In Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End, there is a small allusion to a Chesterton story, when the characters Stormgreen and Van Ryberg discuss their theories about the nature of the Overlords (Chap. 4):

"I admit, " said van Ryberg, "that some of my theories haven't been very successful . But tell me what you think of this one. "

"Must I?" sighed Stormgren.

Pieter didn't seem to notice.

"It isn 't really my idea, " he said modestly . "I got it from a story of Chesterton’s. Suppose the Overlords are hiding the fact that they've got nothing to hide?"

"That sounds just a little complicated to me, " said Stormgren, beginning to take slight interest .

'What I mean is this, " van Ryberg continued eagerly . "I think that physically they're human beings like us. They realize that we'll tolerate being ruled by creatures we imagine to be- well, alien and super-intelligent. But the human race being what it is, it just won 't be bossed around by creatures of the same species . "

"Very ingenious, like all your theories, " said Stormgren. "I wish you'd give them opus numbers so that I could keep up with them. The objections to this one... [they're interrupted when another character arrives in the scene] "

Searching in google for chesterton history mentioned in "childhood's end", I did not find an answer. The only thing I found is this list of allusions from Shmoop, where Chesterton is shown, but not the specific story.

So, which Chesterton story is alluded in Childhood's End? Did Arthur C. Clarke say which story is that, or is it possible for someone more versed in Chesterton works to discover that?

1 Answer 1


In ‘The Purple Wig’ (published in The Pall Mall Magazine, May 1913, and collected in The Wisdom of Father Brown, 1914), the narrator, Francis Finn, a freelance reporter, is investigating a legend pertaining to the Duke of Exmoor:

the story goes that a man-servant listening at the keyhole heard the truth in a talk between the King and Carr; and the bodily ear with which he heard grew large and monstrous as by magic, so awful was the secret. And though he had to be loaded with lands and gold and made an ancestor of dukes, the elf-shaped ear is still recurrent in the family.

Finn meets the present Duke of Exmoor, who wears a purple wig. Father Brown suspects that this is a form of misdirection:

“I dare say he’s got good reason to cover his ears, like King Midas,”† went on the priest, with a cheerful simplicity which somehow seemed rather flippant under the circumstances. “I can quite understand that it’s nicer to cover them with hair than with brass plates or leather flaps. But if he wants to use hair, why doesn’t he make it look like hair? There never was hair of that colour in this world. It looks more like a sunset-cloud coming through the wood. Why doesn’t he conceal the family curse better, if he’s really so ashamed of it?”

† Midas was given the ears of a donkey by Apollo as punishment for disputing the god’s victory over Pan in a musical contest. Ovid says that “Midas, careful to hide his long ears, wore a purple turban over both, which hid his foul disgrace from laughter” (Metamorphoses XI.180–181, English translation by Brookes More, 1922). No doubt Ovid’s purple turban suggested Chesterton’s purple wig.

The Duke’s wig is eventually forcibly removed:

“What can it mean? Why, the man had nothing to hide. His ears are just like everybody else’s.”

“Yes,” said Father Brown, “that is what he had to hide.”

If this was the story that van Ryberg had in mind in Childhood's End, then it is another of his unsuccessful theories: the Overlords do have something important to hide about their appearance.

(The story has elements of anti-Semitism that are typical of Chesterton. In particular, we can guess from his name and profession, and from the nickname ‘Elisha’ that Exmoor gives him, that the informer, money-lender and lawyer, Isaac Green, the villain of the story, is Jewish.)

  • Interesting, I'll give it a read to confirme that, thanks! Feb 20, 2018 at 15:53

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