Book Review: The Virginian by Owen Wister

Image result for the virginian by owen wister

Most followers of Thoughts on the Edge of Forever probably know by now that I enjoy Westerns. A lot. Films, books, TV shows – whatever the medium, I will happily devour tales set in the Old West.

In many ways, the men in the Old West were the American equivalent of Old World knights. They were our gallant heroes on horseback who defeated the villains, saved the fair damsel, and destroyed evil so good people might thrive on the unimaginable wealth of the American West. Have Gun, Will Travel even references this perception of the Western man in the theme song about its hero, Paladin: “A knight without armor in a savage land.”

I have reviewed some books about the Old West by one of my favorite authors, Louis L’Amour, here on this blog several times. But a little while back, I got to read a classic western that was, in many ways, the progenitor of the archetypes we recognize in the genre today. This was none other than Owen Wister’s The Virginian.

Image result for the virginian with James Drury and Doug McClure

This book has been made into a film several times. It also gave us the television series led by James Drury and Doug McClure. I began watching reruns of the show ages ago, so I knew something of the book’s characters and plot from research I did on the series.

But I have to say, studying the details really does not do the novel justice. It is something of a slow read, in the beginning. This book was written at the turn of the twentieth century, after all, when there was a certain form expected of a novel. The author used these forms liberally.

Of special interest to me is the fact that Wister dedicated his book to Theodore Roosevelt, even changing one page in the story because the President implied it was not well done or accurate. If that is not a stamp of approval, then I do not know what is!

The Virginian is told largely from the point of view of an unnamed Narrator. Due to poor health, our Narrator is invited west to get better by a friend named Judge Henry. The Judge sends his most “trustworthy man” to collect the Narrator at the train station. In case you have not guessed who this is yet, we know him throughout the story as the Virginian.

If you thought you knew the Virginian in James Drury’s portrayal of the character, readers, you have not seen anything yet! From start to finish he pulls surprise after surprise on you. Whether he is playing a devilishly brilliant prank on someone; dealing with his archenemy, Trampas, or expounding upon the equality of men, the Virginian is never still or dull.

Over time, the Narrator becomes a lovable character, too. Honorable mention goes to his and the Virginian’s mutual friend, Scipio le Moyne, who is absolutely wonderful. The Judge is an amicable character, and when you run into the preacher, Dr. MacBride – Holy cow! Do not read that section in the library. You will be laughing or choking so loud, people will have to shush you right out of the building!

There is only one thing about The Virginian which bothers me, and that is the damsel our lead falls in love with. Having been fed off of Louis L’Amour’s rich stories for so long, I expected Miss Molly Wood to have the same qualities as L’Amour’s women.

No such luck. Molly Wood is an absolute twit. More than once, I wanted to smack her upside the head and tell her how many buns make a dozen. I have never – not once – felt that way toward any of the women in L’Amour’s novels and stories, readers. It was a new and rather aggravating experience, which made reading this wonderful book a little trying at times.

Lest you think this was misogyny or sexism on Wister’s part, I will tell you that he characterizes two other women in the novel quite nicely. Mrs. Taylor and Mrs. Henry are fine, smart Western women. They know their men and understand the Virginian better than Molly Wood does. Mrs. Taylor even goes so far as to say that if she could, she would marry him herself, and that she does not think Molly Wood is good enough for him. (I agree with her wholeheartedly on that.) I do not doubt that both these women also know how to handle guns, just like L’Amour’s women.

Another magnificently characterized woman in the story is Molly Wood’s great aunt. She is wise and capable, not to mention a deep thinker who knows her grandniece’s heart better than the girl’s mother, who is twice as irritating as Molly. So Wister did not think all women were airheads, readers. He respected women in general and treated three of them well in the book.

But this makes his decision to have Molly Wood be such a dense cluck more puzzling than before. I cannot help but wonder why he wrote her the way he did. Maybe she was based off of a real woman he knew; maybe she just walked into his head and he could not expel her. I do not know.

What I do know is that she drove me crazy enough to wish the Virginian had not selected her as his bride. To pair someone that amazing, that wonderful, off with a woman so stubbornly stupid seems pretty unfair to him and to readers like me.

Other than this quibble, I enjoyed reading The Virginian. I hope that you will, too, readers, in spite of all my griping. It really is a wonderful story that should be read more often than it is.

