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The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth

The Food of the Gods and How it Came to Earth is a novel written by H. G. Wells. Published in 1904, it is one of his lesser known scientific romances, aside from the various B-movie adaptations (see below).

Plot summary

Two scientists, Bensington and Redwood, conduct research into the growth process of living things. The result is a chemical foodstuff (which they name Herakleophorbia IV) that accelerates and extends the process past its normal cycle. Setting up an experimental farm, the pair test the substance on chicks, causing them to grow into giants.

Unfortunately, the slovenly couple hired to feed and monitor the chicks allow other creatures to eat the food, and soon giant rats, wasps and worms are terrorizing the countryside. The chickens then escape and overrun a nearby town. Urged on by a civil engineer named Cossar, Bensington and Redwood take responsibility for the mayhem. Armed with buffalo rifles and explosives, the men hunt down the monstrous vermin and burn the experimental farm to the ground.

The rest of the book focuses on the humans that have been reared on the food. Redwood mixes the substance into his own son’s bottle, causing him to grow and making him wholly dependent on it. Other children are given the food, including Cossar’s three sons, a princess, and the grandson of the couple hired to look after the experimental farm, Albert Caddles. Unwilling to stop feeding it to them (doing so would prove fatal), Cossar and Redwood look after their massive offspring until they finally reach 40 feet in height.

The rest of the world doesn’t take so kindly towards the young giants. Fear and mistrust run rampant, goaded by an opportunistic politician, John 'The Giant Killer' Caterham, as well as the occasional outbreak of giant vermin (mosquitoes, spiders, etc.). Despite their attempts to prove useful to society, the giants are restricted and segregated at every turn, while Bensington is driven into hiding by an anti-giant mob.

The worst treatment is reserved for Caddles. Having been forced to spend most of his life working in a chalk pit, he one day sets out to see the world he has been isolated from. Walking right into London, 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. Getting no answer and told to return to his chalk pit, Caddles wanders aimlessly until he is finally gunned down by the police.

The conflict is brought to an inevitable head. The book ends on the eve of all-out war between the 'Pygmies,' small in body and mind but vast in numbers, and the 'Children of the Food,' who claim to fight not just for themselves, but for growth itself in all its forms. Whether they succeed or not is left unanswered.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

Perhaps inevitably, it is mostly through the movies that the story is remembered. The Food of the Gods was released by American International Pictures 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. The movie was not very successful. However, it did receive a Golden Turkey Award for Worst Rodent Movie Of All Time, beating such competitors as The Killer Shrews (1959), The Mole People (1956), The Nasty Rabbit (1965), and Night of the Lepus (1972).

Interestingly, Bert I. Gordon had earlier written, produced, and directed (for Embassy Pictures) 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. It’s consumed by a gang of teenage 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 the good 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.

Comic Book Adaptions

The Food of the Gods was first adapted for the comics in January 1961, for Classics Illustrated #160. While faithful to the book, the writing and the artwork were somewhat bland. The giant wasps were only shown in two panels and the rats weren’t shown at all, perhaps considered too gruesome under the Comics Code Authority.

A more dynamic and dramatic version, "told in the mighty Marvel manner," was found in Marvel Comics Classics #22. Writer Doug Moench greatly improved on the Classics Illustrated script while Sonny Trinidad produced striking artwork without going over the top. The rats were allowed to be seen, along with several effective panels depicting warfare between the Pygmies and the Children of the Food.

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