Study Guide

Childhood's End Religious Imagery

By Arthur C. Clarke

Religious Imagery

Most people probably don't think of religious imagery when they think of science fiction. They think of spaceships, alien cultures and green-skinned women. And while that's all in the novel—well, except for the green-skinned women—there are plenty of religious shout-outs to be had, too.

Here's a quick run down of just a few of the religious images we found in the novel:

  • The Overlords look like demons, as in full-on Satan beasties (7.51).
  • The squid that chills near sea lab is named Lucifer (11.51).
  • Jan's plan to transport himself inside the belly of a whale is very similar to the story of Jonah in the Bible (12.20).
  • The play George begins production on is Shaw's Back to Methuselah, a reference to the Biblical character (15.37).
  • Jan's experience of watching humanity transcend into the Overmind reminds him of the religious stories of heaven (24.51).
  • In fact, the ending of the novel is so replete with religious imagery that you should probably hop over to our "What's up with the Ending?" section to check it out.

And there's more to be sure. The question is why there is so much religion in a science fiction novel.

One answer that seems to work—and there could be several valid explanations, to be sure—is the idea considered in the book that religion and science could be the same thing. Check out what Karellen says:

"All down the ages there have been countless reports of strange phenomena—poltergeists, telepathy, precognition—which you had named but never explained. […] But they exist, and, if it is to be complete, any theory of the universe must account for them." (20.11)

Here, the Overlord is basically saying that religion is the name we give for the natural phenomena science has yet to discover, the idea being that in time and with further exploration, all the things we consider religion will eventually move into the category we call science.

There's plenty of history to back this up as well. For instance, people use to think will o' the wisps were spirits haunting the marshes of Britain and Ireland, but most people now think that they are the result of natural gases.

And so, religion becomes science as our knowledge increases. Then again, the novel leaves plenty of mystery toward its end, perhaps suggesting that there will always be a religious or mystical side to humanity and that science will always be chasing after it.