Follow TV Tropes


Literature / A Sound of Thunder

Go To

A Short Story first published by Ray Bradbury in the Collier's magazine, June 1952 issue. "A Sound of Thunder" is one of the Trope Namers for Butterfly of Doom, because this story introduced the Time Travel plot where small changes in the past snowball into the future.

The story is set in the (then-distant) year of 2055, shortly after another Election Day result. The protagonist is a hunter known simply as "Eckels", who prepares to use time travel to visit the age of the dinosaurs and kill a Tyrannosaurus rex. His guide is very emphatic about the need to prevent changes to the timeline, and exposition of time travel rules and setting details are interwoven into the narrative. Naturally, the rules are violated when Eckels runs off the path, but nothing seems to have been broken yet...

"A Sound of Thunder" has been adapted several times, with a 2005 movie released by Warner Bros., an EC Comics adaptation available here, as well as a spin-off novel series and the short story series Rivers of Time.

The original story has been reprinted dozens of times, including in Bradbury's own collections, such as The Golden Apples Of The Sun (1953), R Is For Rocket (1962), Twice Twenty Two (1966), and Dinosaur Tales (1983).

Not to be confused with the Pink Floyd live album/concert film A Delicate Sound Of Thunder.

The short story contains examples of:

  • All Germans Are Nazis: The fascistic candidate Deutscher's name is based on the German word for German.
  • Artistic License – Politics: While the setting isn't specified beyond a year, the story implies that it takes place in America. Unless the US constitution was amended at some point, presidential elections occur every leap year, meaning that the actual presidential elections in the 2050s would take place in 2052 and 2056, not 2054 as implied.
  • Butterfly of Doom: The archetypal example and Trope Namer — when Eckels steps on a prehistoric butterfly, he discovers he caused major changes (e.g. the outcome of an important election) upon returning to the present.
  • Close-Enough Timeline: Travis actually theorizes about this before the hunt began.
  • Dumb Dinos: The T. rex is described as monstrous and devoid of emotion, but also awesomely majestic.
  • For Want Of A Nail: The seemingly inconsequential death of a prehistoric butterfly manages to result in a political victory of A Nazi by Any Other Name in the modern day and possibly mainstream society's embrace of Fascism, while changing the basics of English grammar and graphemes.
  • Godwin's Law of Time Travel: The Ur-Example, although Deutscher is only Nazi-like rather than full-on Nazi.
  • In Spite of a Nail: Despite changing the political landscape just enough to ensure the rise of Fascism and the basic tenets of the English language, nothing else of major importance seems to have changed in the modern day. Then again, we only see a few of the changes to the modern timeline before the end of the story. . . given the obvious changes already shown, who the hell knows what else is different?
  • Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory: The travelers and their tour guides are the only ones who seem aware of the changed Bad Future.
  • Stay on the Path: Or else!
  • A Storm Is Coming: The phrase "a sound of thunder" occurs a couple of times in the story, each time prefiguring danger.
  • Temporal Paradox: Subverted when the safari guides explain that "Time steps aside" to prevent such paradoxes from happening.
  • Terrifying Tyrannosaur: The story's Tyrannosaurus is true to form. Just seeing it for the first time is enough to make Eckels (a seasoned big game hunter) lose his nerve.
  • Time Travel for Fun and Profit: Travis' agency organizes safaris into the past for big game hunters.
  • Time Traveler's Dinosaur: The protagonist is a hunter known simply as "Eckels", who uses a time travel agency to visit the age of the dinosaurs and kill a Tyrannosaurus rex.
  • Title Drop: Twice in the narration. First in the middle, and then a Finale Title Drop.
  • What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: Who thought it was a good idea to make big-game time traveling, knowing full well what the risks and consequences were? What sort of monetary gain could be worth the risk of waking up one morning to have never existed? Simple: Screw the Rules, I Have Money!.

The spin-off novel series contains examples of:

  • Abusive Alien Parents: The Mutata send their young off to be raised by other Mutata.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The Gairk, a race of sentient Allosaurs.
  • Rule of Cool: Alternate universes filled with dinosaurs, samurai, sapient pterodactyls, cyborgs, and Aztecs. At one point it is hinted that there is even an entire universe filled with cat people.