‘Til next time!

Image result for the virginian by owen wister

Advertisements

Quivira by Arthur Guiterman

Image result for Quivira by Arthur Guiterman poem images

Quivira

by Arthur Guiterman

FRANCISCO CORONADO rode forth with all his train,
Eight hundred savage bowmen, three hundred spears of Spain,
To seek the rumored glory that pathless deserts hold —
The city of Quivira whose walls are rich with gold.

Oh, gay they rode with plume on crest and gilded spur at heel,
With gonfalon of Aragon and banner of Castile!
While High Emprise and Joyous Youth, twin marshals of the throng,
Awoke Sonora’s mountain peaks with trumpet-note and song.

Beside that brilliant army, beloved of serf and lord,
There walked as brave a soldier as ever smote with sword,
Though nought of knightly harness his russet gown revealed —
The cross he bore as weapon, the missal was his shield.

But rugged oaths were changed to prayers, and angry hearts grew tame,
And fainting spirits waxed in faith where Fray Padilla came;
And brawny spearmen bowed their heads to kiss the helpful hand
Of him who spake the simple truth that brave men understand.

What pen may paint their daring — those doughty cavaliers!
The cities of the Zuni were humbled by their spears.
Wild Arizona’s barrens grew pallid in the glow
Of blades that won Granada and conquered Mexico.

They fared by lofty Acoma; their rally-call was blown
Where Colorado rushes down through God-hewn walls of stone;
Still, North and East, where deserts spread, and treeless
prairies rolled,
A Fairy City lured them on with pinnacles of gold.

Through all their weary marches toward that flitting goal
They turned to Fray Padilla for aid of heart and soul.
He bound the wounds that lance-thrust and flinty arrow made;
He cheered the sick and failing; above the dead he prayed.

Two thousand miles of war and woe behind their banners lay:
And sadly fever, drought and toil had lessened their array,
When came a message fraught with hope to all the steadfast band:
“Good tidings from the northward, friends! Quivira lies at hand!”

How joyously they spurred them! How sadly drew the rein!
There shone no golden palace, there blazed no jewelled fane.
Rude tents of hide of bison, dog-guarded, met their view —
A squalid Indian village; the lodges of the Sioux!

Then Coronado bowed his head. He spake unto his men:
“Our quest is vain, true hearts of Spain! Now ride we home again.
And would to God that I might give that phantom city’s pride
In ransom for the gallant souls that here have sunk and died!”

Back, back to Compostela the wayworn handful bore;
But sturdy Fray Padilla took up the quest once more.
His soul still longed for conquest, though not by lance and sword;
He burned to show the Heathen the pathway to the Lord.

Again he trudged the flinty hills and dazzling desert sands,
And few were they that walked with him, and weaponless their hands —
But and the trusty man-at-arms, Docampo, rode him near
Like Great Heart, guarding Christian’s way through wastes
of Doubt and Fear.

Where still in silken harvests the prairie-lilies toss,
Among the dark Quiviras Padilla reared his cross.
Within its sacred shadow the warriors of the Kaw
In wonder heard the Gospel of Love and Peace and Law.

They gloried in their Brown-robed Priest; and oft in twilight’s gold
The warriors grouped, a silent ring, to hear the tale he told,
While round the gentle man-at-arms their lithe-limbed children played
And shot their arrows at his shield and rode his guarded blade.

When thrice the silver crescent had filled its curving shell,
The Friar rose at dawning and spake his flock farewell:
“– And if your Brothers northward be cruel, as ye say,
My Master bids me seek them — and dare I answer ‘Nay’?”

Again he strode the path of thorns; but ere the evening star
A savage cohort swept the plain in paint and plumes of war.
Then Fray Padilla spake to them whose hearts were most his own:
“My children, bear the tidings home — let me die here alone.”

He knelt upon the prairie, begirt by yelling Sioux. —
“Forgive them, oh, my Father! they know not what they do!”
The twanging bow-strings answered. Before his eyes, unrolled
The City of Quivira whose streets are paved with gold.

