A Couch Potato’s review of How to Train Your Dragon and the Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III Memoires. (2007)
This is another set of books that I had been curious about after seeing the movies How to Train Your Dragon and How to Train Your Dragon 2. I admit I had more than a little trepidation when it came to submerging myself once again into a child and/or young-adult book series. Most of the reason has to do with the vapid (and oftentimes bland) approach to world building that seems to be the trend of most books written in the last 30 years that have been aimed at children and young-adults and Hollywood is converting for the money-making monster that it is. Some of the reason is because the heroes of these books seem to rely too much on some magical quality that they’ve been blessed with to enable the development of the story as well as “heroic quality” of the protagonist. After all, we have Harry Potter and his being affected by Vordermort’s spell that killed his parents. Percy Jackson being the bastard son of the Greek god Zeus, Tris being a Divergent, Thomas being a telepath (Maze Runners), and so on. (And no, I’m not mentioning anything to do with that set of movies with Robert Pattinson in it. I agree with Jack Whitehall’s monologue on him and that movie franchise).
Instead of taking the traditional approach to such a book series in e-book format, I took to them instead as audio book format… Partially to pass the time during my daily 2.5 mile (4 kilometer) walks through the neighborhood, partially as my winding down as I want to fall asleep at night as a substitute to my listening to various radio plays I’ve picked up from Relic Radio.
Let me start by saying the books are practically nothing like the movies. While Hollywood maintained the nerdiness of Hiccup and some of the more basic elements of the books — like Hiccup being the son of the village chief Stoic the Vast. The rest? Well there are similar names, character references and some light similarities to some of the jobs they did, Hollywood as it would appear changed things around sufficiently to make the movies more a spectacle of its own choosing rather than the over-all lessons Cowell chose to tell in these books. The biggest surprise was discovering that Hiccup could speak to the dragons and the dragons did in fact spoke back. First there were no girls in the class… These were Vikings! And while when women were included and were just as hardy as the men — other than one tribe — were just filler for the stories (including Hiccup’s mother). None of Hollywood’s BS of equal opportunity and equal presence.
Gobber for example while being the trainer, wasn’t the peg-legged smithy of the town. He was the trainer of the young adults of Berk (known in the books as the Tribe of Hairy Hooligans) yes, but was a towering man at 6’5″ (almost 2 meters). And seems most of the adults were that tall (and taller), but I let it slide a bit because 1. I like my men that tall and 2. To a pre-teen everyone will seem to be that tall when they’re that short. Snoutlout was instead of the woman-chasing member of Hiccup’s class, but was in fact the class bully bucking for being the chief of the tribe. Fishlegs was more nerdy as Hiccup (and just as picked on) who had asthma and couldn’t swim (and for Vikings was unheard of). Although Fishlegs’ redeeming quality was in fact being a Berserker. Hiccup never lost his mother as hinted in the first movie and reunited in the second and was a minor character throughout the books also known as Valhallarama. Hiccup’s true arch-nemesis was Alvin the Treacherous who had an artificial hand, leg (much like what Gobber had in the movies) and was also missing an eye along the way. And finally most surprising at all was Hiccup’s dragon: Toothless. A smaller than usual dragon (of common variety) with no teeth and as conniving and wily as Gollum in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy without any hint of the treachery.
First positive mark was that Cressida Cowell didn’t try to make up her own world per se, but instead relied on the sketchy period of classical antiquity somewhere near the fall of the Roman Empire. The books didn’t really cover the Roman Empire but instead of the area far north where the Roman Empire really didn’t have all that much control over. The stories in fact seem to feel as though they’re happening around 300 AD when legends of wyrms and dragons were quite prevalent. Toward the fourth book — How to Beat a Dragon’s Curse — there’s reference to the Americas and Potatoes, but at the time I was too lazy to reference the information on when Vikings did make it to the Americas, but given I’ve been sufficiently entertained that I gave the book a free pass on this revelation. The next positive mark is converting the dragons collected by the Viking teens from being huge and ungainly (and definitely something one could ride) to about the size of medium-sized dogs with fire and wings. The truly massive dragons — like the Green Death — were aquatic and lived under the seas instead of living in volcanoes or in caves like their smaller and more land-born relatives. There’s also references to smaller dragons — Nano-Dragons — about the size of grasshoppers. Toward the later books, there’s references to riding dragons — dragons large enough to be ridden by adults and about the size of scaly horses. Seems that these dragons weren’t really as talkative as so many of the other dragons, so I just considered them animals more than selfish (and self-centered) pets.
