The How to Train Your Dragon Book Series

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The How to Train Your Dragon Book Series

#1

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
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#2

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.
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#3

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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#4

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 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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#5

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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#6

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
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Re: The How to Train Your Dragon Book Series

#7

Post by Apollo the Just » Tue Mar 05, 2019 8:03 pm

BUMP!!

I am currently in the middle of what is pretty much going to be my regular re-read of this series for the rest of my life, because it is my favorite book series ever written and it has been formative for my adulthood in ways I am sure it was meant to be formative for youths - but that's what I love about children's literature, it's all about learning and growing and becoming better and there is no reason that adults can't take those very same messages to heart.

I've just finished book 4 (How to Cheat a Dragon's Curse).

What's interesting is that every time I re-read this series which installment is my favorite changes drastically. It used to be hands-down book 5, How to Twist a Dragon's Tale, but I think I read that book TOO much when I was in high school because last time I read it, although it was still wonderful, I found myself liking certain earlier and later installments better. Currently book 4 is my favorite of this read-through, because I love that it starts "world-building" beyond the Barbaric Archipelago and speaks of the Hysterics having visited America and come back with the Potato, while all of the other Viking tribes are pretty sure the world is flat, America doesn't exist, and the Potato is made-up. (Book 3 was also cool because it involved the Roman Empire and everything.)

Mostly though I love book 4 the best so far because of the Doomfang. The Doomfang is the equivalent of a minor character in a series who appears in like 2 episodes but who you kind of fall in love with anyway and who represents what makes that series great for you despite how minor they are. The Doomfang is basically like Kaworu in Evangelion, except in all the ways that the Doomfang isn't like Kaworu in the **** slightest. But the Doomfang is one of those dragons that is only essential to the story of one of the books, but what it represents in that story is just really cool and kind of heartwarming.

What makes this series so wonderful is that there is JUST as much biodiversity in all of the dragons that inhabit the world as there are animals in the real world. Nanodragons that are basically insects, massive sea dragons like the Sea Dragonus Giganticus Maximus and the Doomfang, evergreen dragons like the Saber-Tooth Drivers who don't hibernation sleep, small hunting dragons (like Toothless the Common-or-Garden, or the vicious Monstrous Nightmare), larger riding/flying dragons (like the Windwalker who is the purest soul in the entire book world and who I would die for if it actually existed), Lava Dragons who swim around in the Earth's core and whose eggs can only hatch in exploding volcanoes....... all of whom have natural predators and certain behaviors. The world is SO cool. Book Hiccup is basically a huge nerd who dragon-watches, takes notes on dragon behaviors, and speaks their language (dragonese) and talks to them rather than yelling at them which is the general Viking fallback.

Near the end of the book series Hiccup basically has a squad of dragon bros that stand by his side when he's in exile from the Viking tribes for essentially starting an inter-species war between humans and dragons. **** goes down. He has Toothless, the Windwalker, and Old One-Eye as the only dragons who stand by him. He has REALLY fascinating interactions with the dragon Furious, introduced in book like 9 I think? who I can't really talk about without spoiling everything but I'll just say it's real good.

I started re-reading because I watched the last film that came out and I really loved the way they worked in certain conclusions from the book series, but let's just say that the books - which, to be fair, had 12 installments to worldbuild and work toward a climax - have a WAY more intense conflict in the end. I am perfectly satisfied with the gorgeous movie trilogy we have, but I hope one day animators are inspired to pick up the book series for another adaptation, because I think that if I ever saw the Windwalker and the Doomfang and Furious in animated glory I would ascend to another realm of being.

In the meantime, gonna just read the books again and draw fanart.

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Re: The How to Train Your Dragon Book Series

#8

Post by Apollo the Just » Thu Mar 07, 2019 11:45 pm

I'm pleased to inform everyone that Book 5 is ONCE MORE the best installment in the series so far. I think knowing what happens in the climax of the series, and knowing how that climax calls back to this book's epilogue, makes it all the more powerful. (And unlike my last read-through I hadn't over saturated myself by reading this one several times, so I could enjoy it on equal footing with the others again.)

"Human hearts are not made out of stone. Thank Thor. They can break, and heal, and beat again."

Honestly the biggest reason that Book 5, How to Twist a Dragon's Tale, is so important, is because it introduces the Windwalker - Hiccup's riding dragon (eventually flying dragon too, but right now it is a baby and its wings aren't strong enough).

I love the Windwalker.

The Windwalker was an escapee from the Lava-Lout mines, and it has a limp and is incredibly nervous and anxious, and it is almost completely mute (in the books Hiccup can talk to dragons). It's essentially the book series equivalent of a rescue animal. But this pure-hearted animal stands by Hiccup's side in mortal danger, even when it is beside itself with terror, and even when all of the other dragons abandon their masters, because it is loyal and it loves and trusts him. Knowing the magnificent beast the Windwalker blossoms into in the later installments is so heartwarming but even from the very outset, when it was just a traumatized fledgling, I would give anything to protect this dragon.

The Windwalker is the biggest reason why no matter how much I love the HTTYD movies, they'll never be a replacement for the books. Movie Toothless is precious but the Windwalker is just the absolute purest soul in the whole world.

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