The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth is a science fiction novel by H. G. Wells, first published in 1904. The novel is one of his lesser known works.
The Food of the Gods is divided into three “books”: “Book I: The Discovery of the Food”; “Book II: The Food in the Village”; and “Book III: The Harvest of the Food.”
Book I introduces Mr. Bensington, a research chemist specialising in “the More Toxic Alkaloids,” and Professor Redwood, who after studying reaction times takes an interest in “Growth.” After a year of research and experiment, he finds a way to make what he calls in his initial enthusiasm “the Food of the Gods,” but later more soberly dubs Herakleophorbia IV. Their first experimental success is with chickens that grow to about six times normal size.
Unfortunately Mr. and Mrs. Skinner, the slovenly couple hired to feed and monitor the chickens, allow Herakleophorbia IV to enter the local food chain, and the other creatures that get the food grow to six or seven times their normal size: not only plants, but also wasps, earwigs, and rats. The chickens escape, over-running a nearby town.
As debate ensues about the substance, popularly known as “Boomfood,” children are being given the substance and grow to enormous size: Redwood’s son, Cossar’s three sons, and Mrs. Skinner’s grandson, Caddles. These massive offspring eventually reach about 40 feet in height. At first the giants are tolerated, but as they grow more and more restrictions are imposed.
With time most of the English population comes to resent the young giants as well as changes to flora, fauna, and the organisation of society that become more extensive with each passing year. Bensington is nearly lynched by an angry mob.
Book II offers an account of the development of Mrs. Skinner’s grandson, Albert Edward Caddles. Wells takes the occasion to satirise the conservative rural gentry (Lady Wondershoot) and Church of England clergy (the Vicar of Cheasing Eyebright) in describing life in a little village.
Book III recounts how British society has learned to cope with occasional outbreaks of giant pests (mosquitoes, spiders, rats, etc.), but the coming to maturity of the giant children brings a reactionary politician, Caterham, into power. Caterham has been promoting a program to destroy the Food of the Gods and hinting that he will suppress the giants, and now begins to execute his plan.
By coincidence, it is just at this moment that Caddles rebels against spending his life working in a chalk pit. In London he is surrounded by thousands of tiny people and confused by everything he sees. He demands to know what it’s all for and where he fits in; after refusing to return to his chalk pit, Caddles is shot and killed by the police.
The conclusion of the novel features a romance between the young giant Redwood and an unnamed princess. Their love blossoms just as Caterham, who has at last attained a position of power, launches an effort to suppress the giants. But after two days of fighting, the giants, who have taken refuge in an enormous pit, have held their own. Their bombardment of London with shells containing large quantities of Herakleophorbia IV forces Caterham to call a truce. The British leader is satirised as a demagogue, a “vote-monster” for whom nothing but “gatherings, and caucuses, and votes – above all votes” are real.
Caterham employs Redwood père as an envoy to send a proposed settlement whose terms would demand that the giants live apart somewhere and forgo the right to reproduce.
The novel concludes with the world on the verge of a long struggle between the “little people” and the Children of the Food…
Perhaps inevitably, it is mostly through the movies that the story is best known. The Food of the Gods was released by American International Pictures (AIP) in 1976, written, produced, and directed by Bert I. Gordon. Based on a portion of the book, it reduced the tale to an ‘Ecology Strikes Back’ scenario, common in science fiction movies at the time.
Earlier, Bert I. Gordon had written, produced, and directed Village of the Giants (1965), also very loosely based on the book. The substance, called simply “Goo”, is developed by an 11-year-old Ron Howard. This is consumed by a gang of teenaged troublemakers (led by Beau Bridges) who become giants and take over the town, turning the tables on the knee-high adults. They are eventually defeated by other teens (led by Tommy Kirk). With the substance scientifically created and the giants coming into conflict with the little people, it actually was closer to the book than the later effort – though not by much.
In 1989, Gnaw: Food of the Gods, Part 2 was released, written by Richard Bennett and directed by Damian Lee. Dealing with a pack of giant lab rats wreaking havoc on a college campus, it was even further removed from the book than Gordon’s attempts.
The Food of the Gods was first adapted for the comics in January 1961, for Classics Illustrated No. 160, with a painted cover (see above) by Gerald McCann, script by Alfred Sundel and interior artwork by Tony Tallarico. The giant wasps were shown in only two panels and the rats weren’t shown at all.
A more dynamic and dramatic version, “told in the mighty Marvel manner,” was found in Marvel Classics Comics No. 22 (1977). Writer Doug Moench improved on the Classics Illustrated script while Sonny Trinidad produced striking artwork.