heather report part II

Support through Understanding: One Reason to Love the Relationship between Hiccup and Astrid

Back in 2010 when I first encountered the world of “How to Train Your Dragon,” I honestly cared very little for the relationship between Hiccup and Astrid.  I felt it was little more than a mutual childhood crush that lacked substance since the two of them shared little common ground.  What did a high-achieving, ever-determined belligerent warrior have to do with an insecure, societally-scorned, artistic blacksmith?  By HTTYD 2, however, watching the clips of the two of them interact on the cliff side, my opinion of them had grudgingly, drastically changed – they are absolutely adorable together!  The reason Hiccstrid is NOTP no more for me is because I mis-assessed the start and common grounds of their relationship.

I am going to be talking about “relationship” in a broad sense – it does not matter if we call it platonic or romantic, and frankly, for the first few years Hiccup and Astrid were on good terms with one another, I feel it was largely platonic.  But no mind how you yourselves consider it, the relationship between Hiccup and Astrid is something to be loved.  One of those reasons I particularly love it is because, yes, under the surface, they do have quite a bit in common, and that affects their interactions with one another into a meaningful, supportive, mutually understanding partnership.

The Need for Validation

There is no question teenaged Hiccup needed validation.  He charged off to fight dragons because he desperately wanted to fit in with the other Hooligans as a dragon-killing Viking.  In fact, one line suggests Hiccup even stooped so far as to become a Boy Who Cried Wolf Dragon, making up stories of him encountering dragons to try to validate his role in Berk society and especially impress his father.  “It’s not like the last few times, Dad,” Hiccup protested as Stoick pulled him away from his latest mess, “I mean I really, actually hit it!”  How many times did he claim to hit something when that never happened?  How many times did Hiccup run off royally screwing up situations by charging into battle against his father’s orders?  How many times did Stoick have to save his son because something went wrong?  We do not know for sure, but it is quite apparent it was a painful trend for Hiccup to pull these ridiculous and ever-unsuccessful stunts.

Astrid seemed to be his opposite.  Self-confident.  Physically fit.  Brave.  Successful.  Attractive.  Surrounded by the other Viking teens.  She was everything Hiccup was not.  Astrid in part probably appeared attractive to Hiccup because she seemed to be exactly the type of Viking Hiccup hoped to be.  She was the exact model of an ideal Viking to Hiccup – strong, bold, fierce, athletic, and capable even at her young age of confronting and killing dragons.

But I didn’t feel like that could make a strong bond between the two of them.  If anything, that made them more mismatched.

What I was missing was Astrid’s backstory, which we finally learn in Defenders of Berk.  The writers always planned a backstory for Astrid which explained her extreme competitiveness and desire to best everyone else in Dragon Training.  It turns out that her backstory sheds a whole lot of light into her relationship with Hiccup.

For she needed validation, too.

Different Approaches to the Same Insecurity

There are many reasons why Hiccup and Astrid bonded together, and Astrid’s changing views of Hiccup can be explained simply by watching HTTYD without any other information, but what made me finally hop on board with Hiccstrid was learning about their common emotional ground.  Hiccup and Astrid both felt the need to validate themselves.  Their differences were not so much in how they felt, but in how they approached their insecurities differently.

Hiccup cumbersomely blundered through mistake after mistake, becoming an outcast of Berk society.  Astrid never appeared to be an outcast – on the contrary, “popular” peers like Snotlout made sure to hit on her – but that does not mean Astrid felt fully comfortable with her role on Berk.  In “Fright of Passage,” we learn Astrid’s uncle Fearless Finn Hofferson froze up when confronting the Flightmare, making him and his clan the laughingstock of Berk for a long time.  She even went so far as to shout “my family name was ruined by that dragon!”  Astrid wanted to be the best at killing dragons because of that family embarrassment.  She needed to prove that this young Hofferson girl truly was a fierce warrior, someone who would never freeze up at a sign of danger.  We see no greater proof of her insecurities than when she announced to Hiccup, “I’ve waited my entire life to clear my family’s name, and nothing is going to stop me.”

Thus, Astrid and Hiccup are a lot more alike than they might first seem.  Whereas Hiccup became a “loser” in his peer group and (initially) Dragon Training class, Astrid might have been considered a success story – but her drive to success was based on a similar feeling of insecurity. 

They actually always had a lot in common.

Support through the Struggles

Astrid’s ability to support Hiccup through the difficult parts of his life suddenly makes a lot more sense.  After her first flight on Toothless, Astrid questioned Hiccup’s decision to keep the location of the Red Death’s nest a secret simply because he wanted to keep his “pet dragon.”  But when Hiccup determinedly answered, “Yes,” Astrid respected his resolve and stepped on board with him.  She could actually empathize with him at this point – she saw some area in which Hiccup was finally confident in himself, and being as she underwent some of the same struggles herself, was going to support that resolve rather than continue questioning Hiccup about it.

