Oscar and I completed this book together this last weekend when the grandchildren were staying and once more, I was struck at just how funny and anarchic the storyline is…
Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III was a Viking Hero–dashing, brave, and ever so clever. But even Viking heroes have to begin somewhere. In this rip-roaring adventure he recounts his early days–when he still had a lot to learn about swordfights, shipwrecks, and homicidal dragons….
And that’s the blurb. Of course, it doesn’t begin to give you an idea of the story, where Alvin, the poor-but-honest-farmer pops up and beguiles the Hairy Hooligan tribe with tales of Grimbeard the Ghastly’s treasure and how to find it. Hiccup has a sinking feeling this is a very bad idea, but his chieftain father, Stoick the Vast, is determined to track it down. After all, he is Grimbeard’s heir.
What I particularly love about this books – and loathe about the film – is that Hiccup and Fishlegs are undersized, average-to-homely in the looks department and are regularly beaten up by Snotlout and Dogsbreath. While the other boys occasionally are happy to follow Hiccup’s lead after he’s managed to pull them out of yet another disaster by virtue of yet another cunning plan, they’ll jeer and join in the laughter quickly enough once the memory of that particular victory fades – which generally takes a couple of days. In other words, Hiccup isn’t the good-looking and capable character portrayed in the film with the cool, rare dragon. Toothless is only remarkable in being the smallest dragon in the village with the manners of a spoilt two-year-old. Hiccup’s constant sense of not measuring up to his strong chieftain father has us rooting for him. Under all the humour there is a real sense of poignancy over his feelings of inadequacy.
Events quickly stack up, as Hiccup, Toothless and Fishlegs, his best friend, trail along in their wake. Sure enough it all goes from dodgy to disaster fairly quickly as the Hairy Hooligans sail off in Stoick’s ship, the Lucky Thirteen. There are adventures, fights, treasure, shipwrecks, more fights and more treasure sufficient to thrill the heart of a child of any age. I was enthralled.
However, it’s all very well piling on the action and winding up the narrative tension until it is pinging off the page – but then comes the moment when there is the payoff. And where children are concerned, there can be no half measures. The final denouement has to pack a sufficient punch to wind up such a twisting plot so that when we close the book for the final time, we all still feel the tingle of excitement yet are thoroughly satisfied with the ending of this particular adventure. Cowell pulls this off magnificently. It didn’t take much to persuade Oscar to immediately start reading the third book in this enchanting series, How To Speak Dragonese. I want more of this world.