How to Train Your Dragon
By Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III (translated from the Old Norse by Cressida Cowell)
Published by Hachette Audio
Read by David Tennant
To say that the movies of the same name were loosely based on this book is generous in the extreme. Actually they have very little in common besides the names of some of the characters and the basic setting of a Viking colony on a remote island. However, this is not a criticism of either the book or the movies. The movies are fun outings and I truly enjoy watching them, but this book is genuine gem and, I think, a better story than the film-makers chose to tell. Why did they make so many changes? It is hard to say and I wonder if any of them actually read the book they were supposedly adapting. SO let’s just forget the movies and discuss the book that started it all.
I was mildly amused that Ms. Cowell gave the authorship credit to Hiccup, but it was cute even though the only times the story is told in the first person are in the foreword and epilogue. What the heck, we all know who really wrote it, right?
Hiccup and the other village boys who are coming of age must prove themselves worthy of joining the Hairy Hooligan Tribe (we later meet the related, friendly tribe of Meatheads too) by catching a training a dragon. Now dragons come in all sizes, but the Vikings of Berk (and wherever the Meathead Tribe lives) train relatively small ones, about the size of a dog; small enough so they can hold them on their arms, like a falconer would his bird. These are dragons they can train because they are small enough to be intimidated, as a noted book on dragon training says, the secret to training a dragon is to shout at it.
In this land of small dragons, however, the smallest one appears to be a common or garden dragon, named Toothless (who eventually grows a single tooth which then come out when he bites another dragon). Anyway, the boys have to sneak into a nest of 3000 hatchling dragons and grab one to train. That is step one of their manhood initiation. Fail to get a dragon and you are permanently exiled.
Step two: you must train the dragon to catch fish for you. Hiccup is hardly intimidating so he is forced to find another way to train the small but headstrong Toothless. Fail to get your dragon sufficiently trained and you are permanently exiled. Now given the paradise conditions on Berk, one might consider this more of a reward than a punishment, but I guess home is where you find it and when Toothless starts a fight among the dragons on Thor’s Day Thursday, the day of the final test, all the boys from both Hooligan and Meathead tribes are exiled. Fortunately, a great storm washes two truly and gob-smackingly large dragons on shore and it is up to Hiccup to find a way to save both tribes from these great monsters.
It is a fun story and while aimed at the 7-12 year old crowd, it is the sort of story parents should enjoy reading to their children as well. Heck! I don’t have kids and I enjoyed it.
I have been mentioning Doctor Who a lot lately, but while David Tennant is well known for playing the tenth Doctor (as well as Barty Crouch Jr., Giacomo Cassanova, Alec Hardy and a number of other outstanding roles), I did not know he read this book until I had acquired a copy of it.
Mister Tennant reads the story in a very entertaining manner, although his own Scottish accent comes out strongly at times and makes some of the Vikings sound more like Scots. Well, okay, maybe Berk is one of the Orkneys? Not on the modern list, but they were ruled by the Norse for a while, so… maybe?
In spite of his accent it was still a lot of fun to listen to and I fully intend to jump right into the next book of the series, How to be a Pirate. Tune in next week!