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Superstition and Truth in Childhood's End by Sir Arthur C. Clarke

Updated on October 10, 2017
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has been a professional writer and critic of films, books, music and theater for over 20 years.


Surprising Science Fiction Novel

Beginning to read Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End, I felt bizarrely familiar with the story line. It was not the notion of 100% infallible oral contraceptives or of paternity testing or the suggestion back in 1953, of DNA analysis. The familiarity had a different origin.

Arthur C. Clarke had made some biological forecasts as well as meteorological and telecommunications predictions in his work.

Clarke's Scientific Predictions

Clarke had made a full time line of human predictions, including even a point at which humankind would make their own organs and discover the secret to immortal life on Earth.

It was as if Clarke had had a Fast Forward Machine, instead of a Wayback. Few would listen to his forecasts of satellite communications (our current ComSat) in his youth; so, I wonder if he later said, "I told you so" and whether his biological predictions will all come true?

In reading Childhood's End, I saw again how often science fiction can become fact in short order.

The Startling Scenes

It was this that startled me:

A race of alien Overlords kept their physical appearance veiled by a screen from the humans that they supervised through Supervisor Karellen.

This Karellen used a sort of Wayback TV set through which the Overlord race showed humans most of the real history of their planet from the 21st century back through 4004 BC.Please recall that this book was written in the middle of the 20th century.

The Overlords blocked out short parts of their "Wayback" presentations for the "humans' own good." Is censorship ever really good? Thus, on page 74 out of 222, I was startled into a memory.

Superstition, Revisionist History or The Truth?

Where was this history-by-television repeated in literature?

I recalled The Light of Other Days by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter.

This is an exciting futurist novel written in 1997, with a WayBack TV that did not censor anything.

Human beings were taught through history-by-television that all of the people and events upon which humankind's myriad religions and faiths have been built were make believe, legends, myths, nonexistent, or lies. People who viewed history with this TV were shaken, their ideas uprooted.

Thus, I was working backward in the literary timeline, having read The Light of Other Days first, followed by Childhood's End. Authors often build upon their early ideas and works to being the public even better stories. These two books make a set.

For instance, Bram Stoker wrote Varney the Vampire and Dracula's Guest before he composed Dracula. Star Trek's ® Q has been linked to a, similar character in Journey to a Small Planet.

In Childhood's End, Karellen uses his TV to wipe what he shows are superstitious religions from the minds of the human beings. The novel's narrator states that only a form of Buddhism remained after all other belief was eliminated (Clarke himself was Buddhist, however, the copyright page of the book includes the statement "The opinions expressed in this book are not those of the author").

Superstition? | Source

A Giant Superhero for the Children

Karellen, behind his screen, communes with the Secretary of the United Nations, Rikki Stormgren, and gives him instructions for humans over several years. Suddenly, he cuts off communications after telling Stormgren that it will require 50 more years for humans to mature to the point at which they can accept the Overlords' physical appearance.

The Overlords first appeared as a flotilla of giant starships that threatened the Earth from the skies. In the first section of the book, called "Earth and the Overlords", The Overlords proved their altruism toward humanity, but seemed to exert suppression of individuality and creativity. This led to minor uprisings that came to no purchase.

Fifty years after Karellen cut off communications with Stormgren, Earth had become Utopia with no like hunger, crime, illness; and no needs or challenges. First, the illusion of many ships was reduced to the reality of one ship only. The Overlords were a simple group of five, although they were at least 7 feet tall in their black armor.

Only a few people fainted at first sight of them, but the children loved them. The children accepted the Overlords.

The 21st Century Predicted

Chapter 8 of the second book section that is titled "The Golden Age" begins thus: NO UTOPIA can ever give satisfaction to everyone, all the time.

This chapter describes people becoming bored and wanting more. It goes on to describe a new protagonist, Jan Rodricks, an African American the author calls a "Negroe" (a 1953 term).

Jan is fortunate to live in a world where the N-word is no longer offensive. He is also described as never having seen his Scottish father either "drunk or sober", promoting a racial stereotype.

In the final section of the book, The Last Generation," Rodricks is the final witness to humankind's ascendance to a higher plane in order to join the hive mind The Overlords call the "Overmind."

The Overlords prepared four populations across the galaxy to join the Overmind, before they approached humans, although the black-armored race could never themselves ascend. They were trapped in a physical existence.

The concept of ascension and hive minds have been copied many times. For instance, Star Trek® Borg stories and TV's Star Gate I include ascending races.

Many children in Clarke's 21st century are telepathic. They were separated out to join the Overmind and their parents likely committed suicide; no other children were born. The telepathic children waited to ascend.

Rodricks, a physicist, travels through space-time to The Overlords' home world and back to Earth to learn about ascension, but return in time to witness the ascension of the children into pure energy.

The Overmind uses the children's physical manifestations as fuel. Rodricks acts as a radio broadcaster live on the scene in his ship, until he and the ship are also consumed.

At the same time, Karellen looks on sadly, turning to the Overmind for new instructions, still and forever trapped in a body and unable to ascend.

