So I watched it again three days ago (Happy Birthday HTTYD! :D) and I suddenly was hit with this idea...
Vikings didn't need to read. Nobody ever bothered to write anything down. The only actual book on the island was the Dragon Manual, and not many Vikings had bothered to read it. If somebody had a story to tell, they would tell it, then get their children to memorize it so they could tell it to their children, and so on.
Besides, with all the raids going on, who had time to read anything? Maps were easy enough because of the detailed sketches, simple names, and the occasional warning. All Vikings knew to recognize the basic words – 'help', 'danger', 'turn back', 'dragon', 'friend' – but besides those, not many Vikings could truthfully say they could read every word of a simple book and understand it.
Basically, if your parents knew how to read and they could be bothered to teach you, then you could read too. If your parents decided it didn't matter, it didn't. Some, like Fishlegs and Hiccup, took it upon themselves to learn, since their parents either left or were too busy. Others, like Snotlout, just didn't. "Stupid thing to know," he would say. In his opinion, Hiccup and Fishlegs were crazy.
He and Tuffnut would sit together and snicker as they watched Hiccup or Fishlegs or even Astrid reading the Dragon Manual or a map. Snotlout never felt an ounce of jealousy, but he failed to notice Tuffnut didn't quite share his feelings on the subject.
Tuffnut wanted to read.
He yearned to read.
Why hadn't he learned to read when he had the chance?
When he and Ruffnut were younger, Ruffnut was always catching colds. She always seemed to be sick in some way. She was just fragile, their mother said. It didn't stop her in the least whenever he and Snotlout wanted her to come out and play with them, but she always ended up in bed at the end of the day. When their mother approached them with the concept of learning to read, both had stuck out their tongues and refused, but since Ruffnut was resting in bed most of the time, there wasn't much else for her to do.
And so, Ruffnut learned to read. Tuffnut would always laugh and point when he saw her sitting at the table or in bed with a sheet of parchment, reading the simple sentences their mother had written for practice. He didn't feel jealousy. He didn't see any point to it. When his mother approached him a second time and asked if he cared to learn, again he adamantly refused.
They grew up. Tuffnut never really thought about reading again until they snuck into Mead Hall together one night to see the Dragon Manual. Ruffnut had grabbed the book and the two had huddled together at a table to look at it.
"Whoa, look at that one!" Tuffnut had said, pointing at a vicious-looking beast with sharp wings and a long snout. "It looks deadly!"
"It's a Timberjack," Ruffnut told him. "It's got razor-sharp wings that can level off whole forests."
"How do you know that?" Tuffnut said, trying not to sound curious.
"It says it right here, dumb-wit," Ruffnut said, slapping her brother.
Tuffnut blinked. "You mean you read it?"
"Of course," said Ruffnut, flipping to another page. "I can, you know."
"Right," said Tuffnut, looking down at the page. "Ooh, what does it say about this one?" he said eagerly, pointing to a dragon with an enormous, gaping mouth lined with sharp teeth.
Ruffnut hummed. "I'm not telling you."
"What do you mean, you're not telling me?"
"You never learned how to read so I'm not telling you." Ruffnut hummed again and her eyes darted over the page. "Ooh, this is really interesting, you know, this dragon – oh, never mind, you're not really that interested, are you?"
"Yes, please, Ruffnut, tell me what it says!" begged Tuffnut, but Ruffnut just hummed some more and turned the page.
Too proud to ask his mother (or sister) for help, Tuffnut tried to teach himself, but with nobody to tell him what to practice, with no simple books lying around, he was stuck. He almost considered asking Hiccup, who had picked up the concept of reading the fastest, but quickly stomped on that idea. (How on Berk did he manage to teach himself, anyway?) Tuffnut, for the first time in his life, began to feel jealous of Hiccup. Hiccup, Fishlegs, Astrid, Ruffnut…all of them could read. He had never felt so dumb.
Thankfully Snotlout didn't seem to care. Nor did he ever ask if Tuffnut had the skill. In fact, the only person who knew Tuffnut couldn't read (besides his mother) was his sister, who thankfully wasn't telling.
Tuffnut just hoped to high Valhalla that nothing in his life would require reading anything more complex than a map.
"The Dragon Manual," said Gobber, after their first day of training, dropping the heavy volume on the table in front of them. "Everything we know about every dragon we know of. Study up."
Tuffnut's eyes widened. "Wait. You mean read?" he gasped.
Why hadn't he learned how to read when he had the chance?