Tribute to the Jedi – All the Lightsaber Duels in Star Wars Rebels’ History

Well, the ninth episode of Star Wars Rebels’ fourth season is out now, which means we will be waiting until 2018 to know how the series will finally end. I’m crossing my fingers real hard for Kanan, my favorite character in the series, to last through the final episode. Whatever happens in related media, if he survives the show, I will be a happy Ewok camper. 😉

It is funny. When I first heard about Rebels, I thought I would not like it. The Star Wars prequel films are among my least favorite films, and so I avoided the animated Clone Wars series. Part of me believed Rebels would follow in that vein, but another part – the part which has always wanted more stories about Jedi who survived the Purge and/or the Jedi that emerged during the Rebellion – had some faint hope that Rebels would be worthwhile.

Turns out, the hopeful side of me was more right than I guessed. I fell in love with Rebels and wanted to see it fill in the gaps between the original trilogy films, bringing in “Legacy” characters whom Disney/Lucasfilm decided weren’t worth keeping. The announcement that season four would be the series’ last knocked that hope off the table, though, and I am going to miss this series a lot.

As a way of honoring the series and the writers/producers who gave it to us, I thought I would post video of all the lightsaber battles seen in the series. You can watch them below:

First Lightsaber Duel

More Lightsaber Battles

(I couldn’t get some of the battles in Rebels without this video, so…)

Star Wars The Clone Wars + Rebels All Lightsaber duels

Visions and Voices

Training with the Darksaber

Sabine Wren vs. Gar Saxon

If I have managed to miss any of Rebels‘ duels, please don’t give me too much flak for it. I know I’ve missed at least ONE battle in here somewhere…

So far, my favorite lightsaber duels are: 1) Kanan vs. The Grand Inquisitor aboard Tarkin’s Star Destroyer; (2) Ahsoka defeating Fifth Brother and Seventh Sister on Garel, and (3) Kanan beating Maul after he’s been blinded by the former Sith Lord.

Which lightsaber duel from the series is your favorite? Feel free to let me know in the comments, and may the Force be with you!

Spotlight: The Lion Guard – Kion

Image result for kion

Yes, I watch Disney’s The Lion Guard. So what? I am not as big a fan of it as some are, but with my other choices being The Walking Dead or Beavis and Butthead, I have made do with what I have. (For those of you wondering how I can skip out on such a compelling show as The Walking Dead, please remember that I have stated that I do not like horror stories, the genre which includes zombies.) I will take talking lions and cheetahs and baboons – oh, my! – over the undead and stupid caricatures at every opportunity.

The Lion Guard focuses on Simba’s heretofore unknown son, Kion. The second born cub of Simba and Nala, and Kiara’s younger brother, Kion is given the responsibility of protecting the Pridelands and the “Circle of Life” by leading a team known as the Lion Guard. Their mission is to defend the Pridelands from invasion, as well as the imbalance due to the greed of the creatures that live in and around the territory controlled by Simba and his pride.

Other than his royal heritage, what gives Kion this right and responsibility? He has inherited the power of the “Roar of the Elders.” When Kion roars, the great lions of the Pridelands’ past roar with him. This gives his own roar quite a big boost, allowing him to knock down and scatter the enemies that continue to trouble the Pridelands and threaten the Circle of Life. Turns out, Scar had this roar, too, when he was a cub. But he got to like wielding it too much and thought he could use it to get Mufasa out of the way and make himself king.

Well, when he asked or demanded that his Lion Guard – made up of lions from the pride – help him overthrow Mufasa, they refused. Enraged, Scar used the roar on his own Lion Guard. This presumably killed them, and the fact that Scar used the roar for evil cost him his ability to use it. It also made him the skinny, unhealthy looking lion we saw in the first Lion King film.

Image result for the lion guard

Now there has been a big to-do over Kion’s Lion Guard. This Guard is supposed to show “diversity” in that the only lion in the Guard is Kion. The rest of the animals in the Guard are Bunga, a honey badger; Ono, an egret; Beshte, a hippopotamous, and Fuli, a cheetah.

It is more than slightly laughable to think that this mixed bag of animals is a good representation of “diversity” for children. Eventually, the children will grow up to learn that animals in the wild do not mix like this. Egrets, honey badgers, and hippos all do their own things, while cheetahs will get up and leave a kill when a lion starts walking toward it and them. Because lions are bigger than cheetahs, the smaller cats have very, very little to do with them, mostly because they do not want to be the lion’s side dish at the dinner table.

You can see that I give the “diversity” aim of The Lion Guard the respect it deserves. Why, then, do I continue to watch the show – even to avoid a series like Beavis and Butthead? I watch the show because the lead character and his male friends are actually allowed to be smart, chivalrous boys.

Allow me to explain: if you watch Sofia the First or Elena of Avalor with your daughters/nieces/sisters/whichever, you have seen the girls lead the boys in everything. They are braver, smarter, more compassionate, and completely better in every way than the men in their lives. Although the main male characters in these shows might not be bumbling, fumbling fools ninety percent of the time, the side male characters often are.

Now, admittedly, The Lion Guard has a character that falls into this category ninety percent of the time. This would be the honey badger, Bunga, Kion’s best friend and the adopted nephew of Timon and Pumba. Bunga’s position in the Guard is the bravest – he is so brave he “[borders] on stupid,” to quote Kiara. Most fans find him annoying and want him dead.

Image result for the lion guard

I think that last part is a little harsh. I agree that Bunga is irritating, but this is a children’s show, people. And Bunga’s voice actor should get a chance to pay for his college education, too, so I do not want his character dead. If he could be a little less stupid and a little more observant, I would not say no to that; dead, I will not accept.

Bunga is the only member of the team to act in a consistently dense manner. The other two male members of the Guard – Beshte and Ono – are far from unintelligent. Beshte is the hippo and the strongest in the Pridelands. He is therefore the quintessential gentle giant, and there is nothing wrong with that. Andre the Giant was a gentle giant; gentle giants are good characters. And Beshte also has a temper that will flare up occasionally, so he has a little spice mixed in with the sweetness.

Ono leans toward the studious know-it-all trope. The keenest of sight in the Pridelands, Ono acts as the Guard’s eyes, looking for trouble and yelling it out to the Guard. While Ono has many of the nose-in-a-book stereotypical trappings, the difference is that he will fight without too much hesitation. He has mixed it up with vultures, hawks, and land animals, no mean feat for a bird that is not a raptor. It usually makes up for his skittish or know-it-all failings.

Kion is, by far, the one who breaks the mold of the modern formulaic boy. He is polite, friendly, calm, fierce, and quick-thinking. Even Avengers Assemble struggled with portraying the male heroes in this fashion, as you will find if you read the posts about the series here on my blog. The male Avengers – especially Hawkeye – were portrayed as fools in most of the episodes at the series’ start. This is due to the fact that the writers began telling the story of Assemble through a liberal-ified lens in the first season and kept it going through the second (and they seem to be reverting to that form with a vengeance for season four).

Image result for sofia the first

If you drop by the Disney channels, even for the advertisements alone, you will find them to be mostly girl-centered. This is not just with shows like Sofia the First, Doc McStuffins, and Elena of Avalor. Disney has a whole series of ads called “Dream Big, Princess” to inspire girls to be anything they want to be. They also have advertisements for Lab Rats, Descendants, and other shows which make boys look like brainless idiots and girls look like uber women in training.

This is not only unrealistic and disheartening, it is dangerous. What is your son/nephew/brother or the boy next door supposed to achieve with these caricatures as his models? Disney has no “Dream Big, Prince” television ads encouraging boys to be great men like Prince Phillip, Prince Eric, or even Kristoff in their last big film, Frozen. Instead they push the popular narrative that boys are mini-barbarians or mini-buffoons in training who will someday grow up to be Big Barbarians or Big Buffoons.

If I had to bet, this is one of the reasons why The Lion Guard has taken off. Throughout the series so far, Kion has rarely failed to be a good little boy. In the first episode of the series, Kion ends up in the Outlands after chasing some marauding hyenas out of the Pridelands. While on the other side of the border, he bumps into a female hyena named Jasiri.

Image result for the lion guard jasiri

At first, Kion is suspicious of Jasiri, referring to her as “hyena” and being snappish when he speaks to her. But when Jasiri proves to be totally unlike the other hyenas, Kion starts treating her better. He proves that his earlier conduct toward her was a lapse in judgement and a jump to a conclusion when he comes back to defend Jasiri from the same marauding hyenas at the end of the episode. Though Jasiri proves to be a capable fighter, there is never a hint that Kion should apologize for coming to help her or defer to her as some fighting goddess he should worship.

