Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"It runs in the family": The thematic of heredity

Whew, take a deep breath! I am about to try and dive into one of the most complex... and TOUCHY... facets of the second movie. We all loved how Hiccup changed the world in the first film, we loved the line "300 years, and I'm the first Viking who wouldn't kill a dragon!", but then HTTYD2 comes out... and we figure out that Hiccup most certainly wasn't the first viking to ride a dragon. The question becomes... did Hiccup inherit his dragon-training, culture changing world-view from his mother, and does what Valka did take away from the significance of Hiccup's own actions back in HTTYD1. Obviously, this topic is touchy, and should be! If you want to venture with me into it, please click the "read more". Please note: this isn't meant to be a Valka hate post. She has many, many wonderful facets, so if I say negative things about her, keep in mind that I love her as a character... with all of her flaws and yet all of her beautiful strengths!

Ok, first of all, I think we really, really need to address the idea of whether or not Hiccup inherited pretty much everything that made him the hero of HTTYD from his mother who only ever showed herself in HTTYD2. Does the worldview that dragons are not evil, does the ability to bond and train them, revolve around some special set of genes Hiccup shares with his mother? Are some people just born different?

My answer to that is NO. However, the matter is not simple. Valka has a complex worldview, as does Hiccup, as does Stoick. In the second film we really do get to see many different ideas of how dragons and humans should interact, as well as many different perspectives on whether or not all humans can live in peace with dragons. Though Valka initially puts most people into a big category of "normal" and herself and Hiccup into a category of "different", her views are shattered in the movie by the actions of her own dear husband and the tribe that she was once taken from. So, if we are going to attribute some kind of superpower to Hiccup that he got from his mother, I think we are really missing the point. 

However, let's not throw the baby out with the bath water. Why is it that Hiccup is so much like a woman he has never met? Why was Valka the first voice for peace on Berk? Is it just some bizarre, random event that her own son walked in her footsteps in so many different ways?

My answer, again, is no. I do believe that we inherit a lot of our personality from our own genetic makeup. It is not the only thing that defines us, far from it, but your DNA does wind up having a pretty huge effect on the kind of person you are. On the biological level, heredity can play a huge part in personality. Tests have been taken, studies have been done, and children often are a lot like their parents... even if they have never met them! So, what did Hiccup inherit... and how much credit does Valka deserve for Hiccup's world changing actions?

I think Hiccup inherited a lot of Valka's temperament. She is more reserved than Stoick, and she is also apparently a thinker. She doesn't just accept things the way they are, she takes things apart and comes to her own conclusions on right and wrong. I think her sensitivity of conscience is something that she could definitely have passed on to Hiccup. That conscience would eventually make Hiccup hesitate as he held the knife over a helpless dragon. So, I do think that it is no miracle that Valka and Hiccup came to similar views, and one reason is simply because some of Hiccup's personality was shaped by his own genetic makeup.

The issue is that personality does not equal worldview. It may lead someone along the way to discovering what they think is right and what they think is wrong, but no one is ever born with a particular worldview branded into their brains. One way we can see this is by the fact that Hiccup does have a subtly different worldview from his mother. He does not have the same exact personality as her. In many ways, he has inherited positive traits from his father as well... both from Stoick's DNA and Stoick's parenting. Valka may at first think Hiccup is exactly like her, but she winds up seeing that he is something different, maybe even something more. What Hiccup has become cannot possibly be due only to his genetics... it is the decisions that Hiccup made in his own unique personality that eventually changed Berk.

All this to say, I don't think we should take Hiccup's heroism any less seriously in the first movie. Unlike Valka, who came to the view that people could not change after she failed, Hiccup continued on after his initial failure, he kept pushing for what was right even when it had cost everything. Hiccup did not just tell his culture that they were wrong. Together with Toothless they faced the world of Berk, and they changed it. Hiccup was tempted to run away with Toothless forever, exactly like what Valka did when she decided to never return home, but Hiccup went back because he saw that change was possible. While Valka may have seen the difference between right and wrong, she never managed to convince anyone else of it. Hiccup and Toothless did. Valka may have been the first Viking to ever ride a dragon, but Hiccup was the first Viking to turn his world upside down. It simply is not fair for people to worry that what Valka did makes what Hiccup did any less significant. In fact... it makes it all the more incredible. Hiccup and Toothless did what Valka and Cloudjumper did not... They paid an incredible price, but in the end they changed absolutely everything.

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