Introduction to "A Sound of Thunder"

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Author: Alice Hoffman
Date: Fall 2020
From: Ploughshares(Vol. 46, Issue 3)
Publisher: Ploughshares, Inc.
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,888 words

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On the occasion of Ray Bradbury's one-hundredth birthday, we are still discovering the depth of his genius as his imagined future becomes our present.

When Ray Bradbury began writing, the term magical realism hadn't yet been invented. He was dubbed a fantasy writer, for those who wrote about magic or about the future or about possibilities were called fantasy and science-fiction writers and were considered genre authors, not quite welcome in literary society. Ray Bradbury was one of the authors who broke through that barrier; he shattered it, as a matter of fact. If magic is now considered acceptable, perhaps even de rigueur in literary fiction, it is in good part due to his groundbreaking work.

Bradbury's ambition was to become a writer and a magician, and he fulfilled both of these wishes. His powerful imagination was unique, a one-of-a-kind voice in the darkness, and a moral center for those who read him. Not only was he a great storyteller, he was a great visionary. His masterpiece, Fahrenheit 451, is an American classic that is required reading in many high schools and middle schools and should be required reading for every twelve-and thirteen-year-old. Read it as a teen and it will change your life. Read it as an adult and you will be stunned by the prophetic manner in which Ray Bradbury understood the dangers of fascism and the importance of reading, as he imagined a society in which books are so powerful they are considered dangerous by the government, enemies of the people to be burned by "firemen." But his world is also one in which people are so dedicated to literature they "become" a book, memorizing one in its entirety to ensure that even if all copies are destroyed the book will live on.

Bradbury wrote brilliant novels and stories and books of linked stories. There are so many amazing Ray Bradbury tales about magic and love and small towns and friendship, but right here, right now, in 2020, on the occasion of his hundredth birthday, one of his greatest gifts to us is the prescient story, "A Sound of Thunder," written as a warning bell, pointing out consequences not many realized were a very real possibility. First published in Collier's magazine in 1952, the year I was born, and then in his collection, Golden Apples oj the Sun, in 1953, the story is not his most magical, but more than any other it signals an alarm, presenting a future that is fast becoming our present. If only we had listened then, we might have a very different world now, for his message was clear nearly seventy years ago: if we continue on our current path of treating the earth as we do, we will destroy what we've been given.

"A Sound of Thunder" predates chaos theory, often called the...

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