The How To Train Your Dragon Franchise does a lot of things very well. Some (me) have even claimed the trilogy to be the best ever. But in among the multitude of things that the franchise does so well, what I want to focus on is the relationship/love story of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III and Astrid Hofferson.
Like a lot of love stories, the story of Hiccstrid (yes, it’s called a ship name. Get with it) begins with a crush. Hiccup is smitten with Astrid, but does nothing to act on it. But from this point, their story takes a totally different route than most. Instead of him taking purposeful steps to make her notice him, he just tries to be a Viking like everyone else. Sure, in the opening sequence he jokes about killing a Gronckle and how that would improve his dating prospects, but he never does any of what he does with the express intention of winning Astrid’s affections.
Astrid, for her part, never really noticed the scrawny, brown-haired kid until they were all enrolled in dragon training. From then, her feelings towards him could best be characterized as indifference that turned into “professional” jealousy as he became better than her at training. This all leads to the first major turning point in their relationship, the flight.
During this scene (which is scored with what I consider the best love theme ever), we see Astrid’s perceptions, about Dragons and Hiccup, change. She becomes more comfortable around them (after Toothless stops messing about), and by the end of the flight, she has her arms around Hiccup. When they land, she kisses him on the cheek. For the rest of the movie, she gets closer to him, giving him advice in a critical moment and even kissing him, on the lips, at the end.
Now, two kisses and a less-than traditional route doesn’t really support my claim in the title. What does, is the eight seasons of TV shows set in the five years between the first and second movies. These series, especially Dragons: Race To The Edge, really show the development and maturity that both characters go through. Both characters shine in their own right, and in doing so, their relationship also grows and develops. By the fifth season, when Hiccup gives Astrid a betrothal gift, we truly believe that they love each other and there’s nothing they wouldn’t do for each other, something that has been shown multiple times during the run of the show. Following the old writing proverb “Show, don’t tell”, we get to see these expressions of love in big things like risking life and limb for the other, or in little things like hand-holding, or little glances, or, Hiccup’s little hair braids, or just being close to each other and existing in their space. This continues into the next two movies as their relationship continues to grow.
There’s a concept from the sitcom Seinfeld about relationships that Costanza calls “hand”. The person with “hand” in the relationship is the person with more influence or “power”, if you will. The dominant party in the relationship. Why do I bring this up here? Because, in my opinion, Hiccstrid is perhaps the only relationship with an equal distribution of “hand”. No one is more dominant than the other, and the reason for this is simple. At no point is one of them subsumed into the other. They both exist as individuals and they bring their uniqueness to the relationship. Astrid as a strong, fierce, loyal warrior; and Hiccup with his quirkiness and general off-beat personality. At no point does it feel like one of them is just along for the ride. This gives their relationship a weight that most others don’t have.
There have been many versions of love, told through many mediums. From your “Romeo & Juliet”, to Aang and Katara and everything in-between. Maybe I’ve been watching How To Train Your Dragon too much, but I genuinely feel that no fictional relationship comes close to being as complete and “non-contrived” as that of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III and Astrid Hofferson.