Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Dragons” contains few historical facts: The kings are not named, nor are the religious edicts. The Roman Catholic Church is not explicitly referred to although mention is made of the Mass, Jesuits, priests, and nuns. The term “protestant” is used only once and the word “Huguenot” never. The story is told through the perceptions and limited knowledge of largely illiterate peasants—a carpenter in Pierre’s case—who knew little but the world of the village and its environs. Experience has taught them that bad things come from the north, be it mythic beasts, harsh winds, or religious and secular power. Marthe knew nothing of Ireland or England, probably the Chaigne family had heard of neither Henry IV nor his Edict of Nantes, and perhaps Pierre did not even know the name of the present king, Louis XIV. The peasants’ world was the village—beyond was only danger.

Barnes successfully portrays the internal tone or atmosphere of preindustrial rural peasants and their world. “Dragons” is not overtly dramatic in presentation in spite of rape and the burning of convicted heretics. Instead, the thoughts and actions of the characters are presented through the mentality of seventeenth century peasants. There is a somber sense of inevitability. Life is difficult, work is hard, and struggle is endless. Pierre and the other characters rarely engage in introspection and do not harbor a feeling that circumstances could be changed: Life and death will always be what they have always been. Appropriately, there are no modern sensibilities and no modern concepts of freedom and individualism in “Dragons.” The revelation that the dragons were Irish Catholic refugees fleeing from Cromwell’s Protestant persecutors adds to that sense of fate and inevitability: One is persecuted thus one persecutes, over and over, and Pierre’s single lighted pane leads him only into the dark forest.