How to Trust Your Demon: A Hollywood Counter-Myth

It has been said that the telling of myths has no place in the modern world, that the only remnants of such transformative symbolism are to be found in modern storytelling through film. Joseph Campbell once remarked that movie theatres are now our temples, where the public receives its teachings of myth. Whether or not this is a positive quality of mass entertain is subject to debate, considering the Hollywood tendency of propagating either progressive, anti-traditional values and debased morality, or the retelling of ancient myths with inverted meanings. Often both of these characteristics are to be found within modern storytelling, and Dreamworks’ recent children’s movie How to Train Your Dragon is no exception.

Reversing the ancient tale of the hero who slays the dragon, the film promotes the value of compassion towards these creatures. While the story may imbue a message of tolerance to the audience, encouraging children to question common prejudices and to embrace ostracized groups, this simple allegory should not distract from the face-value message of the film that demonic creatures are merely misunderstood creatures who mean no harm to humans. From a symbolical, rather than simply allegorical, point of view, this message neutralizes the traditionally held representation of the dragon as an evil being.

As discussed in the previous article, metaphysical symbols each carry a dual character and meaning. In the East, the dragon is generally of a Divine disposition, as portrayed by the wise Chinese dragon who has mastery over the element of water, or by the Hindu Kundalini, the serpent force which lies at the base of the human spine, who upon awakening ignites the yogic process of transformation. In the West, the Divine character of the dragon is represented by Ouroboros, the cosmic serpent who swallows its own tail, symbolizing the cyclical existence of the manifested Universe, an embodiment of the eternal One.

Conversely, Western legends generally depict dragons as malevolent creatures, such as in Saint George and the Dragon, Saint Romanus and the Gargouille (which tells of the origin of gargoyles used atop churches), the Greek myth of Cadmus, the Anglo-Saxon legend of Beowulf, and the Norse tale of Fafnir. The Hindu myth of Vritra also tells of a dragon-like asura who battles the god Indra.


From the opening of How to Train Your Dragon, it is apparent which aspect the dragon represents in the film, as the first impression of the dragons ruthlessly attacking a village bears a malevolent trademark.

The story features the ever-repeated motif of the bumbling outcast protagonist who, despite all odds, saves the day. In the first scene, Hiccup tries to prove himself as a courageous Viking by shooting a snare at an elusive Night Fury dragon.

The dragon is hit, and falls with an illuminated burst.



The next day, Hiccup finds the dragon, but makes a failed attempt at slaying the creature, instead choosing to free it.


He soon discovers that the dragon is unable to fly, as the left fin of its tail has been destroyed.


The image of an imperfect, winged creature falling from the sky brings to mind the story of the fallen angel Lucifer. Considering the traditionally demonic character of dragons, such a connection would not be inappropriate.


Moreover, the damaged tail parallels the Islamic foretelling of the dajjal, in which asymmetrical deformity is a telling characteristic of the Antichrist, who leads the world astray under the trustful guise of benevolence.

Just as in other animated films, particularly Monsters Inc., creatures that have traditionally been considered to be evil and hostile to humans are shown to the audience to be in fact misunderstood, friendly beings.

Gradually, Hiccup forms a friendship with the dragon, which he names Toothless, due to the hidden set of teeth that spring out of its mouth.


As Hiccup undergoes dragon combat training with his peers, Gobber, the ‘idiot in charge of initiation’ as described in the book, encourages Hiccup to read the Dragon Manual, which contains generations of knowledge that his people have obtained on dragons.

Owing to the lack of information on Night Furies, Hiccup soon realizes that his people do not know everything there is to know about dragons, and, in fact, many things they think they know turn out to be untrue.

In a secular Hollywood film, this ancient book is not considered to be of a sacred nature, but simply revered; however, this rejection of generational knowledge by the protagonist demonstrates the anti-traditional undertones of this film, giving the impression that one’s ancestors are merely superstitious and hold only transitory knowledge which can be replaced by younger generations.

Furthermore, Hiccup’s own father, Stoick, portrays the stereotypical domineering father who refuses to listen to opinions which differ from the accepted norms of the people. As with most animated features, the protagonist’s father is depicted as narrow-minded and ignorant of the way the world really is; rarely do we see a movie in which a protagonist’s parents are understanding and wise, coming from an ancient and knowledgeable tradition. All we encounter are themes of rebellion against ignorant elders and backwards traditions.