Threefold Interpretation

Is the end of childhood a leaving behind of superstition and faith, a joining of oneself with a larger energy as in Nirvana, or death?


Coincidence and Quirk

In the first section of Childhood's End, Stormgren is able to catch a glimpse of Karellen through the trickery of an electronic lighting device applied to the alien's screen. He catches the immense size of the alien's chair and perhaps the tip of a barbed tail or a horn or a wing.

In "The Golden Age," we see the entire figure of Karellen, including black armor as well as horns, wings, and tail. This massive individual could be either a representative of an alien race or the devil of humankind's history.

Karellen blocked all of the Wayback TV footage of himself and the other Overlords, because humans would not accept their appearance yet. During the next 50 years, Karellen and his crew erased all history of the devil and fallen angels of the Bible from human history.

Karellen would never be able to attain his one desire: ascending to the plane of the Overmind, in the same way that the devil could never meet his wish in scripture: "I will be like the Most High."

Childhood's End provides dozens of topics for discussion and examination surrounding the literature, history, science, religions, and arts of the 1950s Cold War Era, as well as those that may be included in the 21st century.

This is a classic futurist work. Adults will enjoy it and teens will likely have a lot of questions as they read through it.


© 2008 Patty Inglish MS

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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Thanks for posting, Queen - I also enjoy the science fiction work of the Christian, C.S. Lewis, of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and many sci-fi works by others as well.

      Clarke predicted that mankind could achieve immortality scientifically and I find that hard to accept - not only from a faith standpoint, but from the fact that DNA is pre-programmed to last on average, only 113 years of replication. Cloned animals live shorter lives than naturally produced animals as well. All good speculation though and sci-fi leads to scietific duiscovery and even to strengthening faith for some of us.

      Thanks again!

    • Queendenise35 profile image

      Denise Swoveland 

      10 years ago from Defiance,Ohio

      Thank you Patty English for your article on Childhood,s End. I am a Christian woman who loves science-fiction. I find the storyline of Childhood,s End intriguing and challenging. I hear of some of Arthur Clarke,s writng. His stories sound fascinating, I hope to read them some time. I enjoyed the picture of the characters of the books and others book by Arthur Clarke. Sorry, My writng need lots of work, I hope you understand my writng. I will read more of your article. I appreciate finding female who loves science-fiction. I write to you later .

      Good Journey in book reading

      By Queendeinse35

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      "Fearfully presidential" - why change the order of the universe at THIS point? LOL

      BT - You have a Purchase Order to sign for 7.000.000 and a gross of Christoph Reilly Bat-Cats with extra, free anti-mange shampoo for the Eel Union pogos. It's around here somewhere....

    • B.T. Evilpants profile image

      B.T. Evilpants 

      11 years ago from Hell, MI

      Patty! I do apologize for my late arrival! It's been quite hectic lately. Supporters, and adoring fans have been throwing money at me, and urging on along the campaign trail. I'm sure you know how it is.

      I enjoyed the write-up. Clarke is one of my favorites. That last photo is a bit scary, though. That guy looks strangely familiar. I must admit, he looks kinda presidential, though.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Thanks, The Old Firm! Nice link. :)

    • The Old Firm profile image

      The Old Firm 

      11 years ago from Waikato/Bay Of Plenty, New Zealand

      Patty - Thanks, it was Vidal. information at the following site:

       Cheers, T.O.F.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      The Old firm - I found a comment on a bulletin board, but cannot confirm it as yet:

      JOURNEY TO A SMALL PLANET, written by Gore Vidal

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      the3rdalien - I have heard for this book and will begin to look for it. Since I read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, I want to read all of Heinlein.

      The Old Firm - I also cannot find a reference to "Journey." I had heard of it many times and never read it, but finally saw it as a stage play in the late 1990s.  I will search it out.

      meteoboy - Thanks!

      tonymac04 - I'm glad you liked the review enough to read the book again. This book in one I will keep. ot I must re-read Light of Other Days.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      11 years ago from South Africa

      Brilliant review of a brilliant book that I have loved since first reading it back in the 1960s. Thanks Patty Inglish! I will now go back to it and read it again.

    • meteoboy profile image


      11 years ago from GREECE

      EXCELLENT !!!

    • The Old Firm profile image

      The Old Firm 

      11 years ago from Waikato/Bay Of Plenty, New Zealand

      I rather thought that Journey To A Small Planet was a Doris Lessing novel, but can't find reference to it in her wikipedia write-up. (Actually I can't find it anywhere in the quick google search I just did.)

      I read Heinlein's Time Enough For Love way back when, as well as many of his other works. His si-fi is in my mind at least on a par with Clarke's, as is Lessing's, all of whom combine si-fi, religion, and psychology adroitly.

      Good review.

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Wow,...that was quite the review. Have you read Time Enough For Love, by Robert Heinline ? ( not sure the last name is spelled correctly) I read it when I was 11,12, or is a book about the future is why I never forgot it even though it must have been printed in the 60's. I guess it must have given me things to think about.

      Nice hub Patty Inglish, MS. Nice pics and great layout.


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