(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Dragons” begins with Pierre Chaigne, a widowed carpenter in a small French village, constructing a four-sided lantern, including three wooden pieces to be inserted into the lantern to block out the light except for a single direction. Narrated in the third person, the story is presented through the thoughts and actions of Pierre.

Pierre reflects that everything bad comes from the north, from the tireless winds to the Beast of Gruissan, who consumes local livestock. The new threat from the north comes from the dragons. In spite of the toleration edict issued by an earlier king, the Chaignes’ religion is now threatened by the present monarch. Pierre considers himself a loyal subject, willing to live in peace with the king’s religion, but now the dragons are coming.

About forty dragons étrangers du roi, or foreign soldiers of the king, descend on the village. Three are housed with Pierre’s family, which includes his elderly aunt and his three children. The dragons will remain until Pierre pays the tax owed to the king. However, it is impossible to satisfy the authorities: If he pays, the tax will be raised, again and again, until the family abjures its faith.

Although he fears for thirteen-year-old Marthe at the hands of the dragons, he has a greater concern for his youngest son, nine-year-old Daniel. Previously the law of conversion had been set at fourteen because by that age an individual is mature enough to know his or her mind. Recently it had been lowered to seven, and Pierre worries that young Daniel might become susceptible to the...

(The entire section is 652 words.)