And like many other animated films’ attempts to connect with the audience, How to Train Your Dragon mockingly portrays a traditional culture with characters who behave just like modern movie-goers, speaking crude dialog rife with contemporary sarcasm (although it must be noted that, unlike most other Dreamworks productions, pop culture references are fortunately absent in this film). Even any references to Norse spiritual traditions are done in an off-hand way, in which appeals to the gods are made with such superficial exclamations such as
‘Odin, it was rough, I almost gave up on you, but all the while you were only
holding out on me. Oh Thor almighty!’
What we essentially see are a group of profane modern characters guised as medieval Vikings with no understanding or effective interaction with the world unseen.


Apart from being a dragon combatant-in-training, Hiccup also works as a blacksmith’s apprentice, and using his iron-working abilities, he designs and forges a new tail wing for his dragon.

The image of merging flesh with machine evokes the modern pursuit of bionics and transhumanism, in which physical limitations, whether impairments or simply the ‘human condition’ in general, are overcome through the implementation of technology. In this sense, man ‘evolves’ by means of his own ambition. In the film, the dragon is made able to re-ascend, due to the hero’s promethean ingenuity, again another luciferic element present in the story. It is worth noting that the trade of blacksmithing was traditionally considered to be one associated with lower magic, which ultimately degenerated into base sorcery, as metal-working involves the chaotic nature of ‘infernal’ elements.

By studying the behavior of his dragon, Hiccup soon discovers methods of subduing other dragons in combat, without having to inflict violence (establishing a myth counter to such legends as George and the Dragon). He quickly draws admiration from the village, and is chosen by the elder to participate in the traditional slaying of the dragon.
In this case, either the village elder is just as blind as all the rest and truly believes that Hiccup will conform to their ways and kill the dragon, or she silently condones his iconoclastic rebellion and hopes he will bring about a change in the village customs.

In the battle arena, Hiccup attempts to demonstrate to the people their ignorance of the true nature of dragons; they are not evil, humans can befriend them.


The peaceful demonstration is interrupted, however, by Stoick, whose aggressive stance provokes the dragon to resume its attack, thus confirming the people’s ‘ignorant’ suspicions.

The father, who bears a hammer resembling the mythic Mjöllnir, evokes the image of Thor, the Norse god of strength and protection. The audience readily perceives Stoick as an intolerant and judgmental character set in his ways, as he calls innocent Toothless a ‘devil’ and declares the dragons’ nest to be ‘hell’. However, this character, who embodies the paternal deity Thor and casts judgment on infernal creatures, bears similarities to the Christian and Judaic conception of God, of which the primary audience for such a film carries. The story demonstrates that this father figure is in reality limited by his intolerant disposition, and a new approach to dragons (or infernal entities) is needed, once the old ways are rejected.

Refusing to fight in the arena, Hiccup is exiled, and Toothless is confined, forced to lead the Vikings to the hidden dragons’ nest. Upon arriving, the warriors witness an unknown beast emerge from the cave, the dragon queen.
One may recall the dragon and the two beasts from the Book of Revelation: the dragon Lucifer falls from the sky unto the earth, and at the time of the apocalypse, the first beast rises from sea, resembling a leopard, and the second rises from the earth, making a noise ‘like a dragon’. The parallel between Toothless’ fall and that of Lucifer has already been remarked upon; however, it is also significant that the art directors for the film deviated from the book’s original description of the dragon, in favor of a more feline-like creature inspired by a black leopard screen saver displayed on a Dreamworks employee’s computer. This image paired with the initial scene of the dragons’ attack over the sea, offers a parallel of Toothless and the other dragons to the first beast of Revelation. And in this scene, the queen dragon fits the description of the second beast, emerging from the deep underground.


Hiccup and his peers arrive, each mounted on a dragon and attack the queen. The others are soon defeated, leaving only Hiccup and Toothless against the giant beast. In the final strike, the queen is hit, and Hiccup and his dragon fall through the fire.


It seems they are both dead, until an injured Hiccup emerges from the protective wings of Toothless. The father approaches the dragon, and realizing his mistaken views, says apologetically, ‘Thank you for saving my son’. The flawed father’s only begotten son is saved, and the dragon is a hero.


