Childhood’s End Summary

Arthur C. Clarke

Childhood’s End

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Childhood’s End Summary

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In 1953 Childhood’s End became the first successful novel of British science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, who would go on to become a legend in the field, most notably for 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968. In the story, there is a seemingly peaceful alien invasion by a mysterious group called the Overlords. The arrival of the Overlords brings with it many years of a utopian existence on Earth with the aliens only indirectly ruling over man. However, mankind’s notions of individuality and human culture may be at stake. The novel has its roots in a 1946 short story by Clarke called “Guardian Angel” which became the first part of Childhood’s End.

The third person novel consists of three parts: Earth and the Overlords, The Golden Age, and The Last Generation. In the first section, it is nearing the end of the twentieth century and the United States and the Soviet Union are in a race to be the first to send a spacecraft into orbit. This is taking place from a strategic and militaristic point of view. The competition of the two powers to win the space race comes to an abrupt end when alien crafts appear and hover above major cities. About a week after their arrival, the aliens, under the guise of preserving the human race, take control of international affairs.

After assuming their place on Earth, the Overlords leave humans to go about their lives as they always have and rarely interfere with the workings of mankind on the planet. There are a couple of times that the Overlords get involved in earthly matters. One time takes place in South Africa where Apartheid had fallen and been replaced by the oppressive white minority. The other was in Spain where the aliens outlawed bull fighting. Because the Overlords are not visible to the humans, there does arise some suspicion about their actual purpose and goals. The Secretary General of the United Nations, Rikki Stormgren, is informed by the leader of the Overlords, Karellen who has the title “Supervisor for Earth,” that the Overlords will give more information about themselves when fifty years have gone by and mankind is used to them. Karellen speaks only to Stormgren who covertly sees the true form of Karellen. While what he finds shocks him, he keeps it to himself.

Life is prosperous for humanity as the second part of the book opens. The Golden Age takes place fifty years later and along with its prosperity the human race finds its creativity lacking. The Overlords appear to man showing themselves to be demon-like in appearance with hooves, wings, tails, and horns. They commence doing psychic research. A book collector named Rupert Boyce has some expertise in the field and he lends some books to the Overlord Rashaverak to study from. Boyce has a party to show off to his friends his interaction with an Overlord. Here, he uses a Ouija board and a guest, Boyce’s brother-in-law and an astrophysicist, Jan Rodricks. Jan asks him to identify the home star of the Overlords. Also in attendance are George Greggson and his fiancé, Jean. When the board identifies the star as one that the supply ships of the Overlords have been seen coming from and going to, Jean is shocked. As the plot unfolds Rodricks finds a way to stow away on an Overlord ship and makes the forty-light-year trip to their home planet. Because of relativity theories the time that passes aboard the spaceship is only a matter of weeks.

The Last Generation is the final segment of the text and Rodricks returns to Earth about eighty years after he left, measured in Earth time. He finds a planet that is very different from the one he had known. He finds no signs of mankind as it was, but rather millions of children who are not human-like but who seem to be of their own race. They are bound together in a trance-like existence as one mind used to do the bidding of the all-powerful Overmind which controls even the Overlords. The Overlords are unable to join the Overmind and it seems their purpose it is to be a bridge between the Overmind and other species that are developed to join it. To the Overlords it is too dangerous to remain on Earth and they offer to take Rodricks with them. He refuses, preferring to stay behind and be witness to the end of the Earth.

The Overlords value the information that Rodricks might be able to send to them as it could help them survive with the Overmind. Rodricks radios them that he sees a huge column of flame and as it disappears he feels an emptiness. Earth’s final moments arrive in the year 2125 when the planet evaporates, leaving no trace that it had ever existed.