The Heroic Misadventures of Hiccup the Viking
by Cressida Cowell
I needed a light read. And I was curious about this one because I really enjoyed the film How to Train Your Dragon and saw in the credits it was based on the book. But if you've seen the film, or plan to, know that it's nothing like the book. The story has been almost completely changed.
In the book, there's no girl. There's no war with dragons. Instead, the Vikings have a tradition of catching smallish dragons and training them to hunt and fight for them. The main character and setting are the same, though. A young Viking boy, son to the chief but not typical brawny material. He's skinny and something of a nerd. The other kids call him Hiccup the Useless. Hiccup barely manages to pass the initiation test where he and the other boys must climb into a cave of hibernating dragons and steal baby dragons to train. Then they must prove mastery over their little dragons, in order to be accepted into the Viking tribe. Hiccup finds he's no good at intimidating his dragon into obedience (the usual Viking method). Instead, he treats his creature with kindness, and communicates with it via the dragon-language (which is forbidden knowledge). But dragons are selfish creatures, and when the testing day comes, Hiccup's dragon is still very much of its own mind. Then a monster sea-dragon shows up, and Hiccup's secret dragon-speaking ability is suddenly a much-needed skill. His little dragon shows his true colors as well, surprising everyone with a display of loyalty that might change how all the Vikings think about dragons.
This was a fun little book! I think it would really appeal to kids. There's lots of ridiculous, descriptive names like Dogsbreath, Warthog and Snotlout. There's plenty of bickering, name-calling and competition among the boys. Hiccup has to deal with bullying as well as trying to please his father and live up to the sometimes-senseless Viking rules of conduct, while trying to find his own way. As for how it compares to the movie, the stories are so different I really don't know which I like better. In the film, I really liked that Hiccup was an inventor, that he tamed an injured dragon by helping it fly again, that he learned things about dragon behavior that helped him best them in the arena. But in the book, the dragons' sarcastic remarks and sly personalities added a whole extra something to the story. They reminded me a little bit of Smaug- and they were very fond of jokes, too.
So... I still like the film a lot, even though the two are so different. And for fun, short reads, I just might pick up more in this series by Cowell (there are at least seven books so far). I borrowed this one from the library.
Rating: 3/5 ......... 214 pages, 2003
More opinions at:
Reading for Sanity
The Royal Library