Symbolically this evokes an inversion of Christian doctrine, as the devil (Toothless) saves Christ (‘resurrected’ Hiccup), with the Father (Stoick) begging his forgiveness.

Having fallen with the dragon, Hiccup now bears a similar deformity, his missing leg reflecting Toothless’ damaged tail wing.


The subtle message given in this film, doubtlessly unintentional by the moviemakers but significant in its scope, is that what we have traditionally thought to be evil is, in fact, benevolent and should be befriended. This brings to mind the often-endorsed sentiments of New Age teachers encouraging others to ‘embrace their shadow’ and attempt to heal negative subconscious energies by integrating them into the personality (See the article False Shepherds for further analysis). As Hiccup intimates his reason for not initially slaying the dragon, ‘When I looked into his eyes, I saw myself.’ The concept of owning one’s shadow and identifying with negative traits of the subconscious offers an open invitation to outside, infernal forces, which gain access to the human mind through the gateway of the subconscious.

Furthermore, the happy ending in which all the townspeople change their ways and each have a friendly dragon pet, resembles another New Age practice of acquiring spirit guides, typically found among an array of unknown, low-level entities often mistaken for wise, benevolent beings.

It may seem an exaggeration to detect demonic themes underneath an otherwise innocent children’s movie, but the powerful impact such images have in shaping young minds must be brought into consideration. In effect, Hollywood movies are practical tools for social programming, with or without the filmmakers’ conscious intention. In this seemingly harmless, or ‘toothless’, fairy tale, the audience is exposed to a number of jibes at traditional beliefs, favoring a new, modern approach to life, while simultaneously promoting the idea that the devil is not evil, but merely misunderstood, thus blurring the borders between good and evil, encouraging children to seek out the creatures found in darkness, in hopes of making a new friend.

5 comments:

Inner Peace 1979 said...

How is it I had a great time watching the movie, being touched by it and yet find myself unable to disagree with the core of your article?

I do think it's quite positive that the boy refuses to fight dragons from the moment he discovers there's more to them than his culture knew.

It's easy to demonize creatures (fictional/mythical or from another kind), and it's even possible to use history to support one side of the issue.

But China's history relates of wise and benevolent dragons. So now why is it that we SHOULD see dragons as demons in the West, just because we're westerners?

Are we so chained to this or that tradition, just because we were born in this or that culture?

Is it not up to each to find truth within his own heart and ascertain, preferably through direct experience, whether something is truly "right" or "wrong"?I know this applies generally .

But if this rule applies to anything in general, then why not in the particular case of a dragon in Northern Europe?

And yet - again - I find the correlations you made and the points you made quite strong and worthy of reflection.

Thanks for posting yet another thought provoking article!

riftinheaven said...

Interesting. Really. Thank you for the perpspective. I completely disagree, and I can show you why I do with fewer words.

The movie was about failure to conform to the world, -christlike.

The movie was about the power of love being greater than hate-also christlike.

the movie was about a person, who using their conscience to judge themselves (read all of Romans), devoted themselves to what they saw as good, and recieved mixed blessing poured out into them.

the main character did not lie, not murder, did not commit adultury. He was humble, loving, compassionate, and he perservered in the face of opposition.

This notion, which you seem to based your argument on is the rejection of elder culture is contrary to 'respect your father'- however acceptance of all things traditional leaves us following the pharisees and ways of cities which god tried to correct.

The struggle that we are to fight for is against existing contentions between us, against current violences we commit against ourselves, the struggles we are committed to is against the evil and pricipalities already in the world.

and THAT, was what this movie was about.

though to bad it didn't have a real Christ figure in it, just a Paul figure (get's transformed by an experience, goes form evil to good).

anyway you can email me robertth (-a-) writeme.com if you like, I came across this while browsing, don't even know how to get back here. (friend was looking something up, I saw you D&D article, used to play, also was involved in a lot of various paganism prior an experience with god-)

Lory McGuire said...

You (commentators) have to understand the satanic world and also new age in order to understand what the link is between this film and the satanic deception. It's sad you didn't get it, but, you haven't done your research. All you have to do is ask the Holy Spirit, but even if you don't have faith in Him, just read He Came To Set the Captives Free by Rebecca Brown.

SpyroTheEternalNight said...
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Alyssa K. said...
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