“TIME SAFARI, INC.
SAFARIS TO ANY YEAR IN THE PAST.
YOU NAME THE ANIMAL.
WE TAKE YOU THERE.
YOU SHOOT IT.”
“TYME SEFARI INC.
SEFARIS TU ANY YEER EN THE PAST.
YU NAIM THE ANIMALL.
WEE TAEK YU THAIR.
YU SHOOT ITT. “
Who would think that stepping on a butterfly could change completely change the English language, like illustrated in the two posters above? Before reading “A Sound of Thunder,” the idea seemed completely absurd. In the short story, by Ray Bradbury, people can pay to go back in time to hunt dinosaurs or any other prehistoric creatures to satisfy the ultimate hunting obsession.
The story starts out with the main character, Eckels, who wishes to hunt a dreaded Tyrannosaurus Rex, seeking out a company that has access to a time machine. The company, which is barely allowed to operate by the government, has a guide take the hunters back in time as long as they agree to stay on a narrow path that floats six inches above the earth in order to prevent “destroying an important link in a growing species.” The travel guide, Travis, that leads Eckels’ group on the expedition, explains this by using this lengthy example:
“‘All right,’ Travis continued, ‘say we accidentally kill one mouse here. That means all the future families of this one particular mouse are destroyed, right? Well, what about the foxes that’ll need those mice to survive? For want of ten mice, a fox dies. For want of ten foxes a lion starves. For want of a lion, all manner of insects, vultures, infinite billions of life forms are thrown into chaos and destruction. Eventually it all boils down to this: fifty-nine million years later, a caveman, one of a dozen on the entire world, goes hunting wild boar or saber-toothed tiger for food. But you, friend, have stepped on all the tigers in that region. By stepping on one single mouse. So the caveman starves. And the caveman, please note, is not just any expendable man, no! He is an entire future nation. From his loins would have sprung ten sons. From their loins one hundred sons, and thus onward to a civilization. Destroy this one man, and you destroy a race, a people, an entire history of life. It is comparable to slaying some of Adam’s grandchildren. The stomp of your foot, on one mouse, could start an earthquake, the effects of which could shake our earth and destinies down through Time, to their very foundations. With the death of that one caveman, a billion others yet unborn are throttled in the womb. Perhaps Rome never rises on its seven hills. Perhaps Europe is forever a dark forest, and only Asia waxes healthy and teeming. Step on a mouse and you crush the Pyramids. Step on a mouse and you leave your print, like a Grand Canyon, across Eternity. Queen Elizabeth might never be born, Washington might not cross the Delaware, there might never be a United States at all. So be careful. Stay on the Path. Never step off (Bradbury)!”
This example is a bit extreme, but it gets you thinking about how fragile and complex time travel would be if it actually existed. I’m not going to give away the entire story, but Eckels ends up stepping off the path and accidentally kills a butterfly. To him, this doesn’t seem to be a huge deal, but once he and the other hunters return to the present, things seem to be different somehow. It’s not until they read the sign that was originally posted that they realize the affects of Eckels killing the butterfly. It is truly terrifying to think that something as simple as stepping on an insect can change the future in such a huge way.
(If you want to check out the story, it’s pretty short and very interesting!) http://www.lasalle.edu/~didio/courses/hon462/hon462_assets/sound_of_thunder.htm