Monday, April 12, 2010

Review: "How to Train Your Dragon" by Cressida Cowell

After enjoying the Dreamworks movie “How to Train Your Dragon” on a rare family outing recently, my son demanded that we add the book to our bedtime reading ritual. As we were just about to finish “The Hobbit” and looking for a new book I picked up Cressida Cowell’s novel and the sequel “How to be a Pirate.”

Just a word of warning to those who enjoyed the movie and are considering picking up the book or vice versa: They are nothing alike. Outside of the setting and names, there are very few similarities. Having watched quite a few Hollywood versions of books I love in the past, it wasn’t surprising to me that there were changes, but the story featured in the movie is unrecognizable compared to the book.

Initially, my son and I were a little disappointed to find out that the Toothless of the book was a very small Common or Garden dragon that was, well, actually toothless, as opposed to the powerful Night Fury of the movie. In fact, most of the dragons of the book are small with some of the largest being described by Cowell as “about the size of a Labrador retriever.”

Perhaps the biggest difference, though, is that the Vikings of Cowell’s book are not terrorized by the dragons and don’t seek to kill them as in the movie. Instead, for the Vikings of the book, the dragons are utility animals. They catch them and train them to hunt and fish, usually by yelling – loudly. In fact, there’s quite a bit of yelling throughout the book. So instead of training to kill dragons, our hero Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III and other boys of his age must sneak into the cave where thousands of young dragons are hibernating, choose their dragon and bring it out in a basket. Then, on the festival of Thor’sday Thursday, they must demonstrate to the members of the Hairy Hooligan Tribe that they have a mastery over their animal. Anyone who cannot capture a dragon or train it will be exiled from the tribe.

I won’t go any further than that in describing the plot of the book because I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice it to say, if you’ve seen the movie, you don’t know what’s coming.

Unlike the movie, the print version of “How to Train Your Dragon” is very much a book for boys. The heroine of the movie, Astrid, doesn’t exist in the book, nor do any of the other girls involved in the dragon training. Instead you have boys with names like Snotface Snotlout, Fishlegs and Dogsbreath the Duhbrain. There are also quite a few jokes about snot, farts and other things that young boys will find amusing, though they’re all fairly innocent and never get too crude.

On a style note, I was a bit annoyed at the random capitalization in the book, and when the adult Vikings are yelling, the text often appears as ALLCAPSRUNTOGETHERWITHNOSPACES, which adds a level of difficulty to reading the book out loud. On the bright side, I enjoyed Cowell's flair for alliteration.

In the end, my son and I found Cowell’s novel entertaining, if not quite what we expected, and enjoyed the original take on the story. It’s a fun story and an easy read, perfect for bedtime reading, and we’re looking forward to starting on the sequel.

It’s really hard to compare the book to the movie as they’re pretty much two completely different entities. Both are enjoyable, though I think this might be that very rare case where, as much as I liked the book, I believe I enjoyed the movie version more. Sorry, Ms. Cowell.

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