Ms. Cowell approached the psychology of the dragons in a more classical sense — being selfish and self-centered — although I found it particularly amusing that when she got into details of many of the dragons that inhabited this world, she gave them a sort of arbitrary point system, like reading off stat cards in a Pokémon Deck. While it personally went over my head other than the basic statistics and characteristics, I’m sure children having these books read to them would have their minds wheeling as to how to use these cards in some game of their liking.
Another plus is actually for the performer chosen for the audio books: David Tennant. While it’s clear that he has a limited amount of voice characterizations (and most of them regional Scottish), I found myself amused (and more importantly entertained) that he tried them all, often together for the same scenes. I might have groaned a little when he tried his hand at the voice characterizations for the Romans (being akin to really bad Italian Commercials of the 60s), but overall it reminded me of the times in Fifth Grade (Primary School) where for the English Literature portion of the class, my teacher (Mrs. Tedeschi) used to read books to us like Charlotte’s Web, The Ransom of Red Chief and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The best part were the lessons that Ms. Cowell was trying to tell throughout all the books. Most of all was “Use your head” and “Do the Right Thing” over “might makes right”. There’s also elements of courage, truthfulness, problem-solving, observation and so on. There were serious moments, moments of humor, grim moments and even moments of wonder. The sort if bemused wondering that left me visualizing parts of Hiccup’s world and how he fit in. Overall, books that left me liking not only the morals of the story but also the delivery of those messages.
Bottom Line: While it makes many modern like references based on the settings of the story (like glowing reviews from newspapers like the Viking Times, or the Hooligan Hollerer), the game card references for the statistics for the dragons in the story, occasional technological usage that didn’t exist in that period of time) or even the British lingo that I readily recognize (and would leave many Americans confused and scrambling for Google or Urban Dictionary)… It’s the sort of stories I wished I had read to me when I was growing up. For they taught being smart will get you far in life, regardless of the fact of being the scrawny kid in class that was always picked on by the bullies. It allows for distractions and adventures to imaginary parts of the world never truly far and away (everything was near to Hiccup’s home area of Berk). It talked about pirates and dragons and secret buried treasures. About the only thing that was unusual about Hiccup was that he was the chieftain’s son… He isn’t some genetic anomaly, he doesn’t have telepathy, he isn’t made special by magic… He’s just a scrawny kid with red hair that sticks straight up with freckles dotting his face who was encouraged by his grandfather to do his own thing (learn languages, study dragons, etc.). It teaches being true to yourself will get you far in life… Something I recommend for those struggling through school or those that remember being bullied in school to remind them: being true to yourself is far more fulfilling than being what’s expected of you.
Entry 03/18/2013 07:37:53 AM – Mentat 682
“The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom…” – Bell Hooks
Once again I’m aware of the fact that it’s been a number of weeks since I’ve last written. And while it’s no excuse for it (even if I’m feeling the need for it), truth be told it’s only been recently that there’s anything that’s been truly newsworthy enough to sit down and write a journal entry. I mean sure, there’s been quite a lot of niggling things going on, but it’s not as though I need to sit down and write every time that it occurred; the problem with that it is that I often have such entries turning out more frivolous than necessary. But now, yes… As I said, there’s events to talk about.
First things first is that the douchebag that had been living below me has finally moved his “the world owes me everything” ghetto ass out of the apartment. Since just before Christmas I’ve had to put up with rap and urban music from about 9 in the morning until 9 in the evening — sometimes even later depending on whatever the hell was going on between him and his on-again/off-again girlfriend/wife/whatever. Then there’s the fighting that the two of them would have going on at all times of the day and night. There were more times than naught dealing with police out in front of the house in equal measures between them and the downstairs couple next door. And it seems that last week even the police showing up here for the third floor men last Thursday, but I’ve yet to get the details on that the last couple of days. Oh, and let’s not forget the amount of noise his two kids used to make at 5 – 5:30 in the morning banging with the cribs or on the walls because they were bored and wanted to get up. It was enough to wake me up before my morning alarm and I’m considered a heavy sleeper. Then there was the noise from them during the weekend where I swore heavy pieces of furniture were being thrown around the apartment. At first I thought it was fighting, until I take my earbuds out and realize that I can hear the little rug-rats screeching with glee that I realized that they were playing. Believe me, I called the cops a couple of times and while they would quiet down for a day or two, the noise would return unabated. Eventually I gave up and kept to myself waiting patiently given that my landlord told me that they were moving out a couple of months earlier.
