Childhood’s End: A Christmas Story

Alien beings visited earth in ancient times and still influence our lives today.  That’s the buzz on some Discovery and History channel shows. And some people do believe it.

Aliens visit earth in the book “Childhood’s End,” by Arthur Clarke.  The human race seems to recall a visit by these same aliens many, many years ago.

The aliens, also known as the Overlords, come to earth and abolish hunger, homelessness, and war.    Human life is more comfortable, but it comes at the expense of the loss of individuality.  Soon people stop trying to accomplish or create anything and devote all their time seeking out pleasure and entertainment.

An interesting sidebar in the book, Clarke writes that people watch television three hours a day in this future world (late 20th century). This book was published in 1953 so the author could not have possibly known the actual amount of time people would soon be staring at some kind of screen, be it television, computer, cell phone, the list goes on and on.  A new type of screen was probably just invented as I typed this last sentence onto my screen.  By some estimates, people today spend nearly five hours a day watching television.  Before Clarke died in 2008, he surely realized that he underestimated the hours people would spend watching television in the future, let alone the number of hours a day people spend in front of some kind of electronic screen.

After the Overlords arrive, human children develop supernatural abilities and the aliens separate these children from the rest of humankind.  Then people stop giving birth to any more children.  The children that do exist no longer resemble human nature.  They become distant from their families.  Soon they are ready and willing to be whisked off earth by an alien species.

The Overlords try to conceal their appearance at all cost.  When they are finally seen, they resemble the devil with wings, horns, and tails.  The Overlords must have been here before.  Did our ancient religious books record a meeting with this devil from the past?  Do these stories draw on memories of an earlier, less successful meeting with these aliens?  Was it predetermined that they would come back and steal all our children from us?  It turns out the memory came from the future.  Ancient humans had a premonition of the devil to come in the distant future, and identified this future memory with the death of the human race. So these aliens, for a time, kept a low profile, hidden away from humans.

The Overlords do the bidding of higher beings called the Overminds. The Overminds are a pure, intelligent form of energy that travel through space picking up the species that are ready to travel with them.  In the process, the hitchhiking species lose their previous identity and merge with this energy and gain a greater knowledge of the universe.  The existing children on earth prepare for this final exit into outer space.  Almost a Buddhist end of the road to nothingness.

The Overlords are not able to join the Overminds, but they enable other species to merge with these higher beings.  The final step in human evolution moves the children to a higher level of existence.

For an hour after I finished reading this book, I felt it was a grim little novel with a depressing ending.  After that first hour, I changed my mind completely and now believe that it is the ultimate uplifting story.

Without children on earth, humankind will eventually die out.  But isn’t this what the human species has strived for throughout most of it’s history?  An end to earthly strife and a melding with a glorious energy beyond ourselves, our small world.  All things come to an end.  We have a strong impulse to connect with, understand, and finally disappear into something bigger than ourselves.  The Overminds may not be gods, but Childhood’s End gives voice to our ancient and modern spiritual longings.

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