The recent release of the trailer for a highly anticipated animated sequel has me thinking about princesses. One in particular. This one:
Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, DreamWorks Animation’s best princess. I’m sorry Princess Fiona, but Hiccup takes this title handily. Alright, I can hear the argument already. He can’t be a princess because Berk is a chiefdom where the position isn’t strictly hereditary. Being the son of the chief doesn’t make him royalty.
He’s not a literal princess, no. But Hiccup does fall squarely into an archetype of the dutiful princess. His character arcs throughout the movies, shorts, television and streaming series takes him through almost every possible hardship a dutiful princess can go through.
The dutiful princess is a character trope we like to discuss on occasion here on the Fandomentals. A dutiful princess is someone who holds a position of power or at least holds a level agency that places them in a leadership akin role. Standard symptoms of the dutiful princess include, but are not limited to, the feeling of not living up to expectations, a complicated relationship to one’s greater role in society and the ever classic, family drama.
Not living up to expectation could be the defining statement of Hiccup’s character arc in both movies, but especially in the first one. Hiccup is introduced as the quirky outsider who’s not like everybody else. He’s small, thin and lanky, surrounded by the toned, full-figured, battle harden people of his tribe. Almost every adult dwarfs him, especially his father whose name, Stoick the Vast, is no irony.
Just being a Viking of Berk comes with the expectation one should be a natural dragon killer. But that’s only the beginning of the expectations placed on Hiccup. Not only is his father the paragon of what a Viking should be physically but Stoick is the chief of Berk. He fearlessly fights dragons barehanded and performs exuberant acts of strength like it’s a mild workout. Stoick’s strength inspires the people of Berk and, in turn, they trust his judgement enough to follow him into the heart of the dragons’ nest.
How to Train Your Dragon does two interesting things with Hiccup’s response to the expectations placed on him. Firstly, Hiccup’s initial efforts to close the gap between his current-self and his expected-self aren’t done through physical pursuits. Hiccup, all too aware of the physical differences between himself and the typical Viking takes another route that plays to his strengths. He uses his ingenuity and engineering skills to construct a device that will do the heavy lifting for him. It works too, even if no one is aware of it. Hiccup’s actions here are a realistic effort for him to achieve those expectations, even if he’s not perfectly embodying them. He tries to bridge their expectations on his terms, exactly what a dutiful princess would do.
The second-way Hiccup is forced to confront the expectations placed upon him happens after he’s begun to reach them. As Hiccup learns more about dragons through his interactions with Toothless, he becomes more proficient in dealing with dragons in the ring. When the others in Berk see this they react is a pleasant surprise yet an overall acceptance of his newfound dragon conquering abilities. He’s finally the star of the village and has his father’s acceptance and attention. But he’s gained all of this by befriending a dragon, the antithesis of being a Viking.
The climax of his character arc in How to Train Your Dragon comes to a head when he must choose between living up to expectations that have followed him his whole life and the newfound responsibility he feels for Toothless and all dragons. Ultimately he chooses against the expectations of being a dragon killer. It’s a decision that, when he makes it, he has no way knowing the personal cost. But, as any dutiful princess would, he makes the decision anyway, believing it to be the right one. In doing so he changes three hundred years of violence and ushers in a new chapter of life in Berk.
Turns out ending the conflict between humans and dragons earns one the favour of the whole village. In the five year gap between How to Train Your Dragon 1 and 2 Hiccup’s become the ‘pride of berk’. He’s also Stoick’s choice to succeed him as chief. Hiccup doesn’t believe he’s ready for the job. But it’s not because he thinks he’ll be a poor leader. In fact, he naturally assumes the role of leader when the dragon riders are formed. There are eight seasons worth of content (DreamWorks Dragons) where Hiccup proves his leadership abilities time and time again. His hesitation to become the chief stems from Hiccup not seeing himself being able to become as great as his father. Yet that hesitation doesn’t stop him from wanting to protect everyone.
When rumours of a dragon army being lead by the ruthless Drago Bludvist reach Berk, like a true dutiful princess, he tries to rushes off to keep the peace which naturally means he only incites conflict. His actions not only cause Drago to turn his full attention to attacking him but amongst the conflict, Stoick dies saving Hiccup.
Hiccup’s relationship to the chiefdom is tied intrinsically to his relationship with his family and his self-perception. He spends most of his life trying to live up to his father’s expectations. Then just when he gains Stoick’s respect he has to come to terms with becoming chief. Not to mention at roughly the same time he learns mother who he thought was dead is actually alive. She shares his natural affinity for dragons which is good. But she also chose to not return to Berk, which is… confusing. Then, just as his family is reunited, he loses his father when Stoick dies protecting Hiccup. That day gave Hiccup a lot to process.
Hiccup’s relationship with his parents also mirror the aspects within himself he feels at odds with. The Viking chief who needs to protect his people and the dragon rider who wants to protect the dragons. He isn’t just a dutiful princess to his people, he’s one to the dragons as well. Both Stoick and his mother, Valka, echo similar sentiments, ‘We protect our own’. Hiccup takes this one step further, ‘the Alpha protects them all’. With Toothless at his side, that’s exactly what he promises to do.
It’s not all tough decisions and parent drama in Hiccup’s life though. There is one area where Hiccup breaks the usual trials of the dutiful princess. In his love life. He manages, somehow, to maintain a healthy relationship that survives years and all the hardships he faces.
But the hardships aren’t over for our dutiful princess chief. The trailer for the third installment of the movies, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World show him still making the difficult choices to protect all of his tribe, Viking and dragon alike. With his sights set high to change the world, he doesn’t have an easy road ahead. But he isn’t alone. He stands with the support of his mother, Astrid, his friends and, of course, his dragon.