"Childhood's End" by Arthur C. Clarke is one of those unforgettable novels. Nearly sixty years after it was written, the novel remains on student reading lists and sits among the classics, not only of science fiction, but also provocative literature.
For what is better than a novel which demands thought and a resulting discussion? Even though reading is a solitary experience, discussing novels creates a communal experience. "Childhood's End" provides great shared experience of many minds focused on one book.
That's just it: "Childhood's End" is more than science fiction--it is also apocalyptic, but most importantly, and, appropos to this discussion, it is a novel of ideas. The irony is how many of Clarke's ideas, or at least some form of his ideas, have come to fruition.
Case in point: the hit television series "V" features two of his visions: the Overlords ("aliens") and a hidden agenda. In "Childhood's End" Clarke focuses on one family: a mother and a father and two young children, who come to represent the uninitiated, the pure or nearly pure of mind (depending on age), the modeling clay, metaphorically speaking. For gradually, each child learns new skills which develop into powers.
In "V" the aliens have come for dark purposes; in "Childhood's End" for birthing purposes. Each time I taught this novel at the high school level, I always felt so sad at the end, when the children merged to become something else. It is this something else that I am here to review.
Note: Spoilers ahead!
In the last couple of years there has been much talk, much speculation, much re-examination of history and the Bible. Many believe the earth as we know it will end in 2012, according to the Mayan calendar system. Many talk of wars and rumors of wars, natural disasters, the world in chaos, signifying that the Rapture is near and Christians will be taken up to Heaven, leaving nonbelievers on Earth to face what will come. There are second chances.
Clarke proposed some 60 years ago a scenario of the end. The physical world was the Earth with people still in chaos. The Overlords bring peace and prosperity. What they don't know is that this peace allows for the development of ESP and other paranormal activities of the children to heighten, then develop. There are even hints of "Lord of the Flies" with the movement of the children to a central location to become. Finally, their minds cocoon and when they leave their bodies, they join the Overmind "out there." Their leaving the Earth pulls out all energy and the Earth--pow! is obliterated.
Although Clarke is proposing something much grander than death and destruction, or even deconstruction--a figurative and possibly a literal joining with the Overmind as a wonderful thing. The movie version even shows a giant fetus, almost fully developed, floating in space, as if in preparation for the next phase of existence.
Although Clarke eschewed religion, allowing only possibly for a mild form of Buddhism, his final image of a pure mind about to join a super mind does have biblical overtones.
Reading and discussing with others ideas contained in a work of literature is a very communal experience. It brings people together for a sharing and exchange of ideas. It opens minds to new possibilities, or in a contrary manner, tears us further apart. I offer this review as a gift--my mind to yours and whatever may happen afterward.
Books on my very ambitious TBR list (*denotes read)
- *Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox
- The Odd Women by George Gissing
- The Zen of Fish by Trevor Corson
- How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell
- The Cod Tale by Mark Kurlansky
- In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
- *Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
- Dag Hammarskjold by Elizabeth Rider Montgomery
- The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet by Rabbi Michael L. Munk
- Children of Strangers by Lyle Saxon
- Spiritual Writings by Flannery O'Connor
- Nightmares and Visions: Flannery O'Connor and the Catholic Grotesque by Gilbert H. Muller
- The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor
- Flannery O'Connor's South by Robert Coles
- Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
- Sylvanus Now by Donna Morrissey
- *Vincent de Paul by Margaret Ann Hubbard
- Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
- A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking
- The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
- Readicide by Kelly Gallagher
- *Ruined by Paula Morris
- Say You're Not One of Them by Uwem Akpan
- Wandering Star by J.M.G. Le Clezio
- Silence by Shusaku Endo
- *The Assault by Harry Mulisch
- Kari's Saga by Robert Jansson
- *The German Mujahid by Boualem Sansal
- Western Skies by Joseph Conrad
- *The Giver by Lois Lowery
- *Imperium by Ryszard Kapuscinski