[[caption-width-right:215:First edition cover]]

''Childhood's End'' is a novel by Creator/ArthurCClarke, originally published in 1953 (but based off of a 1950 short story of his). The plot concerns the BenevolentAlienInvasion of an alien race called the Overlords. After stopping the UsefulNotes/ColdWar and establishing a world government, they start to maintain peace on Earth, but refuse to show any images of themselves for fifty years. Humanity enters a golden age, before spoilery events happen. Yeah, you can't read much more than that without the ''entire'' plot being given away.

As suggested by the title, the main theme of the book is the end of humanity's "childhood" into a new era.

{{Shout Out}}s to it in fiction are not uncommon, ranging from some in ''Series/StargateSG1'' and ''VideoGame/{{Xenogears}}'' to the cover of Music/LedZeppelin's ''Music/HousesOfTheHoly'', the Music/PinkFloyd song "Childhood's End" on ''Music/ObscuredByClouds'' and the Music/{{Genesis}} song "Watcher Of The Skies".

For tropes from the Creator/{{Syfy}} miniseries, [[Series/ChildhoodsEnd click here]].

!!Tropes Used:

* AdaptationExpansion: The first part of the novel is basically a slightly-altered retelling of Clarke's short story "Guardian Angel". The second and third parts are original, about what happens after.
* AlternativeNumberSystem: It is mentioned in passing that the Overlords count in base 14 (their hands have five fingers and two thumbs).
* AncientAstronauts: The myths aren't from memory, but [[spoiler:precognitive visions of the demonic-looking aliens.]]
* AngelicAliens: Inverted with the red devil look of the aliens. It's explained that the idea of the red devil is actually a sort of reverse species memory.
* AscendToAHigherPlaneOfExistence: [[spoiler:The current generation of humans will be the last one - and with them, human civilization will cease to exist as all their children born from that moment on were no longer human and will then mind-meld and ascend into a higher form of consciousness that transcends material bodies. Ultimately, that is the fate of ''all'' sentient races, except those that are "stuck" like the Overlords themselves.]]
* AssimilationPlot: [[spoiler:Ever wondered where ''Anime/NeonGenesisEvangelion'' got the whole Instrumentality sequence from?]] Now you know!
* BeastlyBloodsports: The Overlords state their objection to killing animals for entertainment. They put teeth into this pronouncement by causing every member of the audience to actually ''feel'' the bull's pain at what, for obvious reasons, is the last bullfighting event for the humans.
* BenevolentAlienInvasion: The Overlords bring peace, prosperity, and unprecedented levels of geographic and social mobility for the whole human race.
* BittersweetEnding: [[spoiler:The Overlords help usher in the final stage of human evolution, but the price is the end of the Earth itself and of humanity's individuality and identity as a species.]]
* BizarreBabyBoom: Aliens show up shortly before a bizarre ''new'' generation of humans appears, but they didn't actually cause it. This isn't to say that their arrival is entirely a coincidence, though.
* BlueAndOrangeMorality: The Overlords truly are looking out for the human race's best interests, but their final goal is quite esoteric by human standards.
* CrapsaccharineWorld: Thanks to the Overlords' technology, poverty is a thing of the past, crime is way down, and people don't have to work at jobs that they don't want to do. Yet as things get better and better, things get less and less Utopian. Instead, characters like Jan Rodricks and Ben Salomon have to deal with 'the supreme enemy of all Utopiasóboredom'. Although only noticed by a few, it leads to stagnation in art and culture.
* CreativeSterility: A side effect of the Overlords' control is the decline of the arts. Some communities take to deliberately isolating themselves from the conveniences of futuristic technology to recapture their creative spark; the Overlords allow them to since, in the grand scheme of things, these movements are essentially harmless and not obstructing their plans.
* CreepyChild: The telekinetic children.
* CultureChopSuey: The tremendous leaps in technology brought about by the Overlord as well as mass migration policies resulted in populations effortlessly moving and mixing all over the planet, negating the former countries as nothing more than postal addresses. On the other hand, this hasn't really removed cultural differences and national identities; the Royal Guard in London still dutifully oversees Buckingham Palace.
* DarkIsNotEvil: The [[spoiler:demon-like]] aliens were actually the ''good'' guys. [[spoiler: The reason we thought they were evil and used them in our mythologies as such, was mostly because of a sort of species-wide premonition - we now realized that their very own appearance would be a sign of our 'end as a physically corporeal species']].
* DrivenToSuicide: [[spoiler:Upon learning the truth about the Overlords' purpose on Earth, some choose to take their own lives rather than live through civilization's downfall. The leader of the island community in particular does so by detonating a nuclear device.]]
* EndOfAnAge: Following a variation on the theme, the setting is pure ScienceFiction instead of the usual fantasy. The age in question is [[spoiler:the Age of Mankind as a separate existence from the Overmind.]]
* TheEndOfTheWorldAsWeKnowIt: [[spoiler:Earth and ''everything'' on its surface become pure energy for the new generation's journey to join the Overmind]]
* ExactWords: The Overlords' announcement to an assembly of journalists that "the stars are not for Man" proves to be rather literal [[spoiler: given that the stars are instead for Man's evolutionary descendants as they join the Overmind.]]
* EvolutionaryLevels
* FaceDeathWithDignity: [[spoiler:The Overlords inform Jan Rodricks about how humanity's last days were filled with both honor and savagery. Jan himself opts to stay on Earth rather than travel on with the Overlords even as mankind's "descendants" transcend to join the Overmind.]]
