Well At World’s End: Pagan Themes in Speculative Fiction
“From dragons to spaceships, from unicorns to time travel, join me around this campfire blog to explore Pagan themes in fantasy and science fiction, and all the subgenres in between. Reading just got interesting.”
Sound of Thunder: Pagan Themes in Ray Bradbury's Fiction
This past summer, science fiction readers mourned the passing of Ray Bradbury, the author of such classic literature, as Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked this Way Comes. For this installment of Well at World’s End, we’re going to take a look at the pagan themes present in Bradbury’s short story collection, Sound of Thunder and Other Stories, and more specifically the title story.
“Sound of Thunder” tells the story of Eckels, a safari hunter living in 2055, who signs up with Time Safari Inc., a service that will take him to any destination in the past to hunt big game (now extinct). Eckles wants to go back to the dinosaur age to land a T-Rex. As preparations are made for departure, the team discusses the presidential election that’s underway, between a fascist candidate, Deutscher, and a more moderate one.
When the hunting party arrives in the past, Travis, the safari guide, gives instructions—the most important is that no one should venture off the Time Safari Inc. pathway. Further, the dinosaur, (slated to die soon), must be killed on his say so, in order for everything to occur as time recorded it. But none of this goes as planned. When the dinosaur approaches, Eckels gets scared, fires his gun early. Although the dino dies in accordance to the recorded history, Travis realizes that Eckels deviated off the path into the mud.
When the safari team returns home, they discover the world subtly changed. The facist, Deutscher, won the election. English words on billboards are now in a different language altogether, and more. The crew tries to figure out exactly what happened. It is when Eckels cleans off his boots that he notices a single crushed butterfly trapped in the mud. It is the death of the single butterfly (not scheduled) that is the cause of the future changes.
Let’s consider this for a moment—Bradbury suggests that the death of one butterfly is enough to alter elements in the future. What if it was a squirrel or cat, a deer, a human, a tree, and so on? How might the future change? (“The Sound of Thunder” influenced the term, “the butterfly effect,” which infers that a small, localized change in one place, can have immense effects elsewhere.)
Bradbury calls into question the pagan/wiccan principle of And It Harm None. Actions have consequences, unforeseeable ones. How accountable are we for our actions? Do we consider how a single act can and will alter the future? Magic practitioners understand the unintentional ripples. And It Harm None causes us to look within and check to make sure the magic practiced won’t have harmful consequences on others, immediately or in the future.
The next time you practice magic, consider the butterfly effect. That is what Ray Bradbury is asking his reader to do—consider the ripples, and be responsible. Harm none intentionally, a pagan theme we can all take meaning from.
------ If readers are interested, I had the opportunity to work with Mr. Bradbury and include one of his stories in The Last Man Anthology, a Mary Shelley tribute. The anthology showcases short stories and poems that build on the theme of finality—of being last.
Readers interested in upcoming books discussed on Well at World’s End, can contact me for a reading list.
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