The short story has always been one of my favorite forms of literature. Initially as a student and a reader, and later as an English teacher, there is much about the short story form that is appealing. It is a difficult literary form to master, as economy of words becomes paramount. To create dramatic structure and layered, meaningful characters and dialogue in such a short timeframe you must be talented and experienced. In my experience, several authors have been able to master this form, such as Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen King, and Ray Bradbury.
There is one Ray Bradbury story in particular that always captures me, and I typically share it with my English classes as well. The story is titled “A Sound of Thunder.” If you haven’t read it, perhaps I can convince you to take a few minutes, sit down, and enjoy this classic sci-fi short story. I feel it has much to offer us, on several levels.
The story, written in 1952, takes place in a future where time travel has been invented and is being used for commercial travel. The story centers around a wealthy hunter who contracts a time-travel safari company to take him back to pre-historic times so that he may hunt the ultimate prize: The dinosaur. As he discovers, time travel also has its setbacks, as “The butterfly Effect” is a concept explained to him. If someone changes the past, they ultimately change the future. The story examines the repercussions of engaging in time travel as well as an activity like hunting in the past.
As you may naturally assume, the story is a cautionary tale. What makes the story unique, exciting, engaging and memorable is the subject matter with which it deals, as well as the moral dilemma the characters face. The title comes from the sound the dinosaurs make, but on a different level, it is also used in another way in this story. A tale about time travel and dinosaurs alone would be engaging, but add in the warning about meddling with time and the repercussions of such activities, and now you have something timeless.
In its 67 year old life, this story has been re-made and re-imagined several times. It has been made into full length featured movies, and it has been adapted into made- for-TV movies and short films. It is safe to say that Ray Bradbury’s words and images have fascinated us, and in a world that is arguably closer to the future worlds of his stories, we are still amazed and captivated by his writing today.
“A Sound of Thunder” is an engaging and exciting short story, and beyond the fascinating world Bradbury creates for us, it will leave you asking questions. Not only are these hypothetical questions, but real questions that relate to out modern life today. The main question it makes us ask is, “Do my smallest actions negative actions today potentially adversely affect tomorrow?”
It’s a question worth asking. The story is better for urging us to ask those questions, and look inward.