Children of Men
Children of Men is a dystopian novel by
P. D. James
P. D. James that was
published in 1992. Set in
England in 2021, it centres on the results
of mass infertility. James describes a
United Kingdom that is steadily
depopulating and focuses on a small group of resisters who do not
share the disillusionment of the masses.
The book received very positive reviews from many critics such as
Caryn James of The New York Times, who called it "wonderfully rich"
and "a trenchant analysis of politics and power that speaks
urgently". The academic Alan Jacobs said, "Of all James’ novels,
Children of Men
Children of Men is probably the most pointed in its social
criticism, certainly the deepest in its theological reflection."
3 See also
The narrative voice for the novel alternates between the third person
and the first person, the latter in the form of a diary kept by Dr.
Theodore "Theo" Faron, an Oxford don.
The novel opens with the first entry in Theo's diary. It is the year
2021; but the novel's events have their origin in 1995, which is
referred to as "Year Omega". In 1994, the sperm count of human males
plummeted to zero, and mankind now faces imminent extinction. The last
people to be born are now called "Omegas". "A race apart", they enjoy
various prerogatives. Theo writes that the last human being to be born
on Earth has been killed in a pub brawl.
In 2006, Xan Lyppiatt, Theo's rich and charismatic cousin, appointed
himself Warden of
England in the last general election. As people have
lost all interest in politics, Lyppiatt abolishes democracy. He is
called a despot and tyrant by his opponents, but officially the new
society is referred to as egalitarian.
Theo is approached by a woman called Julian, a member of a group of
dissidents calling themselves the Five Fishes. He meets with them at
an isolated church. Rolf, their leader and Julian's husband, is
hostile; but the others–Miriam (a former midwife), Gascoigne (a man
from a military family), Luke (a former priest), and Julian–are more
personable. The group wants Theo to approach Xan on their behalf and
ask for various reforms, including a return to a more democratic
system. During their discussions, as Theo prepares to meet with Xan,
the reader learns how the UK is in 2021:
The Omegas are described as spoiled, over-entitled and egotistical
because of their youth and luxurious lifestyle. They are violent,
remote, and unstable. They regard non-Omegas (elders) with undisguised
contempt, yet they're spared punishment due to their age. According to
rumour, outside of Britain, some countries sacrifice Omegas in
Due to the global infertility of mankind, newborn animals (such as
kittens and puppies) are doted upon and treated as infants, pushed in
prams, and dressed in children's clothing. The latest trend in London
is to have elaborate christening ceremonies for newborn pets.
The country is governed by decree of the Council of England, which
consists of five people. Parliament has been reduced to an advisory
role. The aims of the Council are: (1) protection and security, (2)
comfort, and (3) pleasure—corresponding to the Warden's promises of:
(1) freedom from fear, (2) freedom from want, and (3) freedom from
The Grenadiers — formerly an elite regiment in the British Armed
Forces – are the Warden's private army. The State Secret Police
(SSP) ensures the Council's decrees are executed.
The courts still exist, but juries have been abolished. Under the "new
arrangements", defendants are tried by a judge and two magistrates.
All convicted criminals are dumped at a penal colony on the Isle of
Man. There is no remission, escape is almost impossible, visitors are
forbidden, and prisoners may not write or receive letters.
Every citizen is required to learn skills, such as Animal Husbandry,
which they might need to help them survive if they happen to be among
the last human beings in Britain.
Foreign workers are lured into the country and then exploited. Young
people, preferably Omegas, from poorer countries come to
work there. These "foreign Omegas" or, generally, "sojourners", are
imported to do undesirable work. At 60, which is the age limit, they
are sent back ("forcibly repatriated"). British Omegas are not allowed
to emigrate so as to prevent further loss of labour.
Elderly/infirm citizens have become a burden; nursing homes are for
the privileged few. The rest are expected and sometimes forced to
commit suicide by taking part in a "quietus" (Council-sanctioned mass
drowning) at the age of 60.
The state has opened "pornography centres". Twice a year, healthy
women under 45 must submit to a gynaecological examination; and most
men must have their sperm tested, to keep hope alive.
Theo's meeting, which turns out to be a meeting with the full Council
of England, does not go well. Some of the members resent him because
he resigned as Xan's advisor rather than share the responsibility of
governing the UK. Xan guesses that Theo's suggestions came from others
and makes clear to Theo that he will take action against dissidents.
The Five Fishes distribute a leaflet detailing their demands. The
secret police visit Theo. He sees Julian in the market shortly
afterwards. He tells her of the SSP visit, then tells her that if ever
she needs him she only has to send for him. That night, however, Theo
decides to leave
England for the summer and visit the continent before
nature overruns it.
Soon after Theo's return, Miriam tells him that Gascoigne was arrested
as he was trying to rig a Quietus landing stage to explode. The other
Fishes are about to go on the run, and Julian wants him. Miriam
reveals why Julian did not come herself—she is pregnant. Theo
believes Julian is deceiving herself, but when the two meet, Julian
invites Theo to listen to her baby's heartbeat.
During the group's flight, Luke is killed while trying to protect
Julian during a confrontation with a wild gang of Omegas. Julian
confesses that the father of her child is not Rolf, but rather the
deceased Luke. Rolf, who believes he should rule the U.K. in Xan's
place, is angered at the discovery; he abandons the group to notify
The group heads to a shack Theo knows of. Miriam delivers Julian's
baby – a boy, not a girl as Julian had thought. Miriam goes to find
more supplies; after she is gone too long, Theo investigates. He finds
Miriam dead, garrotted in a nearby house. Theo returns to Julian, but
soon afterward Julian hears a noise outside – Xan.
Theo and Xan confront each other and both fire one shot. The sudden
wailing of the baby startles Xan, causing him to miss, as Rolf had
thought the baby would not be born for another month. Theo shoots and
kills Xan. He removes from Xan's finger the Coronation Ring, which Xan
had taken to wearing as a symbol of authority, and seems poised to
become the new leader of the UK – at least temporarily. The other
members of the Council are introduced to the baby, and Theo baptises
LISA: The Painful (2014) is an independent role-playing game loosely
based on The Children of Men.
Children of Men
Children of Men (2006) is a film adaptation directed by Alfonso
Cuarón and starring
Julianne Moore and Clive Owen. The film was well
received, and, according to Cuarón, P.D. James was said to have been
pleased with it despite the alterations.
Greybeard (1964) by Brian Aldiss, a science fiction novel set in an
Earth with an ageing and sterile population
Pregnancy in science fiction
The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid's Tale (1985), a dystopian novel by Canadian author
The White Plague (1982) by Frank Herbert, a science fiction novel in
which a dedicated bio-terrorism weapon kills all women on earth,
subjecting the entire human race to certain extinction
Wikiquote has quotations related to: The Children of Men
^ James, Caryn (28 December 2006). "Children of Differing Visions:
P. D. James
P. D. James Novel and the Movie It Inspired". The New
York Times. Retrieved 19 July 2010.
^ Jacobs, Alan. "Life's Value". firstthings.com. First Things.
Retrieved 26 June 2014.
P. D. James
P. D. James Pleased With Film Version of Children of Men". Internet
Writing Journal. 8 January 2007. Retrieved 20 May 2008.
Works by P. D. James
Adam Dalgliesh series
Cover Her Face
A Mind to Murder
Shroud for a Nightingale
The Black Tower
Death of an Expert Witness
A Taste for Death
Devices and Desires
A Certain Justice
Death in Holy Orders
The Murder Room
The Private Patient
Cordelia Gray series
An Unsuitable Job for a Woman
The Skull Beneath the Skin
The Children of Men
Death Comes to Pemberley