There be some spoilers ahead.
And now we have arrived at the sixth in Cressida Cowell’s How To Train Your Dragon series, A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons. I had expected, from the title, for this book to be less adventure and more encyclopedia, so I was pleasantly surprised to find our heroes engaging again in acts of burglary and thievery (though a small bit of encyclopedic knowledge is included in the back). In this Toothless in a common tantrum burns the book that Gobber the Belch has stolen from the Hairy Scary Librarian’s library. This book becomes the subject of a bet between Hiccup’s father, Chief Stoick the Vast, and Camicazi’s mother, Big-Boobied Bertha. The competition between the two parents and the two tribes is fierce. Hiccup does not want his father embarrassed and so decides to hide his dragon’s naughtiness by going on a quest to steal a book himself from the Hairy Scary Librarian. With his friends Camicazi and Fishlegs, Hiccup sets off for the Meathead Public Library (which is not so public). Books are banned in Viking society, and the Hairy Scary Librarian guards all of that knowledge and believes it all to be his. As always, Hiccup’s un-Viking noodling saves the day, albeit in an unusual way for the series. His schemes in this book are much less elaborate than in previous tales, consisting more of applying knowledge and thinking on the spot, and have far more to do with avoiding a fight than escaping or winning one.
This book introduces us to new villains, the Murderous Tribe and their leader, Madguts the Murderous, and more personally to the Meathead Hairy Scary Librarian, mentioned before and previously a referee at The Thing (How to Twist a Dragon’s Tale). Previous villains with the possible exception of Norbert the Nutjob (How To Cheat a Dragon’s Curse) have been aggressors filled with greed for what is not theirs. In this (and How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse), Hiccup and his friends are thieves, and the villains might be seen as reacting to wrongs inflicted rather than attacking without provocation. Madguts and his tribe, from whom Camacazi’s mother has stolen, do not meet Hiccup and company till the very end of the book, and when they do, Madgut’s threats are diverted by Hiccup’s words alone rather than by any weaponry, and Madguts in fact becomes the deus ex machina that helps Hiccup defeat the Hairy Scary Librarian. The Hairy Scary Librarian, from whom Hiccup and his friends come to steal a book, is squashed by a dragon and then dragged off to the Uglithug Slavelands by Madguts.
I’ll be interested to see if these books have marked the turn of Hiccup towards more Viking-like heroics (raiding). It is interesting to see him not wronged but wronging others. I should be probably a bit disturbed by this turn, but the brutality and cruelty attached to the very names of those he wrongs still makes him seem more a traditional Jack (and the Beanstalk) or maybe more Odysseus than a criminal. Always, Hiccup has good reasons for stealing (better reasons in fact, I would argue, than does Jack). From Norbert, he needed the potato to save his friend. From the Hairy Scary Librarian, he wanted to steal to protect Toothless. Moreover, Hiccup liberates the books and their knowledge from the Hairy Scary Librarian, which especially while reading a book, is difficult to fault. Hiccup only borrows the dragon that Big-Boobied Bertha has stolen from Madguts then defends Bertha from being punished for her crime, which is perhaps not so morally clear, but Bertha is his friend’s mother.
The more I look at these past three books (How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse, How to Twist a Dragon’s Tale, and A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons), the more I think that swapping books four and five would have led to a better series flow, a more cohesive character building. The narrative thread seems to have been dropped just a tiny bit too by the exclusion in this book of the Windwalker from Dragon’s Tale, whom I had expected to start playing a larger role, but perhaps because of his similarity to Dreamworks’ Toothless I am giving him too much weight. Separately, I still enjoy all of these books.
Cowell, Cressida. How to Train Your Dragon, Book 6: A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons. New York: Little, Brown-Hachette, 2010. First published 2007.
This review is not endorsed by Hachette Book Group, Little, Brown and Company, or Cressida Cowell. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.