I’m getting the feeling that reading books that served as inspiration for animated feature films might become a habit of mine. Just a few weeks ago I reviewed Neil Gaiman’s Coraline which inspired my number one film of all time. Now it’s the turn of How to Train Your Dragon which was adapted by Dreamworks into possibly their best animated feature to date. Cressida Cowell’s original novel, the first in a pretty lengthy series, is only passably similar to the frankly superior movie it spawned.
Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III is a ten-year-old Viking facing the daunting prospect of capturing and training a dragon, a rite-of-passage for boys in his island tribe. If Hiccup can’t train an obedient reptile companion by Thor’sday Thursday, an annual event designed to test the boys’ ability to become full-fledged Vikings, he will not be accepted into the Hairy Hooligan tribe and banished from the island. To make things more difficult his dragon is a tiny toothless creature and his tactic of speaking to him in his own language doesn’t seem to work.
This book is about humour more than it is about plot and by ‘humour’ I mean snigger-inducing schoolboy humour. Hovering somewhere on the edge of Roald Dahl’s style of delightfully revolting stories the jokes all revolve around mildly unpleasant things and bodily functions; mostly the sort of thing you’ll stop finding funny by age 13. If you’re younger than that then the book will hit its spot and the style of comedy stops well short of crassness or inappropriate vulgarity. It’s silly, harmless fun.
The downside is the story lacks pretty much anything else to recommend it. The plot is rather thin, charting Hiccup’s acquisition of his dragon chum, his attempts at training him and an encounter with an enormous super-dragon. There’s no emotional element to speak of even when there might be opportunity for it but given the style the author has aimed for this isn’t exactly wrong. Ten-year-old boys aren’t usually interested in that sort of thing anyway.
A book aimed squarely at a target audience sure to get enjoyment out of it but unlikely to enamour anyone else much.