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Saturday, May 15, 2021

How to Train Your Dragon author Cressida Cowell: I did believe dragons really existed

Cressida Cowell on what inspired her to write a book about Vikings and dragons, the adaptations, and more.

Written by Kshitij Rawat | New Delhi |
Updated: August 30, 2020 8:01:23 pm
How to Train Your Dragon authorIt was Cressida Cowell who created the world of How to Train Your Dragon. (Photo: Cressida Cowell/Facebook)

British author Cressida Cowell created the world of How to Train Your Dragon. The hugely successful trilogy of animated films from DreamWorks Animation had her books as source material.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, which released last year, continued the adventures of Hiccup and his dragon Toothless. The village kingdom Berk is now a utopia where former foes, humans and dragons, live together as friends. When a dark new threat arises, it is up to Hiccup and Toothless to save everyone. Oh, and Toothless gets a girlfriend. The Hidden World gave a near-perfect send-off to the trilogy and the bond between Hiccup and Toothless.

Cressida spoke over the phone with about what inspired her to write a book about Vikings and dragons, the adaptations and more

Excerpts from the conversation:

Q. How did this colourful world involving Vikings and dragons come to be?

It was inspired by a real place. My father was an environmentalist. His job was in London, but his heart was in the wilderness. When I was a little girl, he would take me to an uninhabited island off the west coast of Scotland, and we’d be dropped off by a local boatman and picked up again two weeks later. There was no way of contacting the outside world back then. And this was the island Vikings came to when they first invaded Great Britain. I heard a lot of stories about the Vikings. And I did believe that dragons really existed. I used to look for dragons in the caves and imagine and make up stories about dragons and Vikings. So it came from a real place, and the relationship between Stoick and Hiccup was inspired by my father and me.

Q. It is hard to keep children’s attention. How do you manage it?

Well, I’m very aware that children have much more things to do today. They have so much more. We’re competing with things like the Internet and television. So for the books, I have to try and make them very lively. I never talk down to kids because they are just as intelligent as we are. I am also very aware that they could be doing other things with their time, so I make my character as gripping as possible, and the readers must really care about what happens to them. That’s why hiccup is so appealing and relatable because he is like so many kids you know in real life. If you want your child to sit down and listen to a story, they have to really care about characters.

I also make my stories very visual. So even though they are for older children, I pack them full of illustrations because children are so visual and imaginative.

Q. So how were you approached for the films?

It was not what I was expecting at all. I never wrote the books thinking they were going to be made into a movie. If I knew that I probably wouldn’t have written just 12 books. It was a long time ago. It was about 2005. They approached my agent. And so when I talked to them initially, they didn’t just talk about it being a funny story, about Vikings and dragons. They talked about the things that I thought were really important like the relationship between the father and the son.

Q. Were there any apprehensions?

Well, film and books are different mediums. So the books are all about language that don’t necessarily translate into film. And there can be as many books as we want, but there’s never going to be 12 movies. Books are a different medium. We must see them and screens as two different things. But I did want them to make movies that had thought and emotion. The movies that would genuinely make you cry. I felt that it was worth the risk. I feel like they have done something wonderful.

Q. So do you think that animation was the right way? Would you like to see live-action adaptations in future?

It’s such an interesting question. I think they have made it so beautifully in animation. But then you never say never. It would be interesting to have a live-action film. It would be a different thing again. I suppose what I would say is that when they started making the movie back in 2005, it would have been difficult to have this level of special effects in live-action.

How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World will premiere on August 30 at 1 PM and 9 PM on Sony PIX.

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