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The Gremlins

the gremlins, the gremlins gizmo
The Gremlins is a children's book, written by Roald Dahl and published in 1943 It was Dahl's first children's book, and was written for Walt Disney Productions, as a promotional device for a feature-length animated film that was never made With Dahl's assistance, a series of gremlin characters were developed, and while pre-production had begun, the film project was eventually abandoned, in part because the studio could not establish the precise rights of the "gremlin" story, and in part because the British Air Ministry was heavily involved in the production because Dahl, who was on leave from his wartime Washington posting, insisted on final approval of script and production


  • 1 Plot
  • 2 Publication
  • 3 Subsequent use
  • 4 Reprints
  • 5 Popular culture
  • 6 References
  • 7 External links


The story concerns mischievous mythical creatures, the Gremlins of the title, often invoked by Royal Air Force pilots as an explanation of mechanical troubles and mishaps In Dahl's book, the gremlins' motivation for sabotaging British aircraft is revenge of the destruction of their forest home, which was razed to make way for an aircraft factory The principal character in the book, Gus, has his Hawker Hurricane fighter destroyed over the English Channel by a gremlin, but is able to convince the gremlins as they parachute into the water that they should join forces against a common enemy, Hitler and the Nazis, rather than fight each other

Eventually, the gremlins are re-trained by the Royal Air Force to repair rather than sabotage aircraft, and restore Gus to active flight status after a particularly severe crash The book also contains picturesque details about the ordinary lives of gremlins: baby gremlins, for instance, are known as widgets, and females as fifinellas, a name taken from the great "flying" filly racehorse Fifinella, that won both The Derby and Epsom Oaks in 1916, the year Dahl was born


The publication of The Gremlins by Random House consisted of a 50,000 run for the US market with Dahl ordering 50 copies for himself as promotional material, handing them out to everyone he knew, including the British Ambassador in Washington Lord Halifax, and the First Lady of the US Eleanor Roosevelt, who loved to read it to her grandchildren The book was considered an international success with 30,000 more sold in Australia but initial efforts to reprint the book were precluded by a wartime paper shortage Reviewed in major publications, Dahl was considered a writer-of-note and his appearances in Hollywood to follow up with the film project were met with notices in Hedda Hopper's columns

Facing copyright problems and realising that the Air Ministry's "Clause 12" in the original film contract would restrict the studio, Walt Disney, who had a personal interest in The Gremlins, reluctantly began to "wind down" the project By August 1943, Disney had even reconsidered an animated "short" based on The Gremlins and indicated to Dahl by correspondence that further work would not continue After a year of story conferences and related research, Dahl realised that his book would be the only tangible product emanating from the aborted film

Subsequent use

The Dahl creations were subsequently used by Warner Bros Cartoons in several World War II cartoons, most notably Russian Rhapsody and Falling Hare, the latter starring Bugs Bunny Several variations on gremlin characters were also used in World War II propaganda and as mascots for air units, such as Fifinella, who was used by the WASPs Women Airforce Service Pilots on their patches

The story of gremlins appeared in Issues #33-#41 of Walt Disney's Comics and Stories published by Walt Disney Productions between June 1943 and February 1944; it contained a nine-episode series of short, silent stories featuring a Gremlin Gus as their star The first was drawn by Vivie Risto and the rest of them by Walt Kelly This served as their introduction to the comic book audience These comics were subsequently reprinted in 1987 by Gladstone Publishing Ltd


A special edition of the book was produced to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the United States Air Force and was distributed exclusively through the Army and Air Force Exchange Service The USAF special edition featured a unique dust jacket that bore the commemorative seal of the 60th USAF Anniversary The inside flap of the dust jacket featured a brief history of the book's role in improving morale for airmen and their families The initial distribution of the USAF 60th Anniversary commemorative edition sold out at all participating AAFES locations on the first day of sale

Popular culture

Used copies of the first edition book are highly prized and sought after by collectors of both Roald Dahl's works and Disney's; these copies may be valued anywhere between US$100 and US$10,000

"Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", a 1963 Twilight Zone episode, starring William Shatner, is an homage to the legend of gremlins, one being seen dismantling an airliner during flight The role was played by John Lithgow in the 1983 movie

In the book "Myth Conceptions," from the MythAdventures series, Robert Asprin describes a gremlin as a small, blue-skinned creature that has a tendency to vanish when the viewer's attention is distracted

The 1984 film Gremlins, produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Joe Dante, is loosely inspired by Dahl's characters, featuring evil and destructive monsters which mutate from small furry creatures

In September 2006, Dark Horse Comics published The Gremlins: The Lost Walt Disney Production, a faithfully restored and updated version of The Gremlins including an introduction by acclaimed film historian Leonard Maltin as well as creating a series of Gremlin-inspired toys and figurines, that were patterned after the original Dahl-inspired characters as well as a comic sequel miniseries in which the grandson of pilot Gus meets the Gremlins when inheriting his grandfather's house in England

The Gremlins appear in the Epic Mickey franchise as tiny helpers of Mickey Mouse Their leader Gus voiced by Bob Joles in the first game and Cary Elwes in the second serves as a conscience figure to Mickey as Jiminy Cricket is to Pinocchio Unlike in the book, the Gremlins can teleport



  1. ^ Dahl claimed that the gremlins were exclusively a Royal Air Force icon and that he was the original author and creator, but the elf-like figures had a very convoluted origin that predated his original writings
  2. ^ Dahl was given permission by the Air Ministry to work in Hollywood and an arrangement had been made that all proceeds from the film would be split between the RAF Benevolent Fund and Dahl
  3. ^ The book had an autobiographical connection as Dahl had flown as a Hurricane fighter pilot in the RAF, and was temporarily on leave from operational flying after serious injuries sustained in a crash landing in Libya He later returned to flying
  4. ^ Both paperback and hardcover versions were printed in 1943
  5. ^ In 1950, Collins Publishing New York published a limited reprint of The Gremlins


  1. ^ Conant 2008, pp 42–43
  2. ^ a b c Conant 2008, p 173
  3. ^ Conant 2008, p 43
  4. ^ a b Donald, Graeme Sticklers, Sideburns & Bikinis: The Military Origins of Everyday Words and Phrases Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2008 ISBN 978-1-84603-300-1
  5. ^ Sturrock 2010, p 188
  6. ^ Conant 2008, pp 43–46
  7. ^ Howard, Kristine "The Sequels" roalddahlfanscom Retrieved: 1 October 2010
  8. ^ O'Connor, Seamus "Guardian Gremlins: Air Force uses Dahl book to celebrate 60th Birthday" Air Force Times, 9 July 2007 Retrieved: 11 October 2010
  9. ^ Joyner, Bo ""Reservist helps bring the Gremlins back to life" Citizen Airman, October 2007 Retrieved: 3 June 2011
  10. ^ "Gremlins book prices" bebookscouk Retrieved: 11 October 2010
  11. ^ Dahl 2006, pp v–viii


  • Conant, Jennet The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008 ISBN 978-0-7432-9458-4
  • Dahl, Flight Lieutenant Roald The Gremlins: The Lost Walt Disney Production Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Books, 2006 reprint and updated copy of 1943 original publication ISBN 978-1-59307-496-8
  • De La Rue, Keith "Gremlins" delaruenet, updated 23 August 2004 Retrieved: 11 October 2010
  • "Gremlins" Fantastic Fiction, a British online book site/biography source Retrieved: 11 October 2010
  • Sturrock, Donald Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010 ISBN 978-1-4165-5082-2

External links

  • Children's literature portal
  • Novels portal
  • Development art from an unproduced 1992 version of "Gremlins"
  • More development art from an unproduced 1992 version of "Gremlins"
  • 2006 reprint of The Gremlins by Dark Horse Comics

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The Gremlins

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