Then there’s the amount of garbage the two first floor apartments used to generate. All right, I’m one person and I’m lucky to generate a bag of garbage every 6 or so weeks. Usually a bit more during the summer because I don’t want fruit flies buzzing about the garbage and the house. The Guatemalans upstairs and the asshole next door can usually generate about a bag of trash a week or two. However, between the two families downstairs, both with two kids each, they would generate six garbage cans full each week! Seriously I don’t even remember when Jon and I were young seeing that much garbage going out the door like what these two downstairs would generate each! And to make matters worse — both of them are frelling pigs. Neither of them really tie up the bags when they threw them out and if any of the garbage fell out onto the ground — including soiled diapers — they would leave it wherever it fell on the ground. I even had to give up complaining about that given the landlord did nothing about discussing the issue with them, or he simply gave up because they would give him flack and do it anyway. And direct confrontation did nothing as well. If anything they would generate more trash on the ground in spite of Jim, Julian (the upstairs neighbors that no longer live here) and I throwing it into their part of the first floor hallway to get their attention.
As I understand it, the other couple on the first floor are supposed to be moving out soon. While it will put a financial burden on the apartments here, at least I’m hoping the amount of garbage I’ve been seeing on the ground since the two of them have been here should lessen. Not to mention less police visits for disturbing the peace and domestic violence… Although given what I’ve been seeing going into the basement this weekend, I get the impression that they’re not moving like they said they would be. If anything it seems more of their garbage is being moved into the basement like it’s their own personal storage space. I’d hate to break the news to them but that’s not how it’s going to work here given that a majority of the douchebag’s (the next door douchebag) paintings that he tried to store in the basement were moved out thanks to fire code violations.
Then there’s the serious WTF moment up the street at Amherst. A week or so ago, I put the barrels out there and come back the next morning to see that one of them had in fact been stolen. Telling the landlord this, he says something about it possibly being taken into one of the apartments for cleaning (yeah, I’m having problems imagining that this is the case, but stay with me here). A day or so later at the other apartments on Tuxedo seem to have had some sort of fight and decided to throw one of the roommates out. This also involved about 30 bags of trash in the process most of which ended up going into the trash cans for both Tuxedo and Amherst and including one of the recycle bins in the process.
Seriously they were told that the recycle bins were just that, but did that stop the 20-somethings from doing what they did? Of course not. And further, looking at this sort of thing coupled with the idiots here at my apartment, I’m beginning to feel really old and crotchety because it seems that it’s selfish, self-centered 20-somethings that think they can make up their own rules as they see fit. It makes me wonder whether they were actually raised to be responsible or are they just that stupid not to know any better because they run on the belief that “it’s not theirs”. In either case, I’m in no mood to be cleaning up their mess and there’s positively no amount of money in the world that will have me sorting out other people’s trash because they’re too stupid to know any better. And if there is a possibility of my doing it, I would be charging a month’s rent per clean up; because that’s how pissed off I’d be having to clear up other people’s stupidity (and selfishness) with their trash and recycling.
As for me… Well, I’m having breakfast, listening to my coffee maker sputtering as it tells me in its own way that the coffee is done brewing and watching a couple of shows that I’m finding myself having a difficult time trying to watch. It seems that I’m finding it more and more difficult to sit here and watch the shows that I used to enjoy watching. At first I thought that it was a personal problem, but I’m more than happily cutting through the various gay-related soap operas clips that I watch on YouTube for hours at a time. No, it’s more the fact that the writing in at least two of the shows that I’m still watching is becoming more and more… vapid. The stories seemed, rushed… contrived… Not to mention extremely predictable… And lack the sort of elements that I like watching.
Hell, take Arrow for example. The more than I watch Stephen Amell playing the role of Oliver Queen — the more I see that he was picked not for his acting ability, but for his chest, washboard abs, chiseled jaw and piercing blue eyes. The more he acts, the more I see just how bloody empty he is. Acquaintances and people on Usenet are telling me that it was a character development problem and that it was slow at the beginning. I disagreed vehemently stating that he was better when he was secretive and calculating and that if anything they’re dumbing down his character in order to make his partner Diggle (played by David Ramsey) look more wise. Dumbing down never works with me and I get off-put by the story faster than you can say, “Oi! Skinny man!”
