How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell

How To TrainGoodreads: How to Train Your Dragon
Series: How to Train Your Dragon #1
Source: Purchased

Summary: Everyone in the Viking village of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III expects him to be a Hero–he is, after all, the son of the chief.  Hiccup, however, has lower expectations.  All he wants is to pass his initiation test, which requires him to catch and train a dragon, or else suffer exile.  Unfortunately, the dragon he catches proves to have a bit of an attitude.

Review: Fans of the film How to Train Your Dragon should expect a far different experience from the book.  Characters share the same names, but otherwise the two stories bear little resemblance to each other, as a quick look at the summary reveals.  In the book, Hiccup’s Viking village accepts dragons as pets they must capture and train; the drama results, not from Hiccup’s secret friendship with one of the beasts, but from his desperate attempts to train his dragon (named Toothless as a result of his less than fearsome appearance) before his village casts him out to die in the wilderness.  Toothless, it turns out, can communicate with Hiccup by speaking Dragonese–he simply chooses not to obey any of Hiccup’s orders.

The attitude exhibited by Toothless is but one attempt of many for the book to appeal to some sort of middle-grade humor.  The characters all have ridiculous names such as Dogbreath and Snotlout, they delight in calling each other names and pounding one another into the ground, and they perform feats such as stealing underwear.  Those who do not enjoy toilet humor may, in fact, find the tone of the book rather off-putting.  The whimsy and magic of the film are completely absent.

Another noticeable absence is that of any female characters.  Hiccup’s mother is technically present in about two scenes, but otherwise the author makes no mention of women.  This raises a rather obvious question: where are they?  Do rules prevent them from training dragons and serving as warriors?  Do they provide other useful services to the village?  Exploring gender roles within the context of this fictional society might have proven interesting, but I have no idea what to do with the seeming nonexistence of females within Hiccup’s world.

Admittedly, I liked that the absence of Astrid (the sole girl training to be a dragon warrior in the film) allowed Hiccup to focus on friendship rather than on romance.  Hiccup’s character arc bears similarities with that of Harry Potter, who starts out as a bit of a social outcast, but eventually earns the respect of those around him.  While Harry gains popularity from his rule-breaking escapades, however, Hiccup gains it from demonstrating the usefulness of traits those around him previously considered inferior.  Thus, intelligence, learning, patience, and thoughtfulness are held up as admirable qualities as opposed to brute force.

How to Train Your Dragon whiled away an afternoon for me, but I doubt I will continue with the series.  I do not share the sense of humor on which the book relies and I could not really connect with any of the characters.  Variously mean, rude, thoughtless, and proud of their cultivated ignorance, none of the characters has any real appeal.  Even Toothless, whom I assume is meant to be cute, has too much of an attitude for me to want to spend a lot of time with him.  If I want more dragons, I’ll go back to the film.

Published: 2003

2 thoughts on “How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell

  1. Nora says:

    What if I told you that David Tennant reads the audiobook? Would you be more or less open to listening to it on your iPod? Is that a consideration you usually take into account when you write these? (Probably, not, since this is a blog about reading books. Everything is very… visually-oriented.)


    • Krysta says:

      I don’t normally listen to audiobooks, but I’d be willing to give it a try for David Tennant. If he makes the characters sound less whiny than I imagined them, that would be a plus, too. I’ll go check the library system.


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