ascending through the clouds
life, learning, and how to train your dragon
The opening line of the first How to Train Your Dragon book is, “There were dragons when I was a boy.” There’s no warning—just the fact that there were dragons once, and then they were gone. As my official entrance to the HTTYD universe, this was an unpleasant jolt. What do you mean the dragons will be gone? I’ve only just gotten here, and I have to accept that it will all come crashing down before I even know what hit me? Certainly I had bigger things to worry about—SATs, a failing relationship, and my unending “bout” of clinical depression. But for a brief moment, I concerned myself solely with the fact that one day, the dragons would be gone, and I would have to bid them goodbye.
I first discovered HTTYD in 2014, when I was 16. While perusing 8tracks, the long-forgotten playlist website which had recently taken the internet (or at least Tumblr) by storm, I ended up listening to a playlist containing “This is Berk” by John Powell, the first song in the HTTYD score. Upon hearing it, I was spiritually enraptured; I have always had a soft spot for movie scores, but the musical mastery and Nordic bent of Powell’s song captured my attention in a way I wasn’t expecting. I watched the movie later that evening and witnessed for the first time what many people experienced as kids in 2010: The charming Viking village of Berk, our plucky young hero, Hiccup, and Toothless, the dragon with whom Hiccup forms a bond. I saw the second movie when it came out in theaters that summer, and Powell’s franchise scores soon replaced all other music as my chief homework soundtrack. How to Train Your Dragon entered my life with a force, quickly becoming an irreplaceable fixture in my teenage life.
For the last two years of high school, everything revolved around the HTTYD movies and their music. In the hours I spent anxiously anticipating my acceptance to Brown, I needed a song expressive of the same boundless triumph I would feel upon being let in, so the glorious “Test Drive” rang in my ears all day. When I first fell in love, the overwhelming feeling reminded me of the multiple crescendos of “Romantic Flight,” which plays as Hiccup and his romantic interest, Astrid, soar through the clouds into the northern lights. But my most enduring memory of the HTTYD soundtrack involves its connection to a different movie. One night, watching the romantic dramedy Stuck in Love with my two best friends, I could sense everyone in the room making an uncomfortably close connection between me and one of its characters—a girl destroying herself and everyone around her with her tumultuous mental health. Powell’s song “Forbidden Friendship” spoke to me on repeat as I drove home. In the same way Hiccup and Toothless tiptoe around each other as the song plays, I began to feel as though I, too, were tiptoeing around my own issues.
There was no order to my high-school relationships; I was sad, and so were my friends, and we all festered in each other’s sorrow. But there was order to How to Train Your Dragon and the way the films and their soundtracks functioned in my life. Every day, there was the promise of waking up to “See You Tomorrow” as my alarm, listening to the full scores while writing essays at midnight, and watching the movies whenever I wanted to feel something both special and familiar. They laced age-old tales of friendship, love, and loss with sounds I had come to recognize as essential to my being.
To be clear, these movies didn’t solve my problems; I was still hardened and hollow and tired. Though the How to Train Your Dragon movies made me feel something, it was devastating that nothing else could. But soon I began to wonder: If I could fall in love with a kids movie, then could I perhaps fall in love with something I had lost all those years ago? I mean, my emotional attachment had never been about the film’s plot alone—after all, what could I, a depressed New York girl, see in the story of a medieval boy and his dragon? My obsession was more to do with the fact that I had something I could call my own—something that no one else in my life cared about, but that would remain mine through everything. It followed me as I made my way out of my hometown, met new friends who had never seen the worst of me, and began new adventures.
Now, five years after HTTYD entered my life, the final movie comes out this weekend. I will have to face the dreadful reality that Hiccup promises in the film’s trailer: “There were dragons when I was a boy.”
Again, HTTYD was never really about the plot for me. But still—I’m not sure I’m emotionally prepared for it to end. Part of me thinks I shouldn’t make too big a deal of this; when I think clearly, I know my post-dragon life won’t look any different from what it looks like now. The music will remain in all of my playlists, and my friends will continue to lovingly roll their eyes every time I try to get them to watch the movies with me.
But despite this knowledge, when I walk into the movie theater on Friday evening, I will probably begin crying instantly. We all know, at the end of those two hours, the universe will be entirely different: Berk will lose all of its dragons, Hiccup will lose his best friend, and I will lose the one thing that has accompanied me in my pivotal transition from unhealthy to genuinely happy. But I suppose part of getting better is learning not to need the key changes of a movie score or the animation of an aurora borealis to actually feel like a human being. You see, there was a movie franchise about dragons when I was a girl, and I’m finally ready to watch the credits roll.