One of my favorite movies is the 2010 DreamWorks animated film, How to Train Your Dragon. It’s a charming, sweet little adventure of an awkward teenage boy who befriends one of the most misunderstood creatures in the world — a dragon. Together, he and Toothless, a Night Fury dragon, embark on an adventure that eventually changes everything he knows.
Imagine my amusement when I realized that this film is the perfect allegory for the gay rights struggle.
SPOILER WARNING: For those of you who have not seen this film, this essay will contain major spoilers. Please do not read past this point if you don’t like to know what happens before you see it. But I know you really, really do want to keep reading because you’re just that obnoxious.
So, let’s introduce some of the relevant major characters and how they play in this (probably unintended) allegory:
First, there’s Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), the barely pubescent teen who knows he must learn to kill dragons in order to be accepted into his village. Unfortunately, the wiry kid has no skills at all, aside from being an accomplished blacksmith. He’s intelligent, and has very little social skills at all.
Hiccup’s father, Stoick the Vast, a mighty man’s man, voiced by the testosterone-laden Gerard Butler. Stoick has a hard time relating to his son since his equally-massive wife died years before. The two have very little in common, but he loves his son dearly.
Toothless, a big-eyed black dragon of the most feared sort, is a Night Fury. No one knows anything about these creatures at all — mainly because they’re dark, fast, only attack at night, and fire explosive blasts that never miss.
The village of Berk is a small viking town that is under constant construction because of the frequent dragon attacks. Their sheep and livestock are the preferred victims, and the townspeople do all they can to fight off their flying, fire breathing pests.
The dragons are a lively bunch, and extremely variant in their diversity. There are chickenpoxers, bonewings, doomfangs, thunderdrums, gronkles, and a few bazillion other types of dragons — all of whom have an affinity for livestock. The Vikings of Berk know of the characteristics of the various species (except the Night Fury) and classify them all as “very dangerous, kill on sight.”
Red Death is a ginormous monster dragon that’s ten times the size of a blue whale. It has eyes all around its skull, and is a master to all of the many hundreds of dragons that attack Berk and its surrounding villages. If it’s not satisfied with the livestock offering of a dragon, it will eat the dragon as well. Kind of a mean dude.
There are plenty of other characters in the story, but they really don’t add nor detract from the allegorical relevance (although, a case could be made for the other teens and their bully-like nature). Having said all of this, and introduced the relevant characters, let’s have a little fun.
First, Hiccup can be just about any gay teenager out there. He’s awkward, out of place, not sure how he can relate to his father. He does what any kid his age might do — and actively works to be the best dragon killer a kid can be. But his father knows better. He’s no dragon killer. What he is… well, they don’t know. One day, Hiccup manages to blindly use one of his gadgets to fell a dragon — the feared and unknown Night Fury.
Stoick is a good father. He loves his son, and knows something is different about him. He’s not sure what, but he’ll figure it out soon enough. He’ll be happy just so long as he never tries to side with them. There’s not a lot of allegory needed here.
The dragons in general, well, they represent the concept of homosexuality. “They’ll steal our sheep!” “They’ll kill our kids!” “They’ll destroy everything!” “Very dangerous! Kill on sight!” “Leviticus 20:13!” You get the idea. These creatures are so feared, that as soon as one is sighted, the town goes on high alert to fend off their attackers.
Red Death — this is a vile, massive, evil master of the dragons, compelling them to steal for it and it will devour anyone that doesn’t play along. It forces the dragons — the idea of homosexuality — into a twisted, evil picture that doesn’t represent their true nature at all. This is exactly what people like Bryan Fischer, Peter Labarbera, Brian Brown, Pat Robertson, Tony Perkins, Rick Santorum, and nearly every other anti-gay preacher, activist, or bigot does. They do all they can to lie about, distort, twist, and paint the LGBT community in as dark a portrait as possible.
As the story progresses, Hiccup must face his demon — the Night Fury. It’s a dark, dangerous beast that he names Toothless. He quickly learns that the Night Fury, while fearsome, has no ill will. The dragon is wounded, though. His tail was injured in by Hiccup’s weapon, and can not fly. Hiccup crafts a rig to allow him to ride Toothless and together, they learn to rely on each other. They need each other. Hiccup needs the dragon, and the dragon needs him. He comes to term with himself as a result.
It’s a gentle giant, and leads Hiccup to make a startling discovery:
“Everything we know about you guys is wrong!”
The Red Death has done all it can to turn the dragons — homosexuality — into an evil force, but they are no more evil than any other sexuality. They’re kind, friendly creatures who can actually have a benefit for society, but because of the lies and distortion — and the fear that the people of Berk have for them as a result — they are met with violent attacks.
Eventually, Stoick discovers the truth — that Hiccup has indeed sided with the dragons. “You are NOT my son,” he tells the devastated teen. Finally, Hiccup does the one thing that’s beyond crazy, beyond insane… he recruits his friends — who quickly learn that he was right about the mysterious dragons — to help him.
The adults have all gone to the dragon’s island — imagine that being the gay community — to destroy them all. And they’ll use a captured Toothless to do it. Hiccup knows he has to somehow defeat the real enemy, the massive and fearsome Big Red. He has to destroy the lies, the distortion, and the hate.
The adults arrive on the island — and they attack the mountain straight away, smashing it with giant catapults. As they crack open the rock wall, hundreds of dragons fly out — and away.
Stoick and his mob are stunned that the dragons left instead of fight, but they are not the enemy. The real enemy is the Red Death. He roars and smashes through the remains of the mountain wall, and unleashes a wall of fire against the Vikings. Stoick realizes that his son was telling the truth — it is a monster that controls them.
It is a monster that distorts the LGBT community. It’s a monster of hate, lies, and fear.
Finally, Hiccup arrives with his friends who attack the behemoth — and Hiccup goes to free Toothless, who has fallen into the water. He can’t free his friend.
But Stoick can. He leads Hiccup to the surface and uses his mighty arms to free his son’s beast — giving them a chance to soar. Together, Hiccup and Toothless lure the Red Death into the sky, where Toothless blows holes in its giant wings – blowing holes in the lies, distortion, and hate. Finally weakening the monster’s flight, causing it to crash into its own fiery death — a death that it promised to anyone who didn’t follow its path.
The battle took Hiccup’s leg — and now, the rider and the dragon are both more reliant on each other than ever. They are truly together, and now fully welcome in their community. Even the other dragons are integrated into Berk life, adding to their lives in every way.
Sure, the allegory is a little silly, but the message is clear: Don’t let lies distort things just because you don’t understand them. Take a risk. Learn the truth. Because everything you think you know about the LGBT community — especially if it comes from those who hate us — is wrong.