“There was a sound of thunder.”

I’m not sure where or when it originated, but there is a theory known as “the butterfly effect”.  It’s premise is that a butterfly in, say, Peoria could flutter it’s wings and ultimately it would lead to a typhoon in the Indian Ocean.  In recent weeks, I’ve heard this theory used in stories about time travel.  If someone goes back in time and changes one little thing or perhaps one big thing, the “present” world would no longer be life as we know it.  Stephen King’s novel, 11/22/63, deals with this idea and the BBC science fiction television show, Dr. Who, uses this concept even if they haven’t necessarily called it that on the show that I’m aware.

Now I have read Ray Bradbury’s short story, “The Sound of Thunder”.  I learned of this story because it was mentioned in King’s novel. It involves a character named Eckels who is an avid hunter.  He hires a company with a Time Machine to take him into the past about 65 million years so that he can shoot a T-Rex.  In “Jurrasic Park” fashion, he heads back to Dino land with the assistance of several guides (who have been there before).  He’s severely warned to stay on the “Path” that’s been laid out for him.  Venturing off the path could cause him to step on a mouse – or a butterfly – and cause all kinds of changes to the present (like which president got elected).  Eckels’ encounter with the T-rex is more intense than he thought it would be and he tracks mud and other things into the time machine and brings it back to a slightly different present.  “There was a sound of thunder” is the line that chillingly ends the story.

Bradbury’s writing has always interested me.  I read one of his more autobiographical novels a number of years ago, Dandelion Wine.  It opens with a great paragraph of a boy waking up on his first day of summer vacation.  In “The Sound of Thunder”, Bradbury writes a paragraph describing Eckels’ first step from the Time Machine that is reminiscent, at least in style, if not content, of that opening paragraph:

The jungle was high and the jungle was broad and the jungle was the entire world forever and forever.  Sounds like music and sounds like flying tents filled the sky, and those were pterodactyls soaring with cavernous gray wings, gigantic bats out of a delirium and a night fever.

I find it fun to read stories and novels that are related to other stories and novels that I’ve read.  King also mentioned a short story by Shirley Jackson (of “The Lottery” fame) called “The Summer People”.  I might have to read that one sometime soon.

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2 responses to ““There was a sound of thunder.”

  1. Hi Dale,
    I enjoy how some books or stories lead you to others. One of my favorite recent instances was when a short story by William Trevor mentioned the Trollope novel, “The Small House at Allington,” which in turn led me to reading Trollope’s autobiography and another of his novels, The Warden. Over a thousand pages read just due to a sentence or two in a short story! It would be fun to examine the lineage of some of my other readings, I think. Hmm…
    -Jay

    • Hi Jay, I am about halfway through your college roommate’s book, We Make A Life By What We Give. I’m thoroughly enjoying it and now have a whole list of other books I want to read that he mentions. I already am planning on reading more Dickens this year. I’ll have to give Hard Times a try.

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