Gremlin

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A World War II gremlin-themed industrial safety poster Gremlins think it's fun to hurt you. Use care always. Back up our battleskies^ - NARA - 535381.jpg
A World War II gremlin-themed industrial safety poster

A gremlin is a folkloric mischievous creature that causes malfunctions in aircraft or other machinery. Depictions of these creatures vary. Often they are described or depicted as animals with spiky backs, large strange eyes, and small clawed frames that feature sharp teeth.

Aircraft machine that is able to fly by gaining support from the air other than the reactions of the air against the earth’s surface

An aircraft is a vehicle that is able to fly by gaining support from the air. It counters the force of gravity by using either static lift or by using the dynamic lift of an airfoil, or in a few cases the downward thrust from jet engines. Common examples of aircraft include airplanes, helicopters, airships, gliders, paramotors and hot air balloons.

Contents

Since World War II, different fantastical creatures have been referred to as gremlins, bearing varying degrees of resemblance to the originals.

World War II 1939–1945, between Axis and Allies

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from more than 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 70 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

The term "gremlin" denoting a mischievous creature that sabotages aircraft originates in Royal Air Force (RAF) slang in the 1920s among the British pilots stationed in Malta, the Middle East, and India, with the earliest recorded printed use being in a poem published in the journal Aeroplane in Malta on 10 April 1929. [1] [2] Later sources have sometimes claimed that the concept goes back to World War I, but there is no print evidence of this. [3] [N 1]

Royal Air Force Aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces

The Royal Air Force (RAF) is the United Kingdom's aerial warfare force. Formed towards the end of the First World War on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world. Following victory over the Central Powers in 1918 the RAF emerged as, at the time, the largest air force in the world. Since its formation, the RAF has taken a significant role in British military history. In particular, it played a large part in the Second World War where it fought its most famous campaign, the Battle of Britain.

Malta island republic in Europe

Malta, officially known as the Republic of Malta, is a Southern European island country consisting of an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. It lies 80 km (50 mi) south of Italy, 284 km (176 mi) east of Tunisia, and 333 km (207 mi) north of Libya. With a population of about 475,000 over an area of 316 km2 (122 sq mi), Malta is the world's tenth smallest and fifth most densely populated sovereign country. Its capital is Valletta, which is the smallest national capital in the European Union by area at 0.8 km². The official languages are Maltese and English, with Maltese officially recognised as the national language and the only Semitic language in the European Union.

Middle East region that encompasses Western Asia and Egypt

The Middle East is a transcontinental region centered on Western Asia, Turkey, and Egypt. Saudi Arabia is geographically the largest Middle Eastern nation while Bahrain is the smallest. The corresponding adjective is Middle Eastern and the derived noun is Middle Easterner. The term has come into wider usage as a replacement of the term Near East beginning in the early 20th century.

Origins in aviation

Although their origin is found in myths among airmen, claiming that the gremlins were responsible for sabotaging aircraft, John W. Hazen states that "some people" derive the name from the Old English word gremian, "to vex", [3] while Carol Rose, in her book Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns, and Goblins: An Encyclopedia, attributes the name to a portmanteau of Grimm's Fairy Tales and Fremlin Beer.

Old English, or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest historical form of the English language, spoken in England and southern and eastern Scotland in the early Middle Ages. It was brought to Great Britain by Anglo-Saxon settlers probably in the mid-5th century, and the first Old English literary works date from the mid-7th century. After the Norman conquest of 1066, English was replaced, for a time, as the language of the upper classes by Anglo-Norman, a relative of French. This is regarded as marking the end of the Old English era, as during this period the English language was heavily influenced by Anglo-Norman, developing into a phase known now as Middle English.

Fremlins Brewery

Fremlin's was a brewery in Maidstone, Kent, England. It was established by Ralph Fremlin in 1861, who eschewed the pub trade and focused on bottled beer, on religious grounds. The beer was known for the distinctive elephant logo on the bottles. The brewery expanded to become the largest in Kent, before going into decline after being purchased by Whitbread in 1967.

An early reference to the gremlin is in aviator Pauline Gower's 1938 novel The ATA: Women with Wings, where Scotland is described as "gremlin country", a mystical and rugged territory where scissor-wielding gremlins cut the wires of biplanes when unsuspecting pilots were about. [4] An article by Hubert Griffith in the servicemen's fortnightly Royal Air Force Journal dated 18 April 1942, also chronicles the appearance of gremlins, [5] although the article states the stories had been in existence for several years, with later recollections of it having been told by Battle of Britain Spitfire pilots as early as 1940. [6]

Pauline Gower British pilot and writer

Pauline Mary de Peauly Gower Fahie was a British pilot and writer who established the women's branch of the Air Transport Auxiliary during the Second World War.

Biplane Airplane wing configuration with two vertically stacked main flying surfaces

A biplane is a fixed-wing aircraft with two main wings stacked one above the other. The first powered, controlled aeroplane to fly, the Wright Flyer, used a biