Hello and welcome all you beautiful people to the first of many book vs film showdowns. This is where we pit a book and its film adaptation against each other and we truly see which is the best. Of course that’s all down to opinion and these are mine. Just remember this is a safe space filled with love. If you disagree with my opinions feel free to let me know and why. Now without further ado let’s get into it.
Spoiler warning for How to Train Your Dragon book and film.
The first book and film pairing I’ve decided to kick start this series with is How to Train Your Dragon. You might come to realise this wasn’t the best first choice but they heavily feature dragons. For me I had to have my first post include dragons. Anyone who hasn’t read the book and seen the film might be asking why How to Train Your Dragon isn’t a good choice? Simply put, the film vastly differs from the source material. It’s like the Berk you see is in a parallel universe compared to the Berk you read about. I don’t see this as a bad thing, it just makes it a bit difficult to compare the two. Nevertheless I will persevere. I will only be focusing on the first book and film so if anything happens in the book series that contradicts what I say I don’t know about it.
Two competitors enter the fray. In the Corner of Words we have the book: How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell, first published in 2003. It should be noted that the audio book is read by David Tennet. So if anyone wants to hear David Tennet unleash his full Scottishness in Viking form you’re welcome. The main series spans 12 books at the time of me writing this.
And in the Corner of Motion we have the film: How to Train Your Dragon directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders. Released in 2010 it is still loved today. Contains 3 feature films, an animated series, a few shorts, a handful of games and quite a lot of merchandise.
I enjoyed both the book and the film but I wouldn’t say equally. This was my first time reading the book and I was pleased to find that I wanted to keep reading. A good quality to have in a book I say. The film on the other hand I’d seen before, although not for a few years. Watching it again I had just as much fun as the first time I saw it.
I do believe both can be enjoyed by children and adults alike however, I think adults will find themselves leaning more towards wanting to watch the film rather than reading the book. That’s not just because people prefer to watch things nowadays then sit and enjoy a good book. I think the film has a bit more depth than the book. You’ll see what I mean as I go into more detail.
Let’s focus on the pros first. Although not the same they both follow Hiccup’s Hero’s journey. I love following Hiccup on his journey of growth and efforts to go against the status quo. In the book he even goes from being called Hiccup the Useless to Hiccup the Hero. Having a Hero’s journey that kids can relate to is wonderful, especially for those that don’t feel good enough. The story shows it’s possible to change people’s perceptions of something. Whether it be turning something from being useless into being useful or changing the way things have been done for so long to pave the way for a better future. The book and film give light to these ideas.
Both Hiccups face a similar antagonist. And no I don’t think the gigantic dragons towards the end of the book and film are the antagonist. Yes they’re an enemy but not the overall enemy. Those giant dragons are probably representations of the final obstacle the Hiccups must face to set change into motion. No I think the antagonist is the viking tradition or the resistance to change. Something along those lines. Book Hiccup is a dragon enthusiast that has to combat essentially the brawne and tough way of interacting with dragons to forming a bond and communicating with them. He has to deal with the initiation tests, being in exile and hatching a plan to save two tribes. Film Hiccup has to completely change the way that Berk residents think about dragons. He almost kills Toothless but ends up befriending him instead. He’s placed into dragon training and ends up saving all of the village from a giant dragon. Something both book and film versions do. The antagonist they both have to face is the viking society and their resistance to change. Both of them have to live up to these high expectations because they are the chief’s son but neither of them are big or muscular. They don’t look the part of a viking. They’re smart not fearsome or blood thirsty. Hiccup’s differences are what save everyone in the end. His willingness to change or try things his way. This is all part of the hero’s journey that Hiccup goes on.
Something else both renditions use is humour. There are truly some hilarious moments in each but the film’s humour is more to my taste. Some of the jokes/comedy in the book are very much aimed at children, or for children. I don’t find some humour that would be called immature funny. I didn’t find myself laughing as much as I did when I watched the film. The comedy is just so good.
Specific to the book are entertaining illustrations drawn by Cressida Cowell herself, helping to add to the visualisation of her words. Interlaced throughout the book are stat cards (or scrolls) that give the reader a bit of an insight into each dragon. The film references these through Fishlegs which I think is pretty cool. Cowell also drew some flyers and a book within the book that has the same title. Finally she also included a map. You’ll find out pretty quickly how much I enjoy seeing a map in a book.
Let’s look at the pros specific to the film and I want to start with the music. The score for a film is mostly overlooked by the average person or at least isn’t talked about as much as the visuals on the screen. The music for How to Train Your Dragon is beautiful. There are so many magical pieces and I love the Scottish feel that some of the tracks have. I’m so glad the animation style is different to the drawings in the book, not that there’s anything wrong with them. The book drawings have a more bedtime kids TV feel, similar to Little Princess (if anyone remembers that show). The animation for the film is wonderful and some scenes are absolutely breathtaking. Especially the flying scenes. One of my favourite things about the film is the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless. Watching their friendship develop just brings a smile to my face. I can say for the film there isn’t a character I dislike, not even Snoutlout which is saying something since he’s a cocky flirt. All the main characters have their own distinct personalities and you can form a connection with them. The casting was done well since the voices match the characters nicely. Anyone who has watched English dubbed foreign films or TV shows knows how strange it is when the voices don’t match.
