The Children of Men
is a dystopian
novel by P.
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
narrative voice for the novel alternates between the third person
and the first person, the latter in the form of the diary kept by
Dr. Theodore Faron, normally called "Theo," who is an Oxford don.
His wife Helena left him two years
before the story begins. Their marriage deteriorated after Theo
accidentally ran over their daughter, Natalie.
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
". Theo writes that the
last human being to be born on Earth, a young Argentine man, has
been killed in a pub brawl in Buenos Aires.
Theo takes us back to 1994, when, for reasons unknown, the sperm
counts of all human males plummeted to zero. The last people to be
born — i.e., all children born in 1995 — have come to be called
"Omegas": "A race apart," they enjoy various prerogatives
and, now in their mid-twenties,
generally seem to be very proud to be the youngest humans
Having access to statistical data, the first people to notice that
something is wrong are gynecologist
, and midwives
, whereas couples who want to have a child
just think they're unlucky. It takes several months for the world
to grasp the situation and its implications.
In 2006, a man called Xan Lyppiatt, Theo's rich and charismatic
cousin, appoints himself Warden
England. It is the year in which the last general election
is held. Out of necessity
— people have lost all interest in politics — Lyppiatt abolishes
democracy. He is called a despot and a 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 who call themselves the Five Fishes. He meets with them
at an isolated church. Rolf, their nominal leader and Julian's
husband, is hostile, but the others — Miriam (a midwife), Gascoigne
(a man from a military family who does not want the Grenadiers
to continue to be used as Xan's
personal army), 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, and as Theo prepares
to meet with Xan, we learn how the UK is run in 2021:
- The country is governed by decree
of the Council of England, which represents the executive branch
(the government) and consists of five people only. Parliament still exists, but it has been reduced to an
advisory role. Generally, the three aims of the Council of
England 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 boredom.
- The Grenadiers — formerly an
elite regiment in the British armed forces — are the Warden's
private army. They take an oath to the Warden personally. The State
Secret Police (SSP) ensures that the Council's decrees are
- Drastic measures have been taken to pacify the citizens and
maintain the illusion that a comfortable life will be possible in
the years to come. The law courts still exist, but as the citizens
are very reluctant to do jury service, juries have been abolished
altogether. Under the "new arrangements", defendants are tried by a
judge and two magistrates. All convicted criminals, violent and
non-violent, are dumped at a penal colony on the Isle of Man. There is no remission, escape is impossible, visitors are
forbidden, and prisoners are not even allowed to write or receive
- By decree of the Council of England, every citizen is required
to learn skills, such as 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
England to work there. These "foreign Omegas" or, generally,
"Sojourners" are imported to do the dirty work (collecting rubbish,
mending the roads, etc.). At 60, which is the age limit, they are
sent back ("forcibly repatriated"). British Omegas, however, are
not allowed to emigrate so as to prevent further loss of labor or a
- Older/infirm citizens have become a burden; nursing homes are
for the privileged few. The rest face more gruesome options: They
can either (a) die helpless and unassisted in their homes; (b)
commit suicide or (c) take part in a so-called Quietus
(Council-sanctioned mass drownings). Before he agrees to see the
Council as Julian and the others ask, Theo views a Quietus and is
injured by one of the security people supervising it while trying
to save a woman he knew.
- One might think that in 2021 sex has become some sort of
national pastime, given that there is little else to do and no
danger of unwanted pregnancies. However, people have lost interest
in sex, and the state has had to open "pornography centres". Twice
a year, all healthy women under 45 must submit to a gynecological
examination, and most men must have their sperm tested, to keep hope alive that human life on
this planet might not be heading for extinction.
Theo's meeting with Xan, which is actually a meeting with the full
Council of England, does not go well. Some of the other members
resent his input because he resigned as Xan's advisor rather than
share the responsibility of governing the UK. Furthermore, Xan
guesses that Theo's suggestions came from others and makes clear to
Theo that he will take action against dissidents.
The Five Fishes nevertheless publish and distribute a leaflet
detailing their demands. As a result, Theo is visited by the SSP
and, shortly afterwards, he sees Julian in the market. He tells her
of the SSP visit, then tells her that if ever she needs him, she
only has to send for him and he will come. Later that night,
however, Theo decides to leave England for the summer and visit the
continent before nature completely overruns it.
Soon after his return, Miriam appears at his door. She 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. As they drive to meet the remainder of
the group, Miriam reveals why Julian did not come herself -- she is
pregnant. At first, Theo is convinced that Julian is deceiving
herself as had been the case with many other women since Omega.
When the two finally meet, however, Julian invites Theo to listen
to her baby's heartbeat and Theo believes.
During the group's subsequent 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 the deceased Luke. Rolf, who clearly thinks he should rule the
UK in Xan's place, is angered at the discovery that his trump card
— his effective sperm — does not exist; he abandons the group to
notify the Warden.
The group heads to a shack Theo knows of. Here, Miriam delivers
Julian's baby — a boy, not a girl as Julian had thought. Miriam
goes to find more supplies and after she is gone too long Theo goes
to investigate. He finds Miriam dead, garrotted
in a nearby house. Theo returns to Julian,
but soon after Julian hears a noise outside — it is Xan.
Theo and Xan confront each other and both men 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
does not miss. He removes the Coronation
, which Xan has taken to wearing as a symbol of authority,
from Xan's finger and seems poised to become the new leader of the
Council and of the UK — at least temporarily. As the action ends,
the other members of the Council are introduced to the baby, and
Theo baptises him.
A loose film adaptation
, directed by
and Clive Owen
, was released in 2006. Substantial
changes were made in terms of plot, political message and
characters in the updated film.
(producer of Battlestar
) is currently working on a TV show adaptation of
the novel for the Sci Fi
- Eick Adapts Children For TV