And then there’s Kristin Kruek in Beauty and the Beast… When they finally got rid of the sexual tension and made Katherine kiss Vincent she’s become a quivering stupid mess. Watching the most recent episode “Any Means Possible”, they making Katherine too doe-in-the-headlights like and adding way too much “catch the beast” dragnet drama. Especially with Sendhil Ramamurthy as the ADA out to catch Vincent. It’s like the time JJ Abrams and his two other ass-monkeys (otherwise known as Orczi and Kurtzman) did to Jennifer Garner’s character — Sydney Bristow — in Alias the instant that she slept with Michael Vaughn (played by Michael Vartan). They basically turned her from super agent able to take on SD-6 and the world into.. W-O-M-A-N: an agent incapable of independent thought and action without the approval of the man that she’s opened her legs for. I’m feeling like I want to bail on the Beauty and the Beast because of this (like I did with Alias when they jumped the last shark that I could tolerate for season 4) as well.
Sitting here and writing this, I definitely think should be getting back into reading books. At least with books they can do things and go places that television can’t go: getting into a character’s head. Not to mention doing intricate back story that doesn’t have to be squeezed into a 40 minute episode timeslot. And a place where only bad writers will change premises between books in a series. Although given that I have three books here in my queue (Empire State, Game of Thrones and Seeker) not to mention all the books on my eBook reader… I’m not entirely sure I’m up to reading in bed, given that will last for about 5 minutes before I pass out snoring loud enough to wake the dead. But I’ll consider it given that I’m going to be needing a break from something else soon enough.
Another thing that I was thinking about last week occurred when I saw a message in one of the communities that I’m part of. Seemed that it’s coming up on that time of year when the “National Day of Silence” occurs and seeing someone commenting on it and waffling, I ended up looking for the entry and posting a copy of it to the thread. I reread the entry to ensure that my feeling that I had written about the event hadn’t changed (it didn’t, I still think it’s a step in the wrong direction, though I digress), and after a bit of going through other journal entries, I recall that the feeling that I had when I was writing those entries wasn’t quite the Sisyphean task of journal entry. And then I realized in scanning some of the entries what one of the problem was… I had been writing with an emotional element that I haven’t been quite feeling for quite some time: unrequited love.
Yes, the very thing that often leaves me a quivering and gibbering mess… the very thing that I would prefer to express and not be so well hidden in the recesses of my heart and mind. The very thing that after a while, I get tired of having and hiding and want to be rid of it entirely if I cannot express it and it’s not going to be reciprocated. Here’s the thing though; I know what it is that I need from it in order to write the way that I do: from the heart. From the wild hair that sometimes ends up across my ass about something. It’s the friction that comes from not only wanting to do and say the right thing, but also the part that comes from competing for someone else’s affections. That showing off the best parts of me to prove that I’m worthy.
Strange thing that as I’m sitting here. I have no problems with self-love at all. I am comfortable with myself enough that I have no problems with all these thoughts and what not in my head. But I lack the sort of friction that will get me going in such a way as to go off on some sort of tear. In essence, I’m too comfortable and far too calm for that sort of internal friction anymore. In either case, it’s something that I’m going to have to work out…
Which leads me to the last part of this journal entry… A part that I’ve been holding off writing about because it’s involving another human being. While it’s easy to keep the person anonymous (as I haven done in the past with other people that have requested anonymity), I find it to be a somewhat difficult path to be walking given that it’s going to involve a lot of complex descriptions that I’m not used to expressing in type. Sure, I can say it aloud easily enough. But putting it down to words leads to misinterpretation in ways that can do more harm than good. So… With that in mind, I’m going to press on with this when I get home as I should be getting ready for work at the moment… I’ll see if I can’t put a bit more thought into it before I begin writing it down. Until later perhaps.
It’s a quiet night in the neighborhood at least for the moment, and I’m sitting here listening to some classical music as I attempt to chew on what I read from Wells’ The Invisible Man. It was a fabulous book at the beginning through the middle of the story however toward the end I got the distinct impression that Wells jumped the gun in making Griffin (the invisible Man) a complete bat-shit crazy psychotic. I was able to do a little research as to the time that The Invisible Man had been written and about the time that Freud had begun his dissertations and the approach of psychoanalysis and I get the distinct impression as to my reading through the history of Freud and Wells that Wells had read the necessary papers or attended the necessary lectures to fill in Griffin’s loss of sanity.
