**SPOILERS AHEAD FOR: How to Train Your Dragon and How To Train Your Dragon 2**
This is LMU. It’s twelve days north of the Middle of Nowhere and a few degrees south of the Sound of Students Panicking. It’s located solidly on the Meridian of Stress and Sleep Deprivation. My university: in a word, sturdy. It’s been here for over a century, but most of the science-specific buildings are new. We have academics, clubs and ensembles, and a charming view of the sunsets. The only problems are the pests. While most places have mice or mosquitos, we have…
Well, actually, we don’t have dragons – please don’t come to my school and demand to know where the dragons are! It may be fun to pretend, but while LMU is many things, it’s definitely not Berk.
The Isle of Berk is the newest of my many fictional homes that I’ve selected over the years, where dwells a village of vikings and their loyal dragon companions. This imaginary home of mine is the setting for both the book series by Cressida Cowell and the Dreamworks animated franchise How To Train Your Dragon. I have, unfortunately, never read the books, but did see the first movie back when it came out during my freshmen year of high school and loved it. Over the years, I dropped out of the HTTYD fandom to pursue other interests. However, as soon as the second movie was announced last year, it was right back to being a dragon-obsessed squealing fangirl for me. How To Train Your Dragon 2 was released this summer – and I fell in love all over again!
The first movie took place when vikings and dragons were enemies; the inhabitants of Berk had built their society around warding off the constant dragon attacks. The village chief’s fourteen-year-old son, Hiccup, while intellectually strong, is a poor fighter and physically weaker than his peers. In the beginning, he is nearly obsessed with killing a dragon in order to earn the respect of his father and his village. However, when he actually manages to shoot down a dragon (injuring its tail fin in the process), he finds that he is unable to kill it, instead slowly earning its trust and helping it to fly again. Hiccup and Toothless, as he comes to be called, are the first Dragon-and-Rider pair, and together with the other teenage vikings are able to stop the dragon war by showing the vikings that friendship between them was possible.
I remember going into the theater four years ago expecting a fun movie, and walking out crying and utterly touched; during those two hours, a link had been forged between Hiccup and me. In his own words when asked why he chose not to kill Toothless: “…he looked as frightened as I was. I looked at him, and I saw myself.” In myself, I saw Hiccup’s fear: perhaps not his fear of being blasted to bits by a dragon, but his fear of never being enough for his peers, of not being right for the group of people he was expected to be like, of not being good enough. However, Hiccup knew that dragons and vikings were fighting a meaningless battle, and so not only did he stop trying to be a “perfect viking”, but also tried to point others away from that path. With him, I learned that wanting to live up to outside expectations isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, especially when everyone else seems to be going about things in a wrong or harmful way.
When I finally watched How To Train Your Dragon 2 not long ago, I found that the link between Hiccup and I hadn’t lessened one bit in all those years. Five years after the events of the first movie, Hiccup is now twenty years old (only a year ahead of me – this only made the connection stronger) and has successfully led Berk forward into an era of peace and partnership with dragons. Hiccup and Toothless and everyone were happy and living peacefully; everything was absolutely perfect, and so I was happy as well. For some reason, I expected the rest of the movie to be that perfect. Plot be darned, if the movie was full of nothing but happy dragon riders, I would’ve been completely okay with that! But of course, nothing was that simple. When a terrible new enemy is enslaving dragons to build an army appears, Hiccup doesn’t share his father’s stance of military defense. The first dragon rider is a firm believer in peaceful solutions and intends to change the villain’s mind about dragons, show him that they can be friends instead of at odds. It worked once before, right?
Hiccup’s plan didn’t work, and the dragon riders were nearly defeated for good. For the first time in the entire movie, I burst into tears when Hiccup reflected on his failure: “I’m not the chief you wanted me to be, and I’m not the peacekeeper I thought I was.” Not only did he not live up to what he was expected to be, but he didn’t live up to his own expectations for himself. How empty Hiccup must have felt in that moment, how useless. I know because I’ve felt that same way too many times to count. I reject what other people want me to be and yet fail to become what I myself want to be, and feel as if I am simply nothing. I’ve given something my all and still failed; sometimes I’ve made no mistakes and still lost. And perhaps it took seeing this movie for me to realize that failing isn’t a weakness – it’s life. Everyone tries their hardest and still fails to measure up to the standards they set for themselves, and that is fortunately not the end of the world like it seemed to be in the HTTYD world. Hiccup and the dragon riders recovered from their failure and gave it another try, fighting back against the army that threatened them (sometimes the “power of friendship” doesn’t always work on its own, after all) – and if they can do it, why not me? Why not us?
Many pieces of media have affected me profoundly throughout my life, but none have filled me with so much hope as this franchise. It taught me that I can turn a mistake into something beautiful like Hiccup’s and Toothless’ friendship; that I can be my own person without fear and someone, somewhere will accept me; that I can fail, whether it be others or myself, and that’s okay because I can stand back up and try again; and perhaps most importantly, that I am capable. Capable of so many things, whether that’s changing myself and my community for the better or taming a dragon.
I am of the firm belief that to have compassion for a character is no different than to have compassion for a human being. In that same vein, to be touched and changed by a character is no different than being changed by a human being. So to Toothless, Hiccup, and the entire cast of this story, I say a sincere and heartfelt “thank you.” You stayed in my heart from one stage of life into another, and I’m sure you will again – movie 3 is coming in 2016, after all!
While I unfortunately don’t actually train dragons on this blog, I do get into lots of other cool things, media-related! Follow my blog to keep up with my adventures – and as always, I’d love to hear your own stories in the comments!