The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye: Five Fairy Stories, by Byatt, A.S.
The first time I read "Dragons' Breath" I was instantly reminded of the war in Sarajevo. Byatt writes about a village in a valley surrounded by mountains, which is slowly being devoured by gigantic "worms" (the old English name for dragons). The war snuck up on Sarajevo, a city in a valley surrounded by the mountains, just like the worms in this story. In Sarajevo, the people deceived themselves with false hope, and as a result the war, although inevitable, came as a surprise to them. In Byatt's story, it is the characters' boredom with their peaceful, monotonous existence that leads to the destruction of their old lives. Using the simple fairy tale form, Byatt tell the tales within the tales. They are at least three stories behind the plot of "Dragons' Breath": the worm like dragons destroy the village, the extended metaphor of war and its devastation, and the celebration and salvation in storytelling.
Catherine Brady writes about the transformative power of the story: "Though suspense is a necessary part of the fun, a story satisfies not because it pursues a literal chain of events but because it manages to make those events stand for something else, a something else that eludes the reader, yet compels response."
At the end of "Dragons' Breath" Byatt reveals the real hero: the imagination and the storytelling defeats the boredom. The tale of fear and loss becomes the tale of rediscovery and wonder. Only later did I found out that Byatt actually wrote "Dragons' Breath" for a radio program which was organized to aid Sarajevo.