Saturday, July 26, 2014

How They Train Their Dragons

I am going to try and write a post comparing the three major dragon "trainers" we have seen so far in the HTTYD universe. What I really plan to do is discuss how they do their training and how they might be in some ways similar, but in many ways they are different. Click the read more to see the full article.

Right, I'm gonna take them one at a time. Let's start with Drago. My goodness, that scene where he subdued Hookfang was really something. It made me thankful at least a little for the constant reminders we were given in RoB and DoB that Hookfang was stubborn, bushy, and strong willed. To see him broken by Drago's technique was pretty scary... and it is one of the sequences in the movie that really just leaves me thinking, "Wow, they put a lot of thought into this". So, what does Drago do? What is so unique about his technique, and why does it work at all?

I think one thing that should be noted is the IRONIC book tie-in we got here. In the first of the HTTYD book series, Hiccup is told by a book entitled "How To Train Your Dragon" that the only way to train a dragon is to yell at it. Boy, in the book that idea seemed silly and childish... maybe because most of the dragons were the size of dogs, but now after seeing how far that kind of idea can be taken, it is really pretty scary! I think Drago commands dragons by breaking them. He takes them, frightens them, makes it clear that they are at his mercy, and makes them feel that they are nothing more than war machines. It is surprising at first to think that a single man could terrify such powerful creatures, but when you watch how he does it, it becomes clear why they bow to him. He makes himself look invincible to them, he doesn't back down. All the things they do against him while trying to be a dragon simply bounce off. He is the epitome of what humanity can be... at least in his mind and in the mind's of the creatures he breaks. He suddenly makes being a ferocious animal feel mild. The dragons relied on their ability to shoot fire, to terrify, to outsize, but Drago strips them of all this, and all of their protests are met with brutally frightening threats. They will bow, or he will kill them... and after seeing that being a dragon will get them killed, can you blame the creatures for becoming machines. They know they are not his equal, so they must let themselves be slaves. He takes a creature that is intrinsically free and spirited, and he breaks them into the tools of a man. There is no room left for a dragon's soul... only the will of a human master. He has overcome the fear of dragons and caused the dragons to understand the fear of a man.

Now for Valka. If there ever was a polar opposite to Drago, she's it! But... is she really the best of the trainers? After all, in the end all three of them wound up "controlling" an Alpha dragon at one point or another. Still, it should be noted that in many ways, Valka is SO much better at training the dragons than even Hiccup. Her bond with Cloudjumper is wordless, and they've lived together for twenty years. So, she was training dragons when Hiccup was in diapers. What should we make of this? Is she better? Does Hiccup need to follow in his mother's footsteps... or does she need to learn from him?

Well... first off, how does she even train her dragons? I made a speculative post months back, and I think it turned out to be mostly correct (hooray for guessing!). I think Valka trains dragons by becoming one of them. Drago changes them into war machines, but Valka doesn't change them. She leaves them free, leaves their souls to soar. And it's incredible how she does it! She's practically become a dragon herself. She dresses with claws on her arms and wears a face that looks very much like the head of her Alpha dragon. She communicates with them through tiny sounds and gestures, the kinds of things only someone who has lived with a dragon for decades could understand. When you see her playing with Toothless is becomes incredibly obvious... Valka is the most easily approached human on the planet. Dragons feel comfortable with her almost instantly. It really is incredible, and it allows her to not train just one dragon... but hundreds! Her leading them all in battle and her constant care and protection of them makes her training prowess obvious. But... is she the "best" trainer. If numbers are what matters, then the answer is yes. But... I think we should point out that she has lost a lot. She has become a dragon herself... at least almost. When Hiccup uses a the fire sword, her head follows it just like the dragons'. She is socially awkward, stroking all over Hiccup when he has displayed his flight suit before she even notices what she is doing. She lost her family, she lost her amazing husband, and she did this mostly because she believed people could never change. So since other people could not change, she decided that she had been born different and she would just change to become a dragon herself. It's almost scary, but it should also be noted that it is almost as if Cloudjumper trained her. She was the one in custody... and so you have to see it as a weird flip-side of what happened with Hiccup and Toothless in the cove. Valka may be an incredible trainer, but her belief that people cannot change, her belief that she... and later Hiccup, were just born different, led her to live a rather sad life. Eventually her worldview gets shattered when Stoick returns and proves that maybe humanity isn't as intrinsically anti-dragon as she once believed. It's a little bit sad... because Valka did lose so much to become who she is in the second movie. Perhaps she didn't have to lose it. Still, whether her choices were correct or not, her style of becoming so completely one with the dragons has made her an unquestionable dragon champion and trainer.

And then you have this goofy duo. In the end, when you see Drago singlehandedly break a Monstrous Nightmare and Valka able to control hundreds of dragons with the rattle of a stick, what is so special about Hiccup and Toothless? They were not even the first human and dragon to bond... which is what we thought in the first film. Do they even have a candle left to hold up against Valka?

The answer, which is obvious to me, is YES. Hiccup and Toothless are still utterly remarkable and unique. And here's why. When Hiccup trained Toothless... what Forbidden Friendship. Watch the touch moment. Hiccup reaches out, he dares to trust a dragon... but Toothless moves forward as well. The dragon hesitates for a moments, but in the end they both move towards each other and they both bond. And you can see that mindset has been kept by them for years now! Hiccup did not become a dragon so as to make Toothless comfortable... but Toothless is also not just some steed bent to Hiccup's will. They have both taken steps in one another's direction, and it has made them better characters. Hiccup has certainly become more like Toothless. Ha! I mean, he's wearing a spiked helmet and shooting fire while flying through the air by the time of the second movie. He also seems to have picked up a lot of Toothless's protectiveness and bravery in times of crisis. He's more confident when faced with danger, and all in all Hiccup has become a better person since he met Toothless. But Toothless has changed as well! I mean, even in the first film we see him trying to be like Hiccup. He draws in the dirt... he even smiles. By the time of HTTYD2, I'm afraid to say that both Hiccup's dorkiness and snark have rubbed off heavily on Toothless. He's even trying to mock human speech at parts. So, I think we can safely say that Toothless is acting much more human than most dragons. And I almost want to say this played a part in his and Hiccup's ability to free Toothless from the Alpha. Hiccup reminded him that he was so much more than just a dragon who was now a pawn of his Alpha, he was Hiccup's best friend... and that friendship had been something that had cost them both so much yet given them so much MORE in return. Hiccup and Toothless both need each other, and we even see that they almost want to need each other. They've become one, both melding into kinda a strange but beautiful mix of human and dragon traits. Sure, it sometimes looks silly like a flight suit or strange like a doodling dragon, but it really is wonderful. Toothless does not lose being a dragon, and Hiccup does not lose being human, but they both gain so much from each other. Hiccup's choice to train Toothless like this, with both of them making compromises to what they are, cost Hiccup a lot. He was willing to believe that if dragons could change. If he could change, then Berk and his father and even Drago could change. So, Hiccup did what Valka didn't. She ran from the world she felt would reject her, Hiccup confronted it, and together with Toothless they showed Berk that everything Vikings knew about dragons was wrong. I believe that Hiccup and Toothless have the best way of bonding amongst the three trainers I've mentioned. The others have their strengths, but in the end of HTTYD2 I think we can clearly see that Hiccup and Toothless shine out as the most deeply bonded and powerfully loyal human and dragon the world of HTTYD has ever or will ever see.

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