A gremlin appears on this poster issued by the US government during World War II.

A gremlin is a small, destructive monster. Rumors about the creatures, which were said to sabotage aircraft, first began to circulate amongst British pilots in the 1920s. The word "gremlin" first appeared in print in a 1928 poem. Stories of the little monsters and the damage that they did to planes became more frequent during World War II, many pilots claiming to have seen and heard them. The 1943 children's book The Gremlins, written by Roald Dahl and published by Walt Disney, helped to introduce the idea of gremlins to the wider public. When the notion of gremlins spread beyond pilots, they came to be thought of as damaging things other than aircraft. Any malfunctioning machine could jokingly be blamed on gremlins.

Well known gremlins

Roald Dahl's The Gremlins

Gremlin Mascot of 482nd Bomb Group (Heavy)

Homemade gremlin mascot which flew with an American B-17 pilot on all his bombing raids between 1942 and 1945.

The Gremlins was the first children's book by the famous British author Roald Dahl, written while he was attached to the British Embassy in Washington D.C. during World War II. One of Dahl's superiors showed the story to Walt Disney, who was keen to adapt it as a movie. The story was first published in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1942. In 1943, it was republished, in a revised form, as a Walt Disney picture book which was intended to promote the upcoming film.

In the story, gremlins are originally peaceful creatures which live in an English forest. When their forest home is destroyed and an aircraft factory is built in its place, the gremlins vow to take their revenge by attacking the planes which the factory produces. The book's hero is a Royal Air Force pilot named Gus. After his plane is destroyed over the English Channel, Gus sees gremlins parachute out of the aircraft's wreckage along with him. He speaks to the creatures and persuades them to help in the fight against the Nazis. Eventually, gremlins are trained to repair aircraft, rather than destroy them, and help in the Allies' war effort.

The Disney film was never made, partly due to the fact that, because Dahl was a Royal Air Force officer at the time that the story was written, the British Air Ministry insisted on having final say over the script and the finished movie. Disney was also unable to copyright the idea of gremlins and could not prevent other studios from making films about them. However, largely as a result of publicity for the film which was never made, gremlins became familiar to the wider public. Two Warner Bros. cartoons, the 1943 Bugs Bunny short Falling Hare and the 1944 Russian Rhapsody, feature gremlins very similar to those in Dahl's book. Gremlins often appeared on wartime propaganda posters and were adopted as mascots by flying squadrons. A series of stories about gremlins, in which Gremlin Gus is the main character, appeared in the magazine Walt Disney's Comics and Stories between June 1943 and February 1944.

Gremlins and Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Stripe Gremlin

The gremlin "Stripe" as seen in the video game Gremlins: Stripe vs. Gizmo.

"Gremlins" is also the name given to the creatures from the films Gremlins and its sequel Gremlins 2: The New Batch, these gremlins are not quite as "cute" looking as the Disney gremlins and are never seen sabotaging aircraft. However, comments by the character Murray Futterman in Gremlins suggest that they are the same creatures.

The gremlins in the two movies begin life as small furry creatures know as Mogwai[1] According to the films, Mogwai should not be allowed to get wet because that will make them multiply, they should not be exposed to bright light, especially sunlight which kills them, and they should not be fed after midnight. If they eat after midnight, they transform into the dangerous and destructive gremlins.

The Twilight Zone

A gremlin makes an appearance in The Twilight Zone episode "Nightmare at 20,000ft". The ape-like creature is spotted by a character called Bob Wilson while he is traveling on an airplane. However, whenever Wilson tries to report the gremlin to his wife and the flight attendant, the monster jumps out of view. The gremlin is shot by Wilson at the end of the episode.

Twilight Zone Gremlin

The version of the gremlin from Twilight Zone: The Movie.

Another gremlin appears in the remake of the story in Twilight Zone: The Movie, in which the Bob Wilson character from the TV episode is renamed Valentine. The gremlin in the movie appears to be much more intelligent than the one in the original TV series. Instead of roaming around curiously, it immediately begins sabotaging the plane by taking parts of the engine and throwing them away. Later, Valentine confronts the gremlin on the plane's wing. When the lights of the landing zone appear, the gremlin puts its hand on Valentine's head, raises its hand, waves its finger in a "tut, tut, tut" manner and leaps off of the plane's wing.

The Simpsons

Simpsons Gremlin

The gremlin from The Simpsons' episode "Treehouse of Horror IV".

The Twilight Zone episode and the segment from Twilight Zone: The Movie are parodied in the story "Terror at Five and a Half Feet" from the Halloween episode of The Simpsons "Treehouse of Horror IV". In the episode, while traveling to school, Bart Simpson notices a gremlin on the outside of the school bus which is sabotaging the vehicle. As is the case with Bob Wilson and Valentine, Bart is not believed by anybody when he says that he can see a destructive little monster.

See also


  1. In modern Mandarin Chinese, Mogwai is the name of the Devil.

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