* GainaxEnding: Indeed, probably one of the most direct inspirations for the TropeNamer.
* GeneticMemory: {{Discussed}}, then {{inverted}}. [[spoiler:Our mental image of TheDevil and his minions comes from the psychic backlash of the Earth's end and the Overlords' role in it resonating backwards through time.]]
* TheGodsMustBeLazy: [[spoiler:They'll just send another alien race to do their bidding]]. [[JustifiedTrope Justified]], as it's stated that [[spoiler: the Overmind]] has tried to directly interact with other species' development in the past only to fail spectacularly.
* TheGreatPoliticsMessup: Semi-averted, see OrwellianRetcon below.
* HeWhoMustNotBeSeen: The Overlords invoke this trope, refusing to show themselves to the people of Earth during the first 50 years of their rule, before humanity is ready.
* HiddenElfVillage: Sort of. A group of people led by a Jewish entrepreneur decide to set up an independent society on a group of islands in the Pacific, using only whatever technology they see useful to get by. The Overlords however are perfectly aware of its existence but let it be [[spoiler:as the birth of mankind's next step in evolution would make the debate moot anyway]].
* HiveMind: A big galaxy-spanning one!
* HumanoidAliens: [[spoiler: The Overlords. They look like {{Satan}}.]]
* HumansAreCthulhu: [[spoiler:It's revealed by the Overlords that part of reason why they're helping mankind join the Overmind is that either humans would destroy their own successors... or unleash ''something'' that would threaten the cosmos.]]
* HumansNeedAliens: Humanity AscendsToAHigherPlaneOfExistence via the help of a BenevolentAlienInvasion.
* LastOfHisKind: {{Lampshaded}}. [[spoiler:Jan Rodricks]] "had always been a good piano player, and now he was the best in the world."
* MrExposition: Rikki Stormgren in the first act and George Greggson in the second act are the characters to either think or receive the story's background information, thereby hooking the reader up with it as well.
* NoOSHACompliance: The Overlord's planet. [[JustifiedTrope Justified]] in that, since the Overlords can fly on their world, they don't need things like railings or easily accessible exits.
* OminousFloatingSpaceship: Most likely the TropeMaker, certainly a contender for the UrExample.
* OrwellianRetcon: Clarke wrote a new first chapter after the UsefulNotes/ColdWar had ended.
* OuijaBoard: One ([[WritingAroundTrademarks in all but name]]) serves as a party game in the middle of the story. The skeptic at the table points out that the responses are likely to be the result of subconscious memories moving the disc, even without the person's knowing it. The last of the questions asked becomes an important plot point.
* OurDemonsAreDifferent: An interesting example. The reason mankind "made up" demons looking like they do in mythology is because of a pre-memory of the fact that they will eventually arrive and take the children.
* OutgrownSuchSillySuperstitions: Every religion (besides Buddhism) is discredited by the knowledge that the Overlords bring, specifically by their observational records of human history.
* PatrioticFervor: {{Downplayed}} with the Jewish founder of the HiddenElfVillage of New Athens. While he doesn't really bear any grudges against the Overlords, he does regret having his homeland of Israel lose its national independence so soon after his people attained it, let alone having his religion discredited.
* PsychicPowers: The new generation of babies start showing various forms of these. Most notably, telekinesis.
* SecretKeeper: During his final meeting with Karellen, Rikki Stormgren uses a device to let him become the first person to know how an Overlord looks like before they're supposed to reveal themselves to humanity. Thirty years later, he is interviewed by a reporter. Stormgren doesn't betray Karellen's trust and tells the man nothing of importance.
* ServantRace: The Overlords turn out to be servants to an even greater alien entity they call the Overmind. They were sent to mankind to prepare the human species for entrance into the Overmind.
* TheSingularity: [[spoiler: What the Overlords are helping humanity achieve, which the end result being that humanity AscendsToAHigherPlaneOfExistence and becomes a HiveMind]]
* SpaceWhaleAesop: Stop killing animals and ruining Earth's environment because [[spoiler:you're evolving into a new galactic form that will ''eventually'' ruin the Earth anyway!]]
** And oddly enough, a sperm whale diorama sent into space figures into the plot.
* TheSpock: All the four Overlords that exist as characters (Karellen, Rashaverak, Thanthalteresco and Vindarten) can be characterised as rational, scientific, and reason without emotion.
* SpoilerCover: The cover illustration for at least one edition spoils what the Overlords (aliens) look like, which is supposed to be a source of tension for a good one third of the book.
* TimeSkip: The plot unfolds over a span of several generations. [[spoiler:The most significant being the timeframe between Jan Rodricks' adventure to the Overlords' homeworld and his bittersweet return to Earth.]]
* TrojanHorse: The diorama.
* UncertainDoom: [[spoiler:Does Jan Rodricks die at the end of the story or does he transcend into the Overmind? We'll never know the answer for sure.]]
* UnitedNationsIsASuperpower: The UN, under the "guidance" of the Overlords becomes this in the immediate years after their arrival. Eventually, it becomes a OneWorldOrder.
* VichyEarth: Crossed with OneWorldOrder, but ultimately subverted. [[spoiler:As the Overlords are in fact acting much more like midwives and caretakers for mankind's own successors.]]
* WatchTheWorldDie: [[spoiler:When the Overlords depart the Earth because it's becoming too unstable, they offer to take Jan Rodricks with them, but he decides to stay. They ask him to transmit what he sees as the world is destroyed, and he agrees.]]