Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

British critics have suggested that Julian Barnes is more French than English, an allegation he denies. Nevertheless, Barnes admits that he loves France: It is his other country. Most of Barnes’s fiction is set in the present or the near past. “Dragons” is an exception, with the events taking place during the late seventeenth century reign of Louis XIV. Louis’s grandfather, Henry IV, was a Huguenot, or French Protestant, who converted to Catholicism, the majority religion, for political reasons. In the 1598 Edict of Nantes, Henry granted his former coreligionists considerable religious freedom, but in 1685, with the Edict of Fontainebleau, Louis XIV revoked his grandfather’s proclamation, making Catholicism France’s only recognized religion. It is against this historical background that the events of “Dragons” occur.

“Dragons” can be read as a conflict between religious freedom and intolerance and bigotry. The task of the dragons is to eliminate by whatever means necessary the newly proscribed minority religion. Although the seventeenth century is often labeled the Age of Reason, religious passions still ruled, reflecting the earlier medieval Age of Faith and the religious Reformations of the sixteenth century. People were willing to die and to kill for their religion, and many did.

Familial love and personal sacrifice is another theme of “Dragons.” To free his sister Marthe from sexual assaults by the dragons, Henri...

(The entire section is 481 words.)