A Sound of Thunder
by Ray Bradbury
On the eve of an American presidential election, a party of rich businessmen undertake a time travel safari to the past to hunt dinosaurs. While the organizers have taken every precaution to minimize the impact of the hunting party on the past, one member violates the rules and leaves the designated path. Upon their return to the present the group finds that the world has been drastically altered by the seemingly innocuous death of a pre-historic butterfly.
Originally published in the June 28 1952 edition of Collier's magazine, Bradbury’s seminal tale of a hunting safari sent back in time to kill a dinosaur has been reprinted more than two dozen times in collections and anthologies. A film adaptation of Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder will make it to the big screen after much delay on September 2nd, 2005 almost two years after it was filmed. The movie features Ed Burns as Travis Ryer, the leader of the safari and Ben Kingsley as Charles Hatton the owner of the safari company.
The encounter with the Tyrannosaurus forms the heart of the story with Bradbury’s eloquent prose transporting the reader along with the hunting expedition sixty-million years into the past.
Bradbury’s tale serves not only to entertain but also to speculate on the dangers of time travel. His illustration of a ripple effect on the timeline caused by a seemingly unrelated events over a long period of time is not only demonstrated by the climax of the story, but is also explained in the context of the story. The following passage is an exchange between Travis, the leader of the safari and Eckels one of the businessmen.
While Bradbury does an excellent job illustrating the point, he tends to over simplify the ripple effect since he assumes the timeline to be static and that by removing the mouse from the equation a void is created that multiplies up the timeline. It seems more likely that true effect might be equally as dramatic, but unfolding over time in a much more dynamic way. Using Bradbury’s example a lack of mice might mean something other than the fox evolves and thrives on the land, or perhaps the fox adapts to another food source altogether.
The climax of the story involves the return of the hunting party to the office of Time Safari Inc. which still oddly enough still exists, but the language has evolved differently.
More importantly they discover that the presidential election has been influenced and that the fascist candidate Deutscher was elected president instead of the moderate candidate.
While dramatically effective, the ending virtually contradicts Bradbury’s earlier example of the ripple effect and the mouse. The ending suggests that while the players remain the same, namely the presidential candidates Keith and Deutscher, that their environment and the evolution of the human language has been influenced.
It's an interesting coincidence that Bradbury chose a butterfly to symbolize the chaotic effect multiplied over time. The term Butterfly Effect did not originate with this tale, but rather was coined after MIT research meteorologist Edward Lorenz who discovered in the early 1960s that small variations in his computer model caused wildly divergent results. Lorenz later went on to write a seminal paper on Chaos Theory based on his experience.
Bradbury's butterfly and dinosaur hunting time travelers did have another influence on popular culture though, namely The Simpsons and the epsiode "Time and Punishment" which was part of Season 6's Treehouse of Horror V. In the episode Homer accidently discovers time travel when he jams a fork in a broken toaster trying to fix it. Homer's first unplanned trip to the past takes him to prehistoric times.
Homer arrives in the dinosaur age.
Neither Bradbury's time travellers nor the accident prone Homer J. Simpson could predict what consquences their actions would have, but suffice it to say that all actions have consequences big and small. If you are time travelling it might be wise to stay on the path to avoid changing history, but looking forward we should do the opposite. There is no telling how one small action can change the world for the better. As an example, Rosa Parks likely knew the immediate consequences of her actions of refusing to give up her seat on a bus that fateful day on December 1, 1955, but not the far reaching consequences that would come out of it.
As long as we're not time travelling to the past anytime soon I say Stupid bug, you go squish now!
©2004 - A. Taylor
R E L A T E D L I N K S
"A Sound of Thunder" - OneBee
Maverick blogger Jameson Simmons has thumbed his nose at copyright laws and corporate lawyers and provided a PDF version to the text of Bradbury's short story A Sound of Thunder here.
For the record, as an aspiring writer I am not in favour of depriving writers of royalities by violating copyright. Having said that, I am not opposed to providing a link to something you can find through a quick search of google. Let your conscience be the guide whether or not you steal from that nice Mr. Bradbury.
A Sound of Thunder - The Movie
My own review of the movie based on Ray Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder. It was released in North America theatres in September 2005 and on DVD in March 2006.
Ray Bradbury - Celebrating A Lifetime of Imagination and Wonder
Ray Bradbury's official website contains information on his books, a personal diary page, newsletter sign-up page, message boards and some video clips of the master's own home.
Treehouse of Horror V -- Crime and Punishment
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