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The How to Train Your Dragon Book Series

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Apollo the Just
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The How to Train Your Dragon Book Series

Post by Apollo the Just » Sun Feb 19, 2017 10:34 pm

Buckle up, people, I'm emotional as **** about dragons right now and this is my outlet.

As you may or may not know, I **** love How to Train Your Dragon. I wasn't aware there was a book series until I saw the movie in theaters, fell in love, and out of desparation for mOAR, discovered and read the 7 books that were in existence at the time.

I couldn't really definitively state whether I liked one version more than the other because they are so different as to be almost incomparable. (They literally have different plots, a different world, and different character dynamics; the only similarities are the names of characters and dragons, and some story themes.) The books out at the time the first movie came out were in general more lighthearted, but then again the movie has some lighthearted slapstick moments too... and although the movie takes itself more seriously overall, there are certain points in every single book that are poignant, solemn, and/or impactful. Both had moments of being serious and being silly. So it was REALLY hard to say.

Now, as you also may or may not know, the book series has come to an end and now has 12 installments. And I've just spent the last week marathoning all of them. And like. Holy **** ****, guys.

These books get REAL. They go from just being cute dragon-adventure-of-the-day installments into some broader worldbuilding and exploration of some darker themes, and then straight up become an emotionally complex and devastating coming-of-age epic. The late books explore issues like enslavement and inequality which were mentioned offhand in early books, develop previously-comic-relief characters in extremely real ways, and answer questions which were initially raised rhetorically in the early books. They go from ages 8-10 fart jokes to ages 12-14 Let's Talk About War And Corruption Guys. It's a powerful experience, watching the series begin to take itself and its readers more and more seriously, and doing the first couple sweet adventures the justice of developing them into something REALLY moving.

It's also an illustrated series, and we see the illustrations change along with the tone of the series. Book 1 illustration:

[spoiler]
Image [/spoiler]

Book 12 illustration:

[spoiler]
Image [/spoiler]

....my favorite Book 12 illustration is a 2-page spread of Hiccup flying on the Windwalker in front of the giant eye of the dragon Furious, but I can't find it anywhere and I'm too lazy to take a picture so just take my word for it. (Not that I don't still adore the first books, by the way, because I DO). Anyway, the whole feel of the books changes considerably. One of the chiefs who is referred to in the early installments as Big-Boobied Bertha is only referred to in the last book as Bertha of the Bog-Burglars, because her former title now feels completely inappropriate in the context of the series climax. The toneshift is drastic.

So I made this topic to talk about some of my favorite things in the books, because they are SO GOOD, and because they are 10000% Not There in the movies or series because at this point they're completely different continuities.

Thing 1: THE INCREDIBLE DIVERSITY OF DRAGONS IN THE BOOK SERIES

Book Hiccup is a nerd who talks to dragons and also dragon-watches in his spare time. He's like Steve Irwin if Steve Irwin had been a fictional Viking with the ability to speak Dragonese; he is fascinated with them and respects and loves them but also knows when to Leave Them The **** Alone Or They'll Eat You. Most Vikings either yell at their dragons or kill and eat wild ones, so Hiccup is pretty much the dragon expert, and he writes books on what he learns from observing them in the wild. Tiny nanodragons that are like insects, enormous sea dragons the size of mountains, cute dumb dragons that make good pets, predator dragon species and their prey, colors, demeanor, defenses.... there is so much detail that went into fleshing out hundreds and hundreds of dragon species inhabiting the world of the How to Train Your Dragon books.

Also, because the dragons have their own language and Hiccup speaks it, the dragons get character development as individuals and we also get a better understanding of relationships between species. They're treated just as complexly as human characters and different Viking tribes, but differently - because they are wild in addition to being intelligent.

Thing 2: INDIVIDUAL DRAGONS WHO ARE WONDERFUL

There are some dragons that you just gotta fall in love with. The Windwalker, an anxious and traumatized little furry trembly babby, being brave and standing up for Hiccup/flying him up and around in deep peril. The Doomfang, enormous terror of the deep sea, happily playing around Hiccup's boat and protecting him in thanks for a favor. Toothless, who is a selfish piece of **** teeny tiny little Common-or-Garden dragon with no teeth, a stutter, and the attention span of your average toddler, but who is loyal when it really matters (also, Hiccup knits him sweaters to keep him warm). I've written essays on how much I love some of these dragons elsewhere so I'll stop myself here, but like, I love them so much they're such beautiful souls??

Thing 3: REALLY ARTFUL STORYTELLING

Granted there's also plenty of instances of lackluster storytelling, but they're vastly overshadowed by how really well-done a lot it is. I'mma just post a million of my favorite quotes. Quotes that are in spoilers are spoilers.

Book 1: "We're all snatching precious moments from the peaceful jaws of time." - the Green Death

Book 5 epilogue: "Human hearts are not made of stone. Thank Thor. They can break, and heal, and beat again."

[This quote is already powerful in its original context, but the same phrasing and wording is used in the last book in a new context, referring to a specific dragon, and it's So Good.]

Book 8 prologue: "History is a ghost story." / "It was the first time I learnt that the names on the flat map of the Archipelago, such as the Bay of the Broken Heart were not just made-up fantastical names, but names that related to real people who had real, flesh and blood lives and the things that happened to them still haunted the place where I was growing up. That is what I mean by ghosts."

Book 8 epilogue: "The boy turns his head. I cannot see his face at this distance, but he is heart-breakingly young."

Book 11 prologue: "A great sword must be made out of the very best steel. But what truly makes the sword great is what happens to the sword after it is made. We call this the "testing" of the sword. [...] The whole testing process can make a sword, or break it. The same could be said for the making of a Hero."

