Food and Friendship
By Sierra Smith
In the beginning of DreamWorks’ 2010 animated film How to Train Your Dragon, the dragons are first presented as a predatory species threatening the livelihood of the Vikings of Berk. Yet food plays an integral part in bonding together Viking outcast Hiccup and the injured dragon Toothless, creating a friendship that proves not all dragons are threats.
The film begins with Hiccup’s narration about the island of Berk, the home of his Viking clan. He says, “The only problems are the pests. You see, most people have mice or mosquitos. We have dragons” (2). This line is immediately followed by the image of a dragon seizing a sheep and flying away with it. The moment progresses into a series of shots of dragons terrorizing the town and stealing livestock, with the Vikings fighting back for the sake of survival. The conflict between the dragons and the Vikings is evident in these first few minutes of the film—the dragons steal the livestock (the food source), so they’re a threat to the townspeople. This fact is ingrained in the history and culture of the Vikings of Berk—their duty is to kill dragons, and everything they do is centered around that goal.
Hiccup is the outlier in his clan of dragon-slayers. Because of his lack of physical strength, he has been subjected to metal work and is thus untrained in the art of fighting dragons when the film begins. Yet his desire to fit in and be approved leads him to set his own trap for a dragon, and he manages to wound a legendary Night Fury, a dragon no one in Berk has seen and lived to tell the tale. However, when Hiccup confronts the dragon in the woods where it landed, he is unable to kill it, and sets the dragon free into a glade instead. Seeing that the dragon is unable to fly from its injury and thus unable to hunt, Hiccup brings the dragon—whom he names Toothless—a fish as a peace offering.
The moment in which Hiccup offers the fish to Toothless is pivotal as it sets up a foundation of trust between them and begins their friendship. Weaponless, Hiccup holds out the fish for Toothless, who takes it from his hand rather than from the ground, indicating a vulnerability on Hiccup’s part to let the dragon so near to him to receive the food (28). Instead of eating the entire fish, however, Toothless spits up the bottom half of the fish into Hiccup’s lap, insinuating that he expects Hiccup to also eat not just the same meal, but of the same fish. Getting past his initial reaction of disgust and horror, Hiccup takes a bite of the raw fish and swallows it, appeasing Toothless. It’s only after this “breaking of the bread” that Toothless becomes comfortable around Hiccup, eventually allowing Hiccup to touch and ride him.
The sharing of the fish is important as the two characters are eating of the same meal. Social psychologist Ayelet Fishbach says, “Food is about bringing something into the body. And to eat the same food suggests that we are both willing to bring the same thing into our bodies. People just feel closer to people who are eating the same food as they do. And then trust, cooperation, these are just consequences of feeling close to someone” (NPR). By eating two halves of the same fish, Hiccup and Toothless are proving that they are both willing to bring into their bodies the same food, demonstrating that they trust the food and each other. This trust becomes the base of their friendship—Toothless trusts that Hiccup won’t take advantage of him or kill him as other Vikings would have done, and Hiccup trusts that Toothless won’t harm him as he was raised to believe all dragons would by instinct. The bond that Hiccup and Toothless created by eating the same fish, and the intimacy it granted them, allowed them to disprove the Vikings’ theories about the innate viciousness of dragons, ultimately demonstrating to the people of Berk that dragons can be friends rather than foes when approached with trust and understanding.
How to Train Your Dragon. Directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, DreamWorks Animation, 2010.
Shankar Vedantam. “Why Eating The Same Food Increases People’s Trust and Cooperation.” NPR, By David Greene, 2 Feb. 2017.