Now we can move onto the cons, something that has to be done individually, starting with the book. My first con is the characters, or rather the lack of emotional attachment to them. The only character I really like is Hiccup. Probably because it’s his story and as the reader we’re joining him on it. The others fade into the background. Toothless does have some character development but he’s not likable. Honestly he’s a spoiled brat and I was a bit disappointed by that. Another thing is that there is a serious lack of female representation. I’m not one of those people that insist there has to be a woman in everything just for the sake of it but I know as a child I wouldn’t have wanted to read this. I prefered stories with girls in it like me because then I could easily connect with them. At least in the film they brought in Astrid and Ruffnut. I love Astrid. She’s a strong viking warrior who’s smart and protective. Again I was sad not to see her in the book. Something else that’s disappointing about the book is that no one actually rides a dragon. On the cover Hiccup is even depicted riding a dragon and yet it doesn’t happen. Unless I’ve forgotten or missed that part but I’m pretty sure I didn’t. Those are the negatives that I have to say about the book.
There aren’t many cons that I can think of for the film. I do think it’s a bit odd that after one flight on the back of a dragon Astrid completely changes her opinion of them. I mean she is a warrior trained and prepared to kill dragons. She’s been told her whole life that dragons are the enemy. Why after one flight with Hiccup and Toothless does her attitude towards them completely change? Sure Toothless didn’t try to kill her unless he felt threatened but still. I know it’s probably down to timing and that was the best way to get Astrid on their side so I’m not too bothered. It’s just odd. Also why were the rest of teenagers okay with Hiccup’s idea to ride the dragons? I know they’re scared at first but again these kids have been taught their whole lives that dragons are bad. That they’re monstrous creatures. I think maybe it’d take them a bit longer than a few minutes with the dragons to suddenly be okay with riding them on their own. Again I know it’s a timing thing but it’s the one thing I question.
There are many differences between the book and film versions. Are all the changes necessary? In my opinion the changes that were made were the right choice. The core essence of the story is still there. The changes that were made to everything around the heart of the story was the best option for film world.
One major difference is the vikings relationship with dragons. Book world they work in harmony with the dragons. Well I say ‘harmony’ what they actually do is kidnap and then yell them into submission. So they don’t really have the best relationship. The Hairy Hooligan tribe use their trained dragons to help with fishing, hunting, fighting etc. In order to be officially initiated into the tribe and earn the right to be called a viking they capture a dragon and train it for the final initiation test. In film world the vikings have a more antagonistic relationship with the dragons. They’re enemies. The tribe hates dragons so much that once you kill a dragon you earn the title of viking. To be fair to the vikings the dragons do attack their village destroying buildings and stealing their livestock. I think for the film this was a good change. It immediately adds conflict and is a better way cinematically to show Hiccup moving away from the ordinary world/ changing the status quo.
Something in the book that they didn’t carry over to the film is Hiccup speaking Dragonese. Book Hiccup was the only one who spoke it since his father forbade the use of the language. It makes sense that this didn’t carry over to the film. It would’ve been strange to hear since the language is a bunch of sounds and noises. Even if it’d been put into English it would still sound a bit weird. The way it’s written in the book causes it to become snakish in my head. The point is Dragonese wouldn’t have translated well to film. It is strange however that the dragons understand English. Did Hiccup teach Toothless English? Are the dragons just really good at picking up languages? Maybe it’s a connection thing. They don’t actually understand what’s being said to them but they understand the feeling or can infer from the intention. Kind of like how Hiccup interprets what Toothless is trying to say.
There are many character differences between the two different versions. Some I’ve already mentioned such as Astrid and Ruffnut being created for the film. I think this was done well, it doesn’t feel like they were shoehorned in or anything. Ruffnut has a great dynamic with her twin brother and the siblings are a great source of comedy. Astrid is the top student in dragon training before Hiccup starts employing tricks and techniques he learns from Toothless. She’s also part of the romantic subplot which doesn’t devalue her as a character. Her relationship with Hiccup is a clear partnership where she acts as his conscience when he needs to hear a voice of reason. Another big character difference is Toothless. The two versions are completely different and frankly I was disappointed with the book. From watching the films, Toothless quickly became one of my favourite dragons. He’s like a giant winged cat. Playful, loyal to friends and only goes on attack when felt threatened. He’s just so loveable. He possesses all the good traits of a cat that a cat owner will be familiar with. Of course every cat also has their own personality. Toothless in the book has all the negative aspects of a cat or what all people consider cats to be like. He’s selfish, only takes and never gives. I don’t find him likeable. I’m so pleased they changed him for the film. The personality change allows the friendship between Hiccup and Toothless to really blossom. They also made him a Nightfury, one of the rarest and most fearsome dragon species in the film world. So much cooler than a common green dragon that is one of the smallest dragons in existence. Another beneficial character change the film did was giving Stoick the Vast a character wound. This Stoick lost his wife to dragons which gives him the motivation to be protective over Hiccup and solidify his hatred towards dragons. Honestly book Stoick just falls into the background compared to his film counterpart.
In conclusion, I can’t really say one is better than the other because they are so different. The book is written for children and the film is written for families. My preference however lies with the film. Overall the change in story for the film was for the best, in terms of writing for film world. The third act villain is linked to the dragons attacking and looting the village. This isn’t the case in the book. Don’t get me wrong, what happens in the book is perfectly acceptable because Cressida Cowell sets it up but in the conventional way of writing for film things tend to need to be connected or have a reason. Another reason is because they made friendship a big theme with Hiccup and Toothless’ relationship. That relationship isn’t quite the same in the book. The emotional attachment that the audience can form with the characters in the film is another reason I prefer it to the books. With all this being said I still think the books are good and great for it’s demographic. I’m just not part of that audience. I do want to read more of the books and see where Hiccup’s journey takes him.
Thank you for taking the time to have a read. This is my first time doing this and I’m still figuring out the best way to present my thoughts in a clear way. Nothing is perfect the first time. I can already see some areas for improvement. I hope all you beautiful people have a wonderful day. I’ll see you in the next post.