As long as you promise not to ask me how I know about this example, I wanted to discuss the portrayal of archives in children’s television. DreamWorks Dragons: Riders of Berk is a spin-off from the 2010 DreamWorks film How to Train Your Dragon. It may sounds surprising, but the show does contain archives, and the ways in which they are represented actually speaks well to the use of real-life archives.
Academics have argued that children’s films and TV shows are actually quite powerful cultural products, perhaps because they are dismissed by adults as insignificant and harmless. However they arguably play a significant role in shaping how children understand and interpret the world around them, so they are actually quite influential. Riders of Berk could very easily be a child’s only encounter with an archive, and is therefore worthy of consideration.
Berk is a village on a small island of the same name, populated by Vikings with names like Hiccup, Snotlout and Fishlegs, and dragons. At the beginning of the film, Vikings and dragons are mortal enemies, but with the aid of an injured dragon called Toothless, Hiccup manages to prove that both dragons and Vikings can profit from working together, and by the time the TV show begins, dragons are firmly integrated into the daily life of Berk. In Riders of Berk, a group of teenage Vikings, led by Hiccup, fly around on their dragons, having adventures and learning more about all the different types of dragons. However, all is not well in the land of the Vikings, and there are villains, set on destroying the peace between dragons and Vikings, or stealing the Hiccup’s dragon-training knowledge for their own dastardly aims.
In the finale of the series, entitled “We Are Family,” Hiccup is entrusted with a chest containing Berk’s collected knowledge on dragons, know as “Bork’s Archive.” As the premier authority on dragons, Hiccup is given this “part of our [Berk’s] history” so that he can continue to develop their knowledge. From the way responsibility is passed on, and Hiccup’s reaction to the task, it is clearly a great honour. The knowledge is obviously valued by the community, and he is told to guard it carefully. Hiccup wastes no time in starting to search through this “amazing” archive, demonstrating how useful archives can be.
Later in the episode, Hiccup learns the valuable lesson that not all sources in the archive can be trusted, simply because they come from the archive. Hiccup’s loyal companion Toothless is a rare type of dragon called a Night Fury. No other Night Furies are known to exist on Berk or the surrounding islands. In the archive, Hiccup finds a map to an island of Night Furies called “The Isle of Night,” and promptly sets off to find more of Toothless’ kind. The map turns out to be a fake however, planted in the archive to lure Hiccup into a trap by the evil Alvin the Treacherous. This highlights the importance of finding out as much as possible about where a source comes from, and why it was produced, in order to assess its reliability and possible biases.
So from this one episode of a children’s television show, a lot can be learnt about the value of archives, as well as the precautions that must be taken with them. Although Bork’s Archive is a lot smaller than most archives I have come across, I would argue that it is quite representative of archives as a whole. The people of Berk value Bork’s archive as a source of collected knowledge, and are aware of the archive’s ability to help contemporary knowledge progress further. However, Hiccup learns that just because something is in an archive, doesn’t mean that it is ‘true’ or authentic; the archive can be deceptive. This may seem like a bit of a silly post, but in all seriousness, I think it is important to talk about archives and the methodology of archival research as much as possible, and why shouldn’t we do that through the medium of children’s television? So, if you need a light-hearted teaching aid for archives, or just something fun for your next tea break, you could do worse than checking out Dreamworks Dragons: Riders of Berk.