In fact, at one point during the battle, he thrusts Jasiri to the ground in order to headbutt a hyena she has not seen coming. Not only does the move show fast thinking, it proves that Kion’s earlier behavior was a mistake he has since recognized and corrected.

And so far in the series, when fighting alongside a girl, Kion does not leave his manly concern for her at the edge of the battlefield but keeps it with him at all times. Jasiri even thanks Kion for his help in this show, a rare thing in modern media. (Just look up Avengers Assemble’s “Captain Marvel” episode from season three to see why I say this.)

This is not the last time that Kion behaves in a chivalrous manner toward a girl, either. Although they have the regular spats any pair of siblings would, Kion treats Kiara with a respect that is the exact opposite of simpering worship. It also has overtones of a greater reverence than most boys in modern media show their sisters. It is an esteem which comes from a healthy dose of – *gasp* – chivalry!

Yes, I just said that the lead character in The Lion Guard possesses chivalry. Kiara is still a poor fighter in the series; this is to presrve the timeline for the story. We saw Kovu point out twice in The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride that Kiara’s fighting tactics were less than stellar, and the television show did not change this fact. In The Lion Guard, Kion had to come to his sister’s direct defense in “Can’t Wait to Be Queen.” He also showed a fair bit of attachment to, and concern for, her in “The Rise of Scar.” Kion also demonstrates a chivalrous deference and love for his mother, Nala, in the episode “Never Roar Again.”

But the best episode to show Kion’s sense of chivalry so far was “The Search for Utamu” because it was his most obvious display of the virtue. It also added a healthy dose of chilvalry to the other Guard members’ characters as well.

Image result for the lion guard fuli

In this episode the lone female member of the Guard, Fuli the cheetah, overexerts herself while she is supposed to be resting. Cheetahs can only keep their amazing speed going for a few minutes. After that, it can take them up to half an hour to get their breath back. Once a cheetah makes a kill, it has to sit beside the animal for at least that long to get its breath and then it can eat.

This is why it will get up and walk away when it sees a lion coming to check out the kill. Not only is the cheetah smaller and weaker than the lion but, when out of breath, it cannot outpace the lion.

Fuli is still a cub, and as of this episode she did not believe that she had any limits. Her inevitable exhaustion after her lone escapade leaves Fuli vulnerable to an attack from a group of vultures. When the male Guard members learn about her danger, they all rush to their female friend’s defense. Kion especially shows anger at the vultures when he blasts them into the distance with the Roar of the Elders (which is probably why we did not see them for some time after this episode).

So while Fuli and Jasiri are both female characters who can manage their own affairs – and who often say they can look after themselves without interference from “foolish males” – they have both landed in situations where they needed Kion and the other boys’ aid. And while Kion respects the abilities and competence of his two female friends, he also treats them with the special regard that they deserve as girls.

This does not diminish the girls’ fighting and survival abilities and, amazingly, it does not make the boys’ desire to protect them when they cannot defend themselves appear silly. This showing of chivalry is a great thing, as it spotlights a virtue which male characters have been denied in similar series – created by Disney and other companies – for far too long.

Image result for the lion guard tiifu and zuri

Another way our male lead demonstrates his chivalry is by his dealings with Kiara’s airheaded “friends,” the lioness cubs Tiifu and Zuri. While the Guard has Bunga, the typical “boys drool” character, Kiara is saddled with two lioness cubs who are more concerned with their looks and social status than with anything even vaguely important.

Kion treats both these fluff-brained characters in general with a respect they have never earned, only rolling his eyes once when talking to them in “The Rise of Scar” and telling them off, rightly, when they allowed Kiara to go to a meeting with a known enemy on her own in “Can’t Wait to Be Queen.” The only explanation for his willingness to consider these two girls as anything remotely resembling “family” is the fact that they are girls – and oh, yeah, they happen to hang out with his sister.

As I have already mentioned, Kion continually shows quick-thinking during the series. Unlike Star Trek: The Next Generation’s unending roundtable discussions in the midst of calm and battle, most of the Guard’s tactics and strategies are actually made by Kion, either on the spur of the moment or through hours of training between patrols. The other members of the Guard follow his orders and decisions, though not always without question or input. In comparison to other male leads (in the modern Disney brand and other franchises), Kion is far more intelligent than the talking heads would have children believe boys can be.

