Childhood's End

(Great Characters in Literature)

Characters Discussed

Rikki Stormgren

Rikki Stormgren, the secretary-general of the United Nations, a native of Finland. At the age of sixty, he is widowed with grown children. He devoted his keen mind and diplomatic talents to thirty-five years of public service before being selected by the Overlords as their only liaison with the human race. With a patience born of long experience (and adeptness at poker), he shares mutual trust and faith with the Overlord Karellen, even while kidnapped and held a short time by extremists on Earth. His cleverly arranged glimpse of Karellen does not satisfy his curiosity about the Overlords, and for the ensuing thirty years of his retirement he wonders about their purpose.


Karellen, the supervisor of Earth for the alien race called the Overlords. Immortal by human standards, he and his colleagues act as guardians of the colony Earth for the Overmind of the universe. His, and the Overlords’, charge is to act as midwives in the birth and transformation of a new generation of cosmic minds for ultimate union with the Overmind. Mentally gifted but physically barren, they insist only on global justice and order; they act to end wars, South African apartheid, and cruelty to animals. the Overlords all seem to be identical, having the physical form of the legendary Devil and requiring sunglasses because the Earth’s sunlight is brighter light than that of their own sun. His mission accomplished, Karellen leaves the dying Earth to visit the next nursery, always probing the mystery of the Overmind.

Jan Rodricks

Jan Rodricks, a University of Cape Town graduate student in engineering physics. Of mixed black and Scottish blood, he is a twenty-seven-year-old romantic and accomplished pianist whose hopes to explore space are dashed by the arrival of the Overlords. Undaunted, he stows away aboard one of their starships, enabling him to visit their home planet and return with them to Earth. He has aged only six months, but the time dilation caused by relativity means that eighty years have passed on his own world. He remains on Earth, transmitting his impressions of the death throes of Earth to the Overlords as they speed away in their starships.

George Greggson

George Greggson, a television studio designer. Devoted...

(The entire section is 969 words.)

The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Childhood’s End is an account of the final one hundred years of human life on Earth, from the time of the Overlords’ arrival in their huge spaceship to the time of the dramatic, rapid evolution of all human children into a nonhuman form that achieves unity with the Overmind. A series of human characters—most notably George Greggson, Jean Morrel, and their two children—encounter the technologically advanced Overlords, whose Stardrive-based spaceships, truth-in-history machines, and panoramic viewers (which allow observation of every detail in an area many miles away) provide the science-fiction aspects of Arthur C. Clarke’s novel. The evolutionary fantasy element appears in human children as they transform into nonhuman entities that destroy Earth in the power of their fusion into the Overmind that controls, and perhaps is, the universe.

Childhood’s End begins with an event often anticipated and described in science fiction: the arrival of an alien species on Earth. This species is unusual, however, both in its refusal to allow itself to be seen for fifty years and in its benevolence, as it prohibits cruelty to animals and otherwise guides humanity beyond the barbarity of war and destruction into an era of peace and economic prosperity. The negative results of the arrival and assumption of control by the Overlords are powerful as well, though less dramatic. A consequence of the end of energizing conflict and struggle is the...

(The entire section is 585 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Clarke's narrative is conservative, his vocabulary undemanding, his imagery conventional, and his point-of-view solidly that of the...

(The entire section is 346 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Science fiction in general, looks to the future—near or far. Clarke's visions of the future in prose sometimes build from present-day...

(The entire section is 797 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The opening of the novel describes an arms and space race which humanity can no longer control; Childhood's End suggests men...

(The entire section is 296 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Any understanding of Clarke must acknowledge the influence of Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men (1931): "With its multi-million-year...

(The entire section is 245 words.)