While popular, the How To Train Your Dragon films are almost nothing like the books on which they are based.
The amount of differences between the two are really quite astounding.
They are both set around the Island of Berk. Both book and film centre on the adventures of a young Viking, Hiccup Haddock, and his dragon, Toothless.
That, more or less, is where the similarities end.
Here are some of the most significant differences between the How To Train Your Dragon book series and the films.
The Vikings are not at war with the Dragons (at least not to begin with).
The core conflict of the first How To Train Your Dragon film is the ongoing war between Vikings and Dragons. This makes Hiccup’s friendship with the Night Fury, Toothless, and his attempts to train him, strictly forbidden.
This is not so in the books. In the first How To Train Your Dragon novel, the Vikings of Berk use trained dragons for hunting and travel.
Capturing and training your own dragon is an important right of passage for Berk’s youth. However, the price of failure at ‘Dragon Training’ is much higher than in the movies. Anyone who fails to train their dragon within a certain time frame is banished from Berk.
The book’s Hiccup sets himself apart not by simply training his dragon, but understanding his dragon. He is the first Viking in generations to be able to speak Dragonese, the dragon’s special language.
While a Viking-Dragon war does become a plot point, this does not occur until much later in the series.
Toothless is much smaller in the books.
One of the most memorable and iconic moments in the film series is the ‘Test Drive’ sequence, in which Hiccup successfully rides Toothless for the first time.
In the books however, Hiccup never rides Toothless. Instead, Toothless rides Hiccup.
The book’s version of Toothless is much smaller, initially believed to be a common Garden Dragon. He is named Toothless not because he can hide his teeth, but because he has lost them all. In later books, he is revealed to be a baby Seadragonus Giganticus Maximus, one of the rarest dragons of all.
Despite this change in size, the close bond between Hiccup and Toothless remains the same. Toothless, along with Hiccup’s riding dragon, the Windwalker, are among the few to remain with their humans when the war begins.
Early concept art for the film depicts a smaller Toothless, however they eventually decided to go with the Night Fury design that we all know and love.
Astrid does not exist.
In the films, Astrid Hofferson is one of the story’s most important characters. Aside from being Hiccup’s love interest, she is the first to see Hiccup’s bond with Toothless, and to take on his belief that peace with the dragons is possible.
Astrid is not present at all in the How To Train Your Dragon books. Many believe she takes the place of the book character Camicazi: a young warrior from an all female tribe. She plays a similar role to Astrid’s in the film, often encouraging Hiccup to follow his instincts.
Unlike Hiccup and Astrid, the relationship between Hiccup and Camicazi never moves beyond a subtle crush. This is probably due to the age difference between the film and book characters. While Hiccup and Astrid are in their early twenties by How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Hiccup and Camicazi are only Fourteen and Twelve in the final book.
Fishlegs faces his own ‘Darth Vader’ plot in the books.
In the first film, Fishlegs and his encyclopaedic knowledge of dragons proves vital in the final battle. This knowledge ensures he remains a valuable member of the group in the following films and TV series.
The characterisation of Fishlegs remains similar between the book and the films. Fishlegs is intelligent, with a vast wealth of knowledge in his head. He is nervous and sensitive. He loves his dragon.
Fishlegs is also, as it turns out, the son of the book series’ main villain, Alvin the Treacherous. Abandoned by Alvin at birth for being a runt, Fishlegs washed up on the shore of Berk and was raised there. He is horrified upon discovering that he is Alvin’s son, and quickly disowns his father.
While Alvin does not appear in the How To Train Your Dragon films, he is a major antagonist in the first two seasons of the TV series. However, there is never any indication that he is related to Fishlegs, or any other character. He was, however, a former friend of Stoick The Vast.
Also, unlike the book, the TV series Alvin is eventually redeemed. He becomes a recurring ally in Dragons: Race To The Edge.
The Fate of Snotlout
The film’s version of Snotlout is rather arrogant. A bit of a bully, though this usually doesn’t extend beyond light teasing, more annoying than harmful.
The TV series fleshes out Snotlout’s character quite a bit, adding insecurities and a troubled relationship with his father that aren’t present in the film.
In the How To Train Your Dragon book series, Snotlout starts out as a bully, plain and simple. He spends most of the early books trying to get rid of Hiccup so he could take his place as heir to the Chief-ship of the Hairy Hooligan tribe.
Snotlout eventually decides to change his ways. In the eleventh book, he sacrifices his life to save Hiccup from Alvin.
Despite the numerous changes, Cressida Cowell, has given her seal approval to the film series. She has stated that while the portrayal is different, the heart of the story remained the same.
And while they may have taken different paths to get there, both stories end the same way. Dragons disappearing from the world, until humans are ready to live with them in peace.