It is also refreshing to see that, even when Kion must trust his friends to come up with a plan, he does not effusively kowtow to them after this. He accepts their advice and praises his friends’ plans without being a sycophant, congratulating them on their quick-thinking before turning back to the task at hand. Or paw, in his case.

Related image

Something else to note about The Lion Guard is Kion’s fighting prowess. The four leading male characters in the show are good fighters, but Kion is the best of the bunch. Where the girl often comes to the boy’s rescue in current children’s television shows, Kion is rarely in need of such a save. And when he does need the help of a female character, such as in “Never Judge a Hyena by Its’ Spots,” Kion shows by his dialogue that he thinks just as deeply and quickly in such situations as those where he is supposedly “in control” of the circumstances.

Thus far, The Lion Guard has proven to be a better series than I had anticipated. It is a show with a male protagonist who is chivalrous, competent, and smart. Though I take issue with some of the show’s themes, one thing which I really appreciate and cheer on is Kion’s quiet, unabashed, and completely proper masculinity.

Hopefully, this is the beginning of a trend. Shows which focus on female leads are wonderful inspirations for girls, certainly. But boys need television shows with male characters who are not only unafraid to be boys, but who have a sense of chivalry, along with smarts and fighting ability. They have been denied this for a long time, readers, and The Lion Guard is a more than welcome anticipation of a change in the fads. From what I have seen so far, we need more shows like this one. So, ‘til the Pridelands end –

Lion Guard defend!

The Wild Ride by Louise Imogen Guiney

Image result for the wild ride by louise imogen guiney

The Wild Ride

by Louise Imogen Guiney

I hear in my heart, I hear in its ominous pulses,
All day, on the road, the hoofs of invisible horses,
All night, from their stalls, the importunate pawing and neighing.

Let cowards and laggards fall back! But alert to the saddle
Weatherworn and abreast, go men of our galloping legion,
With a stirrup-cup each to the lily of women that loves him.

The trail is through dolor and dread, over crags and morasses;
There are shapes by the way, there are things that appal or entice us:
What odds? We are Knights of the Grail, we are vowed to the riding.

Thought’s self is a vanishing wing, and joy is a cobweb,
And friendship a flower in the dust, and glory a sunbeam:
Not here is our prize, nor, alas! after these our pursuing.

A dipping of plumes, a tear, a shake of the bridle,
A passing salute to this world and her pitiful beauty;
We hurry with never a word in the track of our fathers.

I hear in my heart, I hear in its ominous pulses,
All day, on the road, the hoofs of invisible horses,
All night, from their stalls, the importunate pawing and neighing.

We spur to a land of no name, outracing the storm-wind;
We leap to the infinite dark like sparks from the anvil.
Thou leadest, O God! All’s well with Thy troopers that follow.

Strong Men, Strong Women – A Retroactive Review of How to Train Your Dragon

Image result for how to train your dragon

Yes, readers, I am coming back to the subject of strong women. One cannot fail to notice how modern movies show us women who out-men the men these days. They practically hit viewers in the face with this bull-headed idea, and it has to stop.

Related image

At first glance, Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon appears to fit this mold of “women are better than men.” Astrid, the heroine of the film and its sequel, begins the movie as the ultimate example of a girl who out-boy’s the boys. She is strong, fast, smart, and the top of her class, which is mostly made up of boys.

Now her competition is hardly the greatest; it is, in fact, a perfect example of the way Femi-Nazis want men to be perceived, by themselves and by women. Of the four boys in her class, Astrid is physically as strong as the boys. Fishlegs is a large boy and therefore relatively strong, but he is also fearful. This makes him absolutely no competition for Astrid in the arena, as he spends most of his time there running away from the dragon of the day.

Snotlout is strong, but he is so self-centered it is amazing he can even walk in a straight line. Tuffnut not only has less muscle tone than these two characters, he has lost whatever brains he had by constantly fighting with his twin sister, Ruffnut. In one of the films intriguing reversals, however, she is also no real opposition for Astrid. Ruffnut is almost as moronic as her twin brother – and in How to Train You Dragon 2, he actually shows more intelligence than she does on a couple of occasions.

As for the hero of the piece, Hiccup can barely lift an axe. He is scrawny, weak, and definitely no physical competition for Astrid, whom he adores from afar because she will not give him the time of day. So of all the young Viking warriors to whom the audience is introduced, Astrid is presented as the best, the brightest, and the strongest of the lot.Typical SFC, right?

