Analysis

When reading the first few chapters of Childhood's End, it should be kept in mind that they originally stood on their own as a single short story, called "Guardian Angel." Author Arthur C. Clarke did not change very much of the text between the short story and the novel version. Clarke wrote "Guardian Angel" to be published in a science fiction magazine in the 1940s. These magazines paid so many cents to the word, so it was in the author's interest to stretch his or her stories as much as possible. The more words in the story, the more money they made. As a result, the first part of Childhood's End is a little slow, and it contains many sub-plots and scenes that don't really add much to the story. These two chapters contain several such sub-plots. Unfortunately, these sub-plots do little to advance the reader's understanding of the Overlords or of their relations with humans. For instance, the scene with the "visitors," the radical members of the Freedom League, could have helped make it clear to us what the arguments of the Freedom League are and why they don't like the Overlords. Instead, the entire kidnapping is a plot device: it serves only to give Stormgren the idea of using a scanning device in his meetings with Karellen. Stormgren could easily have thought of this idea on his own, but by including the whole kidnapping sub-plot, Clarke is able to stretch out his story and perhaps make it a little more dramatic.

Like many early science fiction authors, Arthur C. Clarke has very good ideas for his stories, but his writing style is not particularly good. His characters are usually not very well-developed, and the plot tends to trudge along slowly. This does not mean Clarke is a bad writer. It means that his strength lies in the ideas of his novels, not in the writing or his characters. However, this means that whenever his characters or plot are not exploring the ideas of the novel, it tends to drag or lose some of its meaning.

As mentioned before, Childhood's End, is different from the short story it is based on, "Guardian Angel." The first half of Childhood's End is almost identical, word-for-word, as "Guardian Angel." The big question in "Guardian Angel" is, "What do the Overlords look like?" That is why these early chapters are so concerned with finding that out. The big question of Childhood's End is, "What are the Overlords doing on Earth?" Chapters 3 and 4 were originally written as part of "Guardian Angel," so they are more occupied with the first question. These chapters inform the reader that the Overlords apparently have very good reasons for not revealing themselves. These reasons have something to do with their appearance, and the effect they believe it will have on humans. In order to make sure that humans are mentally capable of handling the sight of the Overlords, Karellen (or his superior) decides to wait fifty years. By then, most people on Earth will have lived with the Overlords all their lives. More importantly, they will all have lived in a period of intellectual enlightenment, so that they will have very open minds and will be prepared to deal with the Overlords, whatever they look like.