By Corey Patterson
The third and (most likely) final installment to the How to Train Your Dragon film franchise is another heartwarming addition to the series. The film highlights the dragon riders’ new calling as dragon liberators. Hiccup, Astrid, Toothless the Night Fury, and the rest of the crew travel from island to island in an ongoing fight against dragon persecution.
The film initially seems to follow the storytelling model of the previous two movies: find bad people and stop bad people. But an introduction to the hidden world of dragons shakes up this formula by highlighting the implications of our current relationship to nature.
The Hidden World
After rescuing a group a dragons, Hiccup and Astrid spot a Light Fury (the female version of a Night Fury). Toothless becomes smitten at the sight of a potential mate. And Hiccup believes the only way to make his best friend truly happy is to let him follow her into the wilderness. A few days pass with no sign of Toothless, and Hiccup begins to fear something happened to the dragons. So he and Astrid set out to find the wayward dragons using Astrid’s dragon Stormfly as a tracker.
During the heroes’ travels Hiccup recalls a legend his late father once told him as a boy: the legend of the hidden world of dragons. Tales said there was a secret location at the end of the world that housed the source of all dragons. And it is here where Hiccup and Astrid find Toothless and the Light Fury.
This hidden land of dragons reveals its stark difference from the outside world. The creatures live together in an mutually beneficial ecosystem. Each aspect of this locale is interconnected, functioning in perfect harmony. And most importantly, this world is safe from any humans who would exploit its resources.
As Hiccup and Astrid gaze upon this gorgeous land, they can’t help but feel a sense of awe. This revealed world is more beautiful than anything humanity has ever created. It’s creatures thrive not from extortion but through mutual enrichment.
The Good Creation
In many ways the hidden world is a representation of the inner goodness of our created world. In Christian theology, the doctrine of creation claims goodness is inherent in the world because it is created and sustained by God. This ontological status holds in spite of the marring of sin and evil.
Theologian Daniel L. Migliore, the Professor Emeritus of Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, beautifully unpacks the doctrine of creation in his widely acclaimed work Faith Seeking Understanding. His chapter “The Good Creation” focuses largely on the charge of anthropocentrism from critics. He claims, “Many standard discussions of the doctrine of creation gave primary, if not exclusive, attention to the creation of human beings. That there were other beings created by God was certainly acknowledged, but they were more often treated more like stage props than like important participants in the drama of creation and salvation . . . Thomas Aquinas — a theologian second to none in affirming that the goodness of God is displayed in the diversity of creatures — nevertheless declared that ‘the life of animals and plants is preserved not for themselves but for man .’ ” (Migliore, p. 98)
According to Migliore, theology through the ages claimed creatures in our created world were useful only insofar as they benefited humanity. And it seems this toxic thinking infiltrated the world of Hiccup as well.
In the film, Hiccup’s primary passion is to free dragons from villains who would ultimately use the creatures for nefarious purposes. This villain, much like humanity, cannot see the creatures as good in themselves and only values what they can be used for.
A Rethinking of Creation
So, how are we to realign our expectations and relationships with the natural world? How can we see creatures as God sees them, as a good in and of themselves?
To these questions Migliore calls us to embody the affirmation that creation is good while acknowledging the propensity for evil to harm it. He says, “To say that creation is good is not to deny that the world, as we know it and experience it, is “fallen” and in need of redemption. There is much in the world that should not be. The value of the life of creatures is determined not simply by the dignity the creator originally gave them but also by what divine love can do with them and intends for them.” (Migliore, p. 107–108)
We are called to express this divine love embodied within us and the rest of creation. Instead of using creatures and the environment for our own purposes, we must recognize their value and status as beloved creations of God. And like Hiccup and Toothless, we can grow in our relationship with creation and combat forces seeking its destruction.
Corey Patterson is a writer and webmaster. He is passionate about the synthesis of theology and geek/pop culture stories. His interests lie primarily in superhero and fantasy genres. Check out his blog here and some of his reviews on Monkeys Fighting Robots.
Migliore, Daniel L. Faith Seeking Understanding. Eerdmans. 1991.