The problem that I had with the ending of the story — particularly at about the time that Griffin had ended up in Dr. Kemp’s home and began telling the story about how he had discovered the formula for invisibility — was that while the story did make sense and one could find some want to sympathy for Griffin’s plight the method where his sanity turns completely on its ear does not follow any pathology that I understand. If anything, Griffin’s wont for his reign of terror through the English Countryside seemed hair-brained and cooked up at the last minute in order to wrap up the story in a tidy and classically Greek manner.
I understand Lord Acton’s dictum about "…power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely…" and while I can see that the path that Griffin had been taking would most assuredly lead him down to the path of terrorizing those that had hunted him down for being invisible and a threat to society on the whole… The manner for which he had come to this conclusion while in the company of Kemp as he told Kemp the story is a wildly illogical leap. If anything, the actions of Colonel Adye coming into Kemp’s mansion and Griffin feeling betrayed would have made more sense for Griffin to completely lose his mind and not only attack Kemp but wreck havoc on the English Countryside.
Then again I realize that psychology and the methods of psychoanalysis were still in its infancy at this point, so perhaps I should cut the story a little slack as to the pathology of Griffin’s insanity.
Another slighter problem that I had with the story had to do with all the fiddling and experimenting that Griffin had been doing while at the Coach & Horses Inn in Iping. While it’s easy to formulate that the experiments that Griffin is doing while in the Inn was to work on the formula and perhaps an antidote that would allow him the ability of being visible and invisible in much the same manner as it’s been hinted in the story about Dr, Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It’s completely thrown out the window in rush of getting the story completed, in spite of the fact that Marvel was the one that took and hid the books in the process.
Ultimately though, while I found the book entertaining, and thought it rather amusing that I had avoided reading this as a teenager because it was simply part of the "optional summer reading", I was disappointed that Griffin’s insanity felt like it was simply thrown in to hurry the story up. Though admittedly I’m a firm believer this was an excellent book for its time and gave me more than enough satisfaction at seeing the psychology of people at the turn of the 20th century in the process.
Over the weekend, I had also been able to purchase and watch the movies GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra (bargain basement of course), as well as Jim Caviezel starring in the movie Outlander. Do I need to tell say that in spite of the fact that Outlander is a retread of the movies Pathfinder (with Karl Urban) and Predator (with Ahnold) was more entertaining than GI Joe? No, I don’t need to, I did already. It’s pretty apparent this was a Summer Popcorn Movie; but at the same time it was horribly clichéd and predictably pedantic, and further I had some serious issues seeing Marlon Wayans in this…. Marlon Wayans… Really. Between seeing him and Dennis Quaid’s over-the-top performance General Hawk, I should’ve taken the warnings that it would’ve been best to simply shut off my brain and try not to take it as anything other than a piece of cinematic fluff. But I didn’t and could only find myself barely entertained by it’s work.
On the plus side, about the only piece of eye-candy worth mention was seeing Tatum Channing… Still, I think they should’ve kept his lines to a minimum (like they did with Reeves in The Matrix) for the more that he spoke, the less believable that he was in the role of Duke. Heh, and to give you an idea of the time that I lost my ability to suspend disbelief in his acting was about the same time that he was talking to his ex-girlfriend — The Baroness (played by Sienna Miller) at the beginning of the film. Oh, and it was also good to be seeing Arnold Vosloo (playing Zartan) even if the role was pretty minor. If they do make a sequel, I strongly doubt we’ll be seeing him as Vosloo, given that he’s now a sort of shape-changing master of disguise.
Outlander was by far a bit more entertaining, although it took me more than a few moments to figure out that Freya was none other than Sophia Myles from Underworld. Then again, I’m not well known for remembering women (either by name or face) s that’s a gimme really. Oh… And jeez what a sight to see none other than Ron Perlman in this movie. I mean I could forgive seeing John Hurt as the leader, he looked like he actually enjoyed doing a role as a Norwegian Viking Leader… But Perlman? Lord have mercy, he didn’t sound like he had phone in the role as he has in other places, but yet he didn’t look like he was much into this role either. Fortunately though, his demise was not only fabulously bloody, but timed impeccably enough… The one scene that I enjoyed the most had to have been the scene with Kainan (Caviezel) and Wulfric (played by Jack Huston) at the bridge to the stronghold and how Kainan throws the torch over the bridge and the creature — called a Moorwen — is standing there, puts the torch out and then begins its own bioluminescence to demonstrate its anger and malevolence.
Next week it looks like Star Trek is supposed to be coming out on DVD… Of which I’m sure I’ll be picking up the same was as I picked up like GI Joe.
Well that’s about it for the time being. Off to try to finish the night here and enjoy my day off. Until the next time.