Childhood's End

Childhood's End Study Guide

Childhood’s End is one of Arthur C. Clarke’s most popular and critically acclaimed works, and a mainstay of 20th century science fiction. Published by Ballantine in 1953, it began with the short story “The Guardian Angel," published in Famous Fantastic Mysteries magazine in 1950; Clarke worked on the full novel through 1952 and into the next year. Clarke said that he might have gotten the idea for the Overlords’ ships from seeing the barrage balloons over London during World War II.

The first printing of the novel sold out, and most reviews were favorable. Many readers and even Clarke himself say it is their favorite work in the author’s oeuvre. The Galaxy review called it "a formidably impressive job ... a continuous kaleidoscope of the unexpected." Some reviewers did not care for the episodic structure however, and saw it as essentially awkward and imperfect. Two reviewers saw it resting on "a rather banal philosophical idea," but "expressed in simple but aspiring language that vaguely recalls the Psalms [and] combined [it] with a dramatized sense of loss [for] undeniable effect."

In 1990 Clarke revised the novel a bit, owing to its outdated nature. He changed the space race to the race to Mars, and added a new prologue. In it he claimed to fully be a skeptic, a perspective at odds with the views expressed in the novel. While skeptical of the paranormal, he does concede, “I have little doubt that the Universe is teeming with life.”

The novel won the Retro Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2004.

Stanley Kubrick considered adapting the work to film in the 1960s, but worked with Clarke on 2001: A Space Odyssey instead. The BBC produced a radio dramatization in 1997. In late 2015 the Syfy channel debuted a miniseries, which was popular amongst viewers but middling in terms of critical reception.