I finally finished The Food of the Gods, and I figured out what it is about it that bugs me so much. It’s something I felt while reading Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island, and something I’ve noticed in general about books published after an author reaches the peak of his fame. When authors get to that point, they start writing much longer books, and I don’t think it’s because they suddenly have more words to put down. It just means that they aren’t editing as tightly.
The story in The Food is evolutionary, taking the reader from the food’s incipience through the lives of people it affected and to the climactic confrontation between the big people and little people. But there is no resolution to the conflict. Rather, because the book was already so incredibly long, it just stops.
The same thing happened in Mysterious Island more or less, in that the book was painfully, epically long, but the ending happened in about a paragraph.
So my problem is with the amount of self indulgent filler left in the beginning and middle of the book that could have been taken out and replaced with more meat in the end. But, since Wells was not editing as tightly as in earlier books like Moreau and Time Machine, which are marvelously pithy works, he allowed himself to meander through various unrelated trains of thought en route to the actual story, which was really about the giant children.
Page one has a random tangent on how scientists disliked being called “scientists”, then goes on… “…and Professor Redwood rose to eminence–I do not clearly remember how he rose to eminence! I know he was very eminent, and that’s all. Things of this sort grow.”
“I watched the lantern slides come and go, and listened to a voice (I forget what it was saying)… and there was a sizzling from the lantern and another sound that kept me there, still out of curiosity, until the lights were unexpectedly turned up. And then I perceived that this sound was the sound of the munching of buns and sandwiches and things…”
“That of course was a ridiculous dream, but it shows the state of mental excitement into which Mr. Bensington got the real value he attached to his idea, much better than any of the things he said or did when he was awake and on his guard. Or I should not have mentioned it, because as a general rule I do not think it is at all interesting for people to tell each other about their dreams.”
I should remind at this point that the narrator of The Food is not a character in the story, and is never explained or exposed in any way. He does, however, make random reference to himself throughout the book, though not substantially enough to explain why. In Wells’ other first-person narrated stories, the voice of the narrator fit in perfectly with the character, and in the end, I had an understanding of why the character told the story the way he did.
Overall, I think the book seems like a second draft, awaiting an editor’s red pen. I love Wells’ writing, and find many of the random tangents amusing, but honestly I could have done with fewer pages, or more story.
More miscellaneous gems from the end of The Food:
“…as they came along, they had heard a pitiful squealing and had intervened to rescue three nestling tits from the attack of a couple of giant ants.”
“Already we go picking our way among the first beginnings of the coming time. And all we do is to say ‘How inconvenient!’”
“They have taught me… that all true religion was to shelter the weak and little, encourage the weak and little, help them to multiply and multiply until at last they crawled over one another…”
“…a tabernacular beauty…” (just love using ‘tabernacular’ as an adjective)
“Then for a space the road ran naked across a down, and they seemed to hang throbbing in immensity.”
And on that poignant remark, I bid farewell to The Food.
July 16 2010 note: These Food of the Gods posts are so surprisingly popular, will some of you readers please leave a comment and tell me why you are searching for posts on this random book? Thanks for reading.