How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell – the novel

How to Train Your DragonA review by Nalini Haynes
  • Author: Cressida Cowell
  • ISBN: 9781444922219
  • Extent: 227 pages
  • Subject Category: General fiction (Children’s/Teenage)

This is not the cover I was looking for but it’ll do, Pig, it’ll do.

How to Train Your Dragon the novel is substantially different to the movie, with this novel cited as the inspiration for the SECOND movie.

Hiccup is the son of a Viking chief living on the island of Berk with both his parents and his grandfather who aspires to be a seer. At 10 1/2, Hiccup must pass the Initiation Test to join the tribe or be sent into exile. Instead of fighting dragons as in the first movie, Hiccup must climb a cliff to sneak into a dragon nursery and steal a baby dragon to train it to hunt for him.

Dragons are a cross between hunting birds, cats and dogs with a vicious streak and a language of their own. Hiccup’s father, Stoik, has banned the speaking of Dragonese; regardless, Hiccup speaks Dragonese fairly fluently. Because he’s a geek who also enjoys dragon-spotting.

Hiccup climbs the cliff with the group of initiates. They walk and crawl into the nursery cave. A friend – Fishlegs – wakes up the dragons. Hiccup saves Fishlegs, gives Fishlegs his own dragon, finds a replacement and escapes with his skin intact only to find his pride decimated (further) when his dragon is an unusually tiny specimen as well as a common variety.

Training does not go well.

The initiation ceremony is worse.

Then a ginormous dragon appears, threatening the village of Berk.

How to Train Your Dragon has some of the feel of Horrible Histories crossed with Norse and Viking Lore. Drawings scattered throughout the novel look like a child or teen drew them with a 2B pencil, complete with smudges. Ink blots are scattered through the pages along with notes from Hiccup’s notebook and pages from worthy tomes like Professor Yobbish’s How to Train Your Dragon (note: this tome was not particularly helpful).

The illustrations add significantly to the story; I’m sure many will love the anatomically correct mermaid tattoo on Gobber’s naked backside as well as Valhallarama’s bra, used in a highly unusual arsenal. No children’s book would be complete without snot jokes; I’m just grateful for the light hand illustrating these!

My only complaint: the movie adds female characters largely missing from the novel; we’re repeatedly told “the boys” did this and that, there are no girls in Hiccup’s group.

How to Train Your Dragon is a quick, entertaining read, suitable to be read to younger children as well as suitable for children, middle-schoolers and anyone who enjoys a light action/comedy.

Rating: ★★★4/5