[spoiler=book 11]The imagery from that prologue, of a sword being tested, heated and dunked in water and then out again, is called back later in that book when Hiccup is tortured for information by being dunked headfirst in ice-cold infested waters...[/spoiler]

[spoiler=book 11]"Sometimes you cannot put a dragon back in a forest, nor a witch back in a tree-trunk, nor the breath back into a friend when all the breath has gone."[/spoiler]

[spoiler=book 12]"I have been Grimbeard the Ghastly in dragon form. The less hope I had, the more I destroyed. I have killed and killed and killed again, and the more I killed, the more dead I became.

"Like Grimbeard, I have done some terrible, terrible things...

"But here, right when I am about to die, Hiccup, you have given me back my life."[/spoiler]

[spoiler=book 12 epilogue]
"In my beginning is my end...

There were dragons when I was a boy."

This is powerful because "There were dragons when I was a boy" is the first line of the first book, and the series has just spent an entire 12 books understanding where they went and the role Hiccup played in their disappearance.[/spoiler]

.....imma just stop here because I have a stack of books next to me and I'm seriously about to re-read all of them to pull quotes, but suffice it to say, there are a lot of really artful words, references, and images in these books.

Thing 4: ANTAGONIST REDEMPTION (sometimes, when merited)

Antagonist redemption is something that is done absolutely masterfully in the last couple books. Snotface Snotlout, two-dimensional bully in the first books, is given the incredible and nuanced character development that everyone wanted Draco Malfoy to get but he didn't. He is given numerous chances to prove himself but makes the weak, or wrong, or harmful choice in every consecutive instance; the narrative treats him like a total dickweed, but forces him to confront that about himself, breaks him until he hates the person he knows he has become, and gives him the choice to fade away miserably or finally make the right choice for once in his life. It's not a totally implausible heel-face-turn-now-he's-nice!; it's an INCREDIBLY cathartic and real exploration of his character.

The dragon Furious also gets really fantastic development and redemption. I can't realllly go too much into it without spoilers, but it is SO GOOD. I was in gross, snotty tears because of the redemption arc for this dragon.

Thing 5: STORIES, LEGENDS, AND HISTORY INTERSECT

This is it. This is my favorite, the best, the greatestest thing about this book series. It's the same thing I absolutely adore about Tales of Symphonia: how in this fictional world, over the course of thousands of years, history shapes legends and stories take on their own truth. There's a ghost story in book 8, and later you learn about the history of the land that created that story, and that specific history also is linked with the legends of Grimbeard the Ghastly. There are also events throughout the books when the narrator interjects and says "the bards remember this as ____, but I disagree."

(The legends of Grimbeard the Ghastly are also really interesting because Hiccup serves both as his heir, and as his foil. We learn about Grimbeard's past and there are ways in which Hiccup's actions reflect his, and other ways in which their actions diverge. And then there's the stories of the first two Hiccup Horrendous Haddocks, and we see them and their fates reflected in Hiccup's adventures. Grimbeard and the first two Hiccups are both figures of legend AND of history and it's REALLY interesting.)

Then at the end of the series, there is a pointed use of bards and their stories to actively shape history and public memory. I love that ****.

Thing 6: HICCUP HORRENDOUS HADDOCK THE THIRD HAS BEEN THROUGH SO **** MUCH

Physical trauma, mental trauma, LITERAL ACTUAL TORTURE, isolation, you **** name it and he suffered through it and came out on top. He takes responsibility and maintains his compassionate spirit in the end, despite everything fate threw at him, and it's the most powerful and moving coming of age saga I've read or seen in a long ass while. What a Hero.

.......ok, I've gone off for a while and I think I need to just Stop, but basically. These books are so good you guys. No one understands but they go from 0 to 100 and I just, I need to lie down, ahhghdfkj I Love Dragons
~ * ~ a true gentleman leaves no puzzle unsolved ~ * ~

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Post by Apollo the Just » Mon Feb 20, 2017 4:22 pm

Thing 7: this series is also one of the only ones I've read that really analyzes the power imbalance implied by having dragon riders/dragon trainers. It plays everything straight for the first ~half of the series, but then freeing dragons (and human slaves) from subservience and enslavament becomes a Major Plot Point and Hiccup kind of accidentally starts an enormous dragon rebellion by challenging this. The role of dragons, just as intelligent as humans, in this world is thoroughly explored; and the ending is complex, emotional, and bittersweet.
~ * ~ a true gentleman leaves no puzzle unsolved ~ * ~

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Post by Calamity Panfan » Mon Feb 20, 2017 4:24 pm

cl sometimes i see your long posts about dragons or dbz and i'm like damn but then i realize that this is me with wrestling and nic cage movies and the room
and that's the waaaaaaaaaay the news goes

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Post by Apollo the Just » Mon Feb 20, 2017 4:29 pm

I have a lot of feelings and emotions okay and nO ONE UNDERSTANDS

NO ONE I KNOW HAS READ ALL THE BOOKS!!!! NO ONE UNDERSTAND S !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
~ * ~ a true gentleman leaves no puzzle unsolved ~ * ~

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Post by Heroine of the Dragon » Mon Feb 20, 2017 10:59 pm

I'm sorry for only reading Book 1... and I promise to find the rest of them somehow!! :D
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Post by Apollo the Just » Mon Feb 20, 2017 11:05 pm

you should never apologize for only reading book 1, because reading book 1 period is a wonderful thing. :D
~ * ~ a true gentleman leaves no puzzle unsolved ~ * ~

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