May 17, 2013
“A Sound of Thunder”
Where to Find It: The Golden Apples of the Sun, The Stories of Ray Bradbury
First Published: Colliers, June, 1952
Plot Synopsis: A group of adventurers travel back in time to hunt the most dangerous game—the Tyrannosaurus Rex. The caveat? Don’t mess with anything else. Dinosaurs will become extinct, the hunters are warned. Tamper with other things and, well, it’s called the “Butterfly Effect” for good reason.
Analysis: You write a short story about one of your great childhood loves. Dinosaurs. The story is a time-travelling thrill-ride with a description of the T-Rex that no CGI could ever come close to depicting. And when your story is done, your very premise of a time-travelling hunter stepping on a butterfly becomes part of our cultural vocabulary. AMAZING.
That Description of the T-Rex:
It came on great oiled, resilient legs. It towered thirty feet above half of the trees, a great evil god, folding its delicate watchmaker’s claws close to its oily reptilian chest. Each lower leg was a piston, a thousand pounds of white bone, sunk in thick ropes of muscle, sheathed over in a gleam of pebbled skin like the mail of a terrible warrior. Each thigh was a ton of meat, ivory, and steel mesh. And from the great breathing cage of the upper body those two delicate arms dangled out front, arms with hands which might pick up and examine men like toys, while the snake neck coiled. And the head itself, a ton of sculptured stone, lifted easily upon the sky. Its mouth gaped, exposing a fence of teeth like daggers, its eyes rolled, ostrich eggs, empty of all expression save hunger. It closed its mouth in a death grin. It ran, its pelvic bones crushing aside trees and bushes, its taloned feet clawing damp earth, leaving prints six inches deep wherever it settled its weight. It ran with a gliding ballet step, far too poised and balanced for its ten tons. It moved into a sunlit arena warily. Its beautifully reptile hands feeling the air.
Critique: “ A Sound of Thunder” is Bradbury at his speculative best. A perfect fusion of idea, language, description, and high entertainment, the story tackles the very premise of how mankind’s smallest actions can have universal implications.
Anecdote: When I would visit Ray at his home in Los Angeles, particularly in his later years when his health was waning, he would ask me to fetch books from his shelf and read them aloud.
“Read that paragraph from ‘A Sound of Thunder,” he often asked. “The one that describes the dinosaurs.”
And I would read the paragraph. When I was done and I’d look up at Ray, tears would be streaming down in his cheeks.
“I can’t believe I wrote that,” he said. “I am so grateful.”