Nope.

Things begin to change for Astrid when Hiccup secretly starts working with the Night Fury he shot down.In caring for Toothless, Hiccup learns about dragon habits, finding their weaknesses as he studies him. After a while, he outstrips Astrid in the training center by defeating the dragons sent against the trainees via his newfound knowledge. Everyone mistakes this for a sudden turn in Hicccup’s physical prowess rather than realizing he is winning these engagements through anatomical knowledge.

Related image

Only Astrid sees how he is actually beating the dragons – and thereby her – in the training center. And she does not like it. She finally follows and confronts Hiccup in the dell where he has kept Toothless hidden, demanding answers about his sudden rise to prominence over her. This leads to her discovery of Hiccup’s secret friendship with the Night Fury.

Furious at Hiccup, but happy to be back at the top of her class, Astrid races off to tell the villagers what he has done.

Hiccup manages to derail that attempt by chasing her down on Toothless and begging her to let him explain what he has learned. Reluctantly, Astrid agrees to at least let him get her out of the tree he and the dragon set her in.

But Toothless goes further than Hiccup wanted him to go by getting Astrid to apologize for abusing his rider. When she finally does this, the dragon relents and provides her with her first real ride through the sky.

Related image

This ride uses some of the best CGI in the film, and it is clear that Astrid is as enchanted with the beauty of the scene as the audience is. Hiccup and Toothless fly her through the clouds while the sun sets, then bring her up to see the Aurora Borealis bloom in the starry sky. Overwhelmed by the beauty, Astrid lets down the guard she has placed around her heart and wraps her arms around Hiccup’s waist – a gesture he is quick to note, though he says nothing about it.

When discussing the character, however, the critics – along with many fans and probably the actors themselves – focus not on Astrid’s reaction to this scene but on her physical skills, strength, and stamina. What most of the critics will never admit is that until Toothless gives her the first dragon ride of her life, Astrid has been living a false persona in order to get ahead.

Think about it, readers. Astrid is surrounded by fierce, resilient Vikings who have been waging a war with a local nest of dragons for three centuries. In order to fit into this world, Astrid suppresses her natural sweetness and love for beauty, focusing instead on becoming a strong, ferocious warrior in order to be the future dragon-slaying heroine of Berk.

Hiccup, who is the butt of the village jokes because he physically cannot handle a weapon, has no such recourse in his day-to-day life. He has to rely on his wits, on what he builds, to make any mark on the village – and most of those marks are more damaging than helpful. The village mantra is not eloquently spoken, but it essentially reads thus: to be accepted by the society of Berk, one has to toe the popular line. This means that the men and women of the island have to be fierce warriors with no time for, or inclination toward, study and learning.

Astrid follows this prescription from the start, more so than any of the other village children. She practices harder than they do to learn combat techniques and criticizes herself harshly when she makes the slightest mistake.

Image result for how to train your dragon hiccup

On the other hand, though he tries time and again to fit in with the stereotype perpetuated and expected by his elders – especially his father – Hiccup cannot suppress his natural curiosity and sense of wonder. His skinny frame, lack of muscle tone, and reliance on machines to do what the other Vikings can do by hand is not accepted by the adults. His curiosity, his willingness to study and learn so he can invent a gadget to help him better his life, also marks him as different – a difference the villagers of Berk cannot accept until the end of the film.

In this way the Island of Berk in the movie serves as a microcosm of modern society. Though it is oft proclaimed that children should “be themselves” and pursue what makes them happy, there are no end of adults in official positions who will cheerfully slap down any signs of individuality and personal gifts the children under their supposed care demonstrate. Whether they realize it or not, they do this in order to maintain an expected status quo and the mantra that “girls rule while boys drool.”

Boys are routinely told through modern media that they are stupid, boorish, and disgusting. And if they are smarter than average, they mask their intelligence to avoid persecution. In How to Train Your Dragon, Snotlout exemplifies disgusting and boorish behavior with his constant passes at Astrid (who duly ignores his attempts to snare her for a date).

Tuffnut practically embodies the modern idea of the stupidity of boys. He regularly boasts about his strength, courage, and intelligence, only to be proved lacking in all of the above before the final battle. He hates learning about anything that does not involve pranking or fighting, disdains reading and other academic pursuits the way germophobes fear bacteria.

