Childhood's End | Study Guide

Arthur C. Clarke

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Childhood's End | Chapter 5 | Summary

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Summary

Twenty years after Stormgren denied having seen Karellen, the Overlords are preparing to reveal themselves. They tell the people of Earth that most of the ships they had seen for decades were an illusion; Karellen's ship was the only real one, with supply ships arriving from time to time. When his ship lands, Karellen opens the door and asks that two children enter the ship. He then emerges on the gangway carrying the children, revealing himself to have black skin, horns, wings, and a barbed tail.

Analysis

When the Overlords do reveal themselves, it is through Karellen, who has observed and interacted with humans for five decades. He looks like a traditional depiction of the Christian devil, an impression that he knows will terrify most humans. But Karellen has taken his time; religion has fallen away, so the negative associations between the Overlords' appearance and Satan are not as strong. Karellen also reveals that the ships once thought to be poised around Earth are not real, which makes the Overlords less intimidating than they once were. He has learned that children can be used as props, and he attempts to soften his appearance by carrying two children in his arms. It works, and although his appearance shocks many people, he does not frighten humanity in the way that he might have had the Overlords not planned so carefully.

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