How to Train Your Dragon 2 – A word about Valka

I had been looking forward to the release of How to train your dragon 2 and so was disappointed to read a review by The Dissolve that was critical of the portrayal of a prominent female character. The review by Tasha Robinson lamented that this very interesting female lead had amazing potential but that when it came to the crunch she didn’t do anything. She was saved by her husband in the major fight scene and then proceeded to disappear:

“…once the introductions are finally done, and the battle starts, she immediately becomes useless, both to the rest of the cast and to the rapidly moving narrative. She faces the villain (the villain she’s apparently been successfully resisting alone for years!) and she’s instantly, summarily defeated. “

The character being discussed is Valka, mother to the stories protagonist, Hiccup. We are told that dragons attacked the Viking Island of Berk when Hiccup was a baby and carried Valka away with them. For the past 20 years she has lived with the dragons in their hidden frozen island cave, learned their secrets and become their friends. It is reported that she didn’t come back to Berk once she was able because she didn’t believe she could get the Vikings to come around and trust the dragons. She is intelligent, fierce and independent, yet vulnerable and tender towards her son and husband.

After watching the movie myself I disagreed with the Dissolve reivew. Yes I suppose she was kind of interesting, being a dragon lady and all and having this fantastic relationship with and knowledge of the dragons, as well as some pretty cool armour, but the story wasn’t about her. Her very premise wasn’t the best role model anyway; she left her family because she didn’t think she could change their minds. She left her infant son without a mother. I feel that the decision to have a child is a big one and that it comes with certain responsibilities – responsibilities which Valka shirked for a life of fun with her dragons while her husband Stoick raised their son on his own. Additionally, the battle in which Valka is ‘defeated’ by the villain is quite realistic. She is fighting someone who is about four times her size, of course she needed help!!

I then read another review, this one on The Daily Dot by Aja Romano entitled “Why ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2’ is a radical feminist triumph”. It was a fantastic review and made a lot of really good points and if you don’t have a lot of time you should stop reading this and go and read that instead. This reviewer loved the way that Valka was not shamed for her choices by the narrative or her husband or son, and loved how badass she was. She says:

“…Hiccup instantly and immediately recognized that his mom’s choices were her own choices, and that they were obviously valuable and important. At no point did the narrative shame Valka for rejecting her role as a mother and a housewife.”

This is what I want to talk about.
I will admit up front that I am very new to feminism, and by this I mean I have only really been aware of what it is all about for maybe three or four months (but I am doing A LOT of reading!). I am all for women making their own choices and making them for themselves and not for everyone else. I am all for women not being expected to be mothers and housewives, and I am all for women finding their own paths and what makes them happy… however… I still don’t feel like it was fair of her to leave her family behind. Male or female, Viking or not, If you bring a new life into this world then you owe it the best chance possible to grow up happy and healthy.

Perhaps I am the one being unfair; I don’t have children and I am not a Viking woman (although I was delighted to discover that I may be descended from Vikings through my maternal grandfathers line). I am well aware that I have lived a very fortunate life thanks to my country of birth, my devoted parents and my middle class upbringing and perhaps I am missing something or I am unable to relate to this situation. If that is the case I would love to have my mind changed. Please, educate me!