Fishlegs, meanwhile, is the trite smart boy. Bursting with facts he has memorized from the Book of Dragons, he is painted as the stereotypical geek overflowing with knowledge but who is, at the same time, short on courage. With competition like this, Astrid has no problem being the most likely to succeed at the Dragon Slaying Academy of Berk.

Related image

Hiccup is the only boy to defy the Berkian – and therefore the modern – trope. By studying Toothless in order to help him fly again, Hiccup puts his knowledge to good use in the arena. He “defeats” dragon after dragon without killing them, and he does it so well that he unintentionally outshines all the other students for the first time in his life.

When Astrid discovers the source of his new skills and fame, Hiccup knows he has to convince her to change her mind, or Toothless will be killed. After their initial hard ride, Astrid admits Hiccup is correct about how amazing Toothless is. The three are then inadvertently drawn along with the swarm of dragons taking food to the Red Death, learning the secret of the dragon attacks as well as the location of the dragon’s nest. Upon their return, Hiccup is forced to stand up to Astrid when she asks if he is seriously prepared to forego ending the dragon war in order to protect Toothless.

In this moment, Astrid and Hiccup finally break down the barriers that Berkian society has forced on the two of them. Hiccup proves he is man enough to protect his friend at personal cost to himself. Meanwhile, Astrid takes on the proper role of the supportive friend who also happens to be developing romantic feelings for the boy she once scorned.

The scene shows the two discovering who they truly are, though perhaps only one recognizes the change in self-perception. Hiccup, distracted with his fear for Toothless’ safety and stopping a war which has lasted for three centuries, does not see in himself what Astrid now sees. Though he is skinny and not physically strong, Hiccup is strong in his will to protect his friend and to end the war. He does not know how he can do it, but he does intend to do it. While he knows it will cost him the acceptance he thought he longed for his whole life, his determination and courage do not waver in the face of that apparent loss.

Related image

Recognizing this about him, Astrid’s hardened heart at last thaws out. Presented with a young man who says what he means and has the strength of will to see it out, she realizes that she has no need to show the perfect warrior front to him. Hiccup is already a warrior, having broken custom to discover something wonderful in the dragons all the other Vikings fear as menaces. So Astrid stops behaving like a violent-tempered Viking shieldmaiden and acts like what she really is: a girl longing for a true friend who will accept her for herself, not for her skills or her looks.

Image result for how to train your dragon

This relationship between the two characters is expanded upon in the second film. In this story, it is Astrid who makes the mistake that leads to a deadly confrontation with the movie’s antagonist, Drago Bludvist. Her pride in Hiccup’s skills as a dragon master blinds her to the very real danger facing her and her friends. At the same time, Hiccup himself undergoes a metamorphosis as he learns that he cannot run from his responsibilities because, sooner or later, they will catch up with him and demand his attention. He becomes a “manly man” in How to Train Your Dragon 2, as Astrid embraces her femininity without losing her warrior skills.

The architects of modern society are trying desperately to prevent the children and youth of today from discovering this self-knowledge, readers. They are working hard to confuse them; they are telling boys that they must either act effeminately or behave like barbarians in order to be accepted by society. Girls are routinely told that they can do anything, that they are as good as the boys, even when it becomes manifestly obvious that they are not and cannot be a boy.

This is hurting today’s youth. The boys are growing up, avoiding college and prospective jobs and are avoiding fatherhood at an even more alarming rate. Meanwhile, the girls must juggle their natural instincts toward beauty, marriage, and motherhood with the idea that they must be something else. As a result, more young women are thrust into college, there to take courses of dubious merit, and then trying to enter a labor force with no room for expansion. At the same time more and more young men are retreating from that front because they are being precluded from doing so.

The modern world needs more Hiccups and Astrids, readers. It needs men and women who will challenge and destroy the sacred, golden cows of modern society. The world needs women who realize they will be happier when they embrace their womanhood; it needs men who will defy the stereotype that has been forced upon them. It needs men of courage, men of honor and dignity, men who recognize and love women for who they are, not for what they can or cannot do.

A woman loses nothing by being a mother, just as a man loses nothing by being a father. If anything, the roles grant them more power, prestige, and wonder than any other job in life….if only they are willing to see that truth.

Related image