Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Initially appearing as one of several stories and sketches in Kenneth Grahame’s Dream Days (1898), The Reluctant Dragon was published in a self-contained volume several decades later, with illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard. Grahame wrote Dream Days as a sequel to The Golden Age (1895), the work that established him as a major literary figure. Dream Days features the same characters as in the earlier book, grown somewhat older: five orphaned siblings and the unsympathetic adults, known as “Olympians,” in charge of them. Both books are narrated in the first person by an unnamed sibling.

In its original context, Grahame’s dragon tale unfolds as a story within a story. The framing story finds the narrator and his younger sister Charlotte “tracking” mysterious prints, which they believe belong to a dragon, to the doorstep of a neighbor whom the siblings have dubbed “the funny man.” This character, first encountered in the previous story “The Magic Ring,” is “funny” because, unlike most adults in their experience, he is responsive to children. Brother and sister enjoy a pleasant visit with “the funny man,” who, as he walks the two home, succumbs to Charlotte’s entreaties for a story. The tale that he tells is The Reluctant Dragon.

The story approximates a fairy-tale beginning as it is placed indeterminately in time and space: “long ago” and “in a cottage...

(The entire section is 499 words.)