiccup goes against those tried-and-true SCREAM AT IT LOUDLY methods of dragon training in favour of a progressive approach. Any Viking parent–and any bogan parent at that–will tell you that those little so-and-sos aren’t meant to be treated with airy-fairy faffing about.

And to be honest, poor Hiccup is beginning to think that there’s something to be said for that one-page dragon training manual. His lazy, entitled dragon lagging behind his screamed-at, cowed-into-submission peers. Until, until, something big happens, and Hiccup and Toothless show the world that perhaps there’s something to be said for treating others with respect after all.

Oh, this book is so very silly. It chortles along with ridiculous jokes, terrible names, and bizarre anachronisms. The narrator is a head-shaking, finger-wagging old-lady-with-half-moon-spectacles type, and talks up the tale of poor weedy Hiccup to glorious bed-time-tale effect.

It deliciously lampoons societies that favour nepotism and brawn:

“Hiccup will be leading you, although he is admittedly completely useless, because Hiccup is the sun of the CHIEF, and that’s the way things go with us Vikings. Where do you think you are, the REPUBLIC OF ROME?”

Although at the same time, Hiccup’s chief father is utterly, merrily convinced of his son’s inevitable success, merely because of his good breeding, making for an interesting take on the whole supportive parent thing.

The book also has a good old laugh at a Bradbury-esque/Huxleyan world in which thought and erudition are tossed away in favour of mindless entertainment and a glazed-eye withdrawal from the challenges of the world:

Wartihog put up his hand. “What if you can’t read, sir?”
“No boasting, Wartihog,” boomed Gobber. “Get some idiot to read it for you.”

There is, however, an astonishing dearth of females in the book, and I submit that it’s the worrying ratio of males:females that is far more of a threat to the Viking realm that a piffling dragon or two. This was certainly a downside for me–when a film adaptation of a book contains more females than the book itself, well, you suspect that something’s not quite right with the world.

I also came away a little cross-eyed from the format of the book, and it’s not because I’m a Viking and can’t read. The pages are peppered with scrappy sketches apparently drawn by someone using their non-preferred hand–okay, this is deliberate, but they’re sort of like great chunks of beetroot tossed into a salad. They’re great on their own, but after a while they kind of ruin the rest of the dish.

The illustrations blob in and out of the text, cutting off paragraphs here, and coming between whole pages of text there, and it does make for some disruptive reading. The font used for Toothless’s speech has a bit of an eye-gouging vibe to it as well, and ancient astigmatics like me may wonder if they need to dial up the intensity of their contact lenses.

And finally, I did find myself wondering what caused snotty little Toothless to come through with the goods in the end. Being pampered and doted on is all very well and good, and surely better than being verbally assaulted all day, but does it really make a dragon decide to do the equivalent of a teen cleaning his or her room? Or is this, perhaps, the point, and Toothless’s heroic deeds aren’t necessarily linked to all that hardcore parenting at all, but something within him? Since kids are a few years away for me yet, I’ll have to report back on this in a couple of decades’ time.

In all, though, this is a ripping read that champions the underdog (underdragon?) and has a good bit of fun with, well, everything, along the way.
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