Similarly, when Hiccup watched the Viking warriors sail away to fight the Red Death, taking Toothless away from him on a ship, Astrid was all about supporting Hiccup.  And for all she was a fierce warrior and you would not expect her to know the right thing to say, Astrid spoke the exact words Hiccup needed to hear to get him on his feet again.  And because she was all about self-empowerment and giving herself the toolset to overcome her insecurities, she did not “give” Hiccup the answer to go after Toothless, either.  She encouraged Hiccup.  Made him see his “failure” for not killing Toothless as a strength.  She asked him questions about what he was going to do, allowing him to jump to his own decision to “do something crazy.”  It gave Hiccup a boost in self-confidence and a greater sense of conviction.  She knew he needed that.  It was how she had been trying to bolster herself, and it was what she would probably want someone to do to her in turn during her darker moments.

The trend to support Hiccup continues through the television series.  I could go through so many episodes, but I will mention just one.  “Portrait of Hiccup as a Young Buff Man.”  You can tell Astrid believed the treasure hunt was absolutely stupid.  She even celebrated when Hiccup took the map from Fishlegs, Snotlout, and the twins because she though he was going to talk them out of finding the treasure.  However, as soon as Hiccup started pouring over the riddles and joined the quest, too, Astrid got on board.  Why?  Because Hiccup had just complained to her about how his father didn’t fully accept him, and he said that finding a treasure even Stoick the Vast couldn’t would be one way to prove himself.  She said she would still give Hiccup trouble about his decision “every step of the way”, but yet again, she understood his need to be validated, and thus hopped on board for the treasure hunt.

We even see patterns with Astrid’s early kisses.  Most of the times Astrid kissed Hiccup are after Hiccup accomplished something she considered commendable.  She loves and supports him for his successes.

By the time of HTTYD 2, then, it is no wonder Hiccup outright confides in Astrid about his reluctance to chief.  She has already been a huge support for Hiccup for five whole years.  When Hiccup tells Eret he can convince him to appreciate dragons, Astrid vouches for Hiccup and calls him “very persuasive.”  And in the other instance Hiccup really needs comfort? (euphemism)  She’s right there on his shoulder the entire time.

Reciprocation

I cannot think of near as many examples of Hiccup supporting Astrid in turn, possibly because Astrid is much less outwardly vulnerable and possibly less willing to talk about her insecurities.  However, we can still see some evidence of Hiccup reciprocating support.  In “Heather Report Part II” when Astrid, disguised as Heather, left for Outcast Island, Hiccup expressed clear concern for her safety.  He showed he was confident in her ability to complete the dangerous mission, that he believed her to be the strong woman and warrior she had always sought to be.

“Fright of Passage” was the most obvious instance in which Astrid’s insecurities took the forefront, and I wish I could write much more about it. Alas, space is brief, and I’ll only briefly comment on it for now (and it’ll be a bit of a ramble - sorry).  Hiccup was quite sensitive to Astrid’s feelings and tried to quiet Snotlout, the twins, and Fishlegs from bringing up a touchy subject that could hurt her.  He didn’t want her to feel insecure and have people either intentionally or unintentionally rub at old wounds in her life.  Here then is concern and support.

Still, it’s interesting to note Hiccup actually approached Astrid differently about her insecurities than she did to him.  Whereas Astrid made her opinion clear but hopped on board with Hiccup’s ideas, here Hiccup outright tried to stop Astrid from pursuing the Flightmare, even trying to hide information from her such as when and where the dragon would appear.  I suppose from some angles that could be quite critique-worthy, but it also shows Hiccup was intentionally trying not to ignite Astrid’s fire and need to prove her clan.  In fact, he even pointed out some way in which she could be empowered and prove her family bravery without running off recklessly after the dragon – by staying in Berk and fighting off the dragon with the team.  Still, when she did hop on Toothless and assert her will, Hiccup did fly with her, telling her to observe the Flightmare and not fight it, but nonetheless paying heed to her interests (you can tell he knew she was going to try to fight it anyway).  Not to mention, it’s also clear he wanted her safe.  He was trying to prevent her from making an action that could throw her into an enormous amount of trouble.  And he even eventually got on board with Astrid’s plan to halt the Flightmare before it reached Berk.  So there is concern, support, and a bit of sensitivity on both sides of the party. 

The two of them are indubitably there for each other.  Always.  There’s sensitivity, there’s support, there’s mutual understanding.

Strong Bonds

This relationship is strong and secure for so many reasons.  They have a common interest in dragons.  They’re able to tease each other and enjoy lighthearted times together, such as in the start of “Animal House.”  They’re able to stand up for each other and fight for the other’s safety.  And they’re able to stand up emotionally for one another as well.  It’s not just a simple gushy romance - though the romantic element is strong - but it’s also about being equals who understand and stand by one another. 

There is so much more that could be said and has been said (such as that amazing gif post comment about Astrid making Hiccup look her in the eye when he tries to look downward), and all of it shows what an incredibly supportive relationship this is.  It’s not just a small little crush.  It’s not just kisses and cuddles.  It’s not a mismatched pair.  There’s empathy and genuine concern for each other.  It’s a deep relationship and it’s beautiful.

And that’s why I cannot help but smile at Hiccstrid.