How To Train Your Dragon: From Fear to Fellowship

Posted: May 1, 2012 by John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. in Action, Family
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One mark of a good kid’s movie, at least in my book, is that you have to watch it at least twice to get the underlying message. How to Train Your Dragon fits neatly into that category. And, I have to admit, I traversed from a strong dislike of this 2010 DreamWorks animated movie all the way to a high appreciation for it–by that second viewing. And, in deference to my astute younger brother, some of his thoughts on the film had an influence on me as well.

So what did I have such a strong aversion to the first time? Well, at first glance, HTTYD appears to be a typical postmodern children’s story. War is bad. A zero becomes the hero. Monsters aren’t bad, they’re just misunderstood. Adults are narrow-minded and stuck in the past. Can’t we all just get along? Tolerance is the highest virtue. You get the idea. Now still I think many of these elements are in the movie, which makes for great family discussion. But I think there is a much deeper theme in there that redeems the entire movie: How God enables us to move from fear to fellowship.

So let’s dive into the movie…with many SPOILERS, of course. The Vikings on Berk have been at war with local dragons for three hundred years. It has been a dismal life for all involved. The Vikings have been operating from a “Dragon Bible” which describes and categorizes each species, all ending with the phrase: “Extremely dangerous. Kill on sight.” They are drenched in FEAR. The Vikings’ only duty is to protect their families. So each generation is raised and trained to kill dragons. Until Hiccup, the young misfit Viking, came along.

With the befriending of a mysterious Night Fury dragon, Hiccup learns that dragons are not as evil as he had always been taught. Now, at this point, the story could have simply followed the theme of “no one is really bad; they’re just misunderstood.” But HTTYD goes a bit deeper than that. We find out that the dragons are ALSO living in FEAR. They are enslaved by a queen-dragon, who forces them to raid the Viking village to feed her huge appetite. In other words, the dragons are living under a totalitarian regime! Hiccup determines to be different than his ancestors and discover a way to have a healthy relationship with these dragons.

What’s even more interesting is why Hiccup couldn’t kill a dragon in the first place. It’s not because he was afraid, or because he was a weakling. Instead, it was because, when he looked in the dragon’s eyes he saw himself! Now think about that for a moment. This could be interpreted as an animal rights message (humans and animals are equal). But, the better way to look at it is that Hiccup saw the image of God in the dragon! [Yes, I know that real dragons aren’t made in the image of God. But just like most children’s stories, the dragons are simply symbolic of another group of people!] Hiccup actually identifies with the dragon as another real being who was just as FEARFUL as he was. They learn they need each other, and by the end of the movie, they even share a disability. They are both broken, weak beings–but strong and courageous in their character.

One of the key conversations in the movie comes between Hiccup and his father Stoick the Vast. Stoick accuses his son of abandoning his people to take the side of the dragons. “They’ve killed hundreds of us,” says Stoick. “Because we’ve killed thousands of them!” retorts Hiccup. “They’re just defending themselves.” And, this is actually true! Fear had brought almost constant war, creating everlasting division. That’s exactly what fear does to relationships! Fear keeps us apart. Fear puts us on the defensive. Fear compels us to stay away, or just eliminate the relationship. Fear brings ongoing hostility.

So, it takes one backwards boy to overcome his own personal fears to actually lead the rest of the people out of fear. The dragons and Vikings team up against a common enemy–the real enemy. They were really in the same boat all along, forced into war by the unseen dragon. So, who is this voracious, controlling, hidden dragon? Can we say…Satan, the great dragon himself! It is the devil who keeps people in bondage to sin and death by fear and manipulation!

When the Vikings and dragons come together and defeat the ultimate enemy, they enjoy true FELLOWSHIP with one another. The dividing wall has now come down. They identify with each other. They enter into relationship. And, guess what? Peace and joy enter the village of Berk. It is no longer under a shroud of constant conflict and death. Their fears and anxieties have been replaced with joy and fellowship. Enemies are friends. This is a picture of the unity of believers that comes with our union with Christ! No longer in bondage, freedom brings the opportunity for love and fellowship.

So, if you were like me and missed the central theme the first time, give HTTYD another chance. If you figured it out the first time, then maybe you need to guest post for us!

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