There were dragons when I was a boy.

There were great, grim, sky dragons that nested on the cliff tops like gigantic scary birds. Little, brown, scuttly dragons that hunted down the mice and rats in well-organised packs. Preposterously huge Sea Dragons that were twenty times as big as the Big Blue Whale and who killed for the fun of it.

You will have to take my word for it, for the dragons are disappearing so fast they may soon become extinct.

Nobody knows what is happening. They are crawling back into the sea from whence they came, leaving not a bone, not a fang, in the earth for the men of the future to remember them by.

So, in order that these amazing creatures should not be forgotten, I will tell this true story from my childhood.

I was not the sort of boy who could train a dragon with the mere lifting of an eyebrow. I was not a natural at the Heroism business. I had to work at it. This is the story of becoming a Hero the Hard Way.


Long ago, on the wild and windy isle of Berk, a smallish Viking with a longish name stood up to his ankles in snow.

Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third, the Hope and Heir to the Tribe of the Hairy Hooligans, had been feeling slightly sick ever since he woke up that morning.

Ten boys, including Hiccup, were hoping to become full members of the Tribe by passing the Dragon Initiation Programme. They were standing on a bleak little beach at the bleakest spot on the whole bleak island. A heavy snow was falling.

'PAY ATTENTION!' screamed Gobber the Belch, the soldier in charge of teaching Initiation. 'This will be your first military operation, and Hiccup will be commanding the team.'

'Oh, not Hic-cup,' groaned Dogsbreath the Duhbrain and most of the other boys. 'You can't put Hiccup in charge, sir, he's USELESS."

Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third, the Hope and Heir to the Tribe of the Hairy Hooligans, wiped his nose miserably on his sleeve. He sank a little deeper into the snow.

'ANYBODY would be better than Hiccup,' sneered Snotface Snotlout. 'Even Fishlegs would be better than Hiccup.'

Fishlegs had a squint that made him as blind as a jellyfish, and an allergy to reptiles.

SILENCE!' roared Gobber the Belch. 'The next boy to speak has limpets for lunch for the next THREE WEEKS!'

There was absolute silence immediately. Limpets are a bit like worms and a bit like snot and a lot less tasty than either.

'Hiccup will be in charge and that is an order!' screamed Gobber, who didn't do noises quieter than screaming. He was a seven-foot giant with a mad glint in his one working eye and a beard like exploding fireworks. Despite the freezing cold he was wearing hairy shorts and a teeny weeny deerskin vest that showed off his lobster-red skin and bulging muscles.

He was holding a flaming torch in one gigantic fist.

'Hiccup will be leading you, although he is, admittedly, completely useless, because Hiccup is the son of the CHIEF, and that's the way things go with us Vikings. Where do you think you are, the REPUBLIC OF ROME? Anyway, that is the least of your problems today. You are here to prove yourself as a Viking Hero. And it is an ancient tradition of the Hooligan Tribe that you should' - Gobber paused dramatically - 'FIRST CATCH YOUR DRAGON!'

Ohhhhhh suffering scallops, thought Hiccup.

How to Train Your Dragon, Cressida Cowell