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George Greggson and Jean Morrel, a couple, attend a party hosted by Rupert Boyce. They are greeted at Boyce's door by a holographic projection of Boyce himself. The device allows Boyce, a "superveterinarian," to investigate all the animals over a vast area of jungle without getting too close to them. Boyce has just recently remarried, and the party is a chance for his new wife to become acquainted with his friends. The new wife is gorgeous, and George is clearly attracted to her, but Jean pulls him away to explore the rest of the house.
They make their way to the library, where Boyce keeps the world's largest library on paranormal research--phenomena such as telepathy, telekinesis, contact with the spirit world, and other such things. They are shocked to discover an Overlord in the library, swiftly reading a book. His name is Rashaverak, and he claims to be doing psychological research. Soon, all three of them head back down to the party, where Rashaverak causes quite a sensation and is subjected to endless conversation. George decides to take a break and goes out onto the roof of the house. There he meets Jan Rodricks, the brother of Boyce's new wife. George quickly retreats back to the party, but Rodricks remains outside.
Jan Rodricks is a young man of twenty-seven. He has spent most of his life studying physics and astronomy. He is a restless man, not willing to be content under the utopian rule of the Overlords. He feels it is no coincidence that the Overlords arrived at the very moment mankind was about to step into space. He believes the Overlords, whatever their reasons, are deliberately preventing man from ever conquering space as they have done. Jan has watched many Overlord supply ships come and go from Earth, but neither he nor any other scientists have been able to decipher the technology the Overlords use.
Boyce's party ends. Jan heads back inside, and Greg and Jean are still there, as well as Rashaverak. Boyce decides to have a little fun by holding a séance and having the group use a Ouija board. Jean is particularly excited at this prospect, but George is very skeptical. The responses from the board are very cryptic: when asked "Who are you?" it responds, "I am all." The board gives a surprising number of accurate answers, and to George's surprise, he finds it is difficult to consciously alter the progress of the board's needle. Finally, Jan asks, "Which star is the Overlords' sun?" and the board responds with: "NGS 549672"--an identification number for a star. This answer confuses most of the participants, but it is quickly forgotten when Jean faints.
These chapters represent a departure from the previous direction of the novel. Until this point, the novel has followed author Arthur C. Clarke's short story, "Guardian Angel" almost word-for-word. Clarke wrote "Guardian Angel" first, then later expanded it into Childhood's End. "Guardian Angel" ends when the Overlords reveal themselves and turn out to look exactly like the Devil. The most important question in "Guardian Angel" is, "What do the Overlords look like?" But Childhood's End takes the story further, asking the question, "What are the Overlords doing on Earth?" In a broader sense, Childhood's End examines the question of whether humanity has a purpose or direction, whether humans are "evolving" to a higher life form--in short, the novel is searching for the meaning of life in a world without religion.
In Chapter 7, the reader gets the first few hints of what the Overlords' plans for humanity are. Rashaverak has an odd interest in the paranormal, the study of superhuman abilities such as telepathy, telekinesis, and other powers. It is not clear exactly why the Overlords have this interest, but apparently it is strong enough for an Overlord to leave his ship and spend time at a human's house.
Chapter 7 also introduces the character of George Greggson and Jean Morrel, who will be important characters for the rest of the novel. George in particular will be important as an observer. He will have little or no part in the developments of the plot, but he will provide an eyewitness account of what happens. Since he is skeptical of things such as the paranormal, George is a good character to use as an observer, since his perception of what happens will not be troubled by bias. For instance, in the scene with the Ouija board, George tries to think of a logical explanation for why the board is answering so many questions correctly; he suggests that perhaps people are subconsciously directing the Ouija board's needle. Jean, on the other hand, firmly believes in the paranormal, so her observations might be biased: she might jump to conclusions or make guesses about what is going on that would confuse the reader.
Jan Rodricks is the other character who will become very important for the rest of Childhood's End. He is a young astrophysicist who dreams of going into space. Jan represents the tendency of some humans to become restless in any situation, no matter how well things are going. While the Overlords have brought peace and prosperity to Earth, they have taken away some of the sense of purpose in human life. The narrator points out that, "When the Overlords had abolished war and hunger and disease, they had also abolished adventure." This is the problem that confronts Jan. The Overlords have left humanity with nothing to work on. The Overlords have all the answers, so why bother looking for them? Why continue to study anything, particularly the stars? As an astrophysicist, Jan has even more reason to be bitter than most scientists. The Overlords have forbidden mankind to work on spaceships. Scientists can only watch, from distant telescopes, as the Overlords vanish into space in their light speed ships. Jan wants to visit the stars and other planets. In his restless desire to explore, Jan represents the inability in many humans to accept any kind of limits, no matter how kindly they are imposed. While the Overlords may have made a heaven of life on Earth, they also seem to have eliminated any possibility of moving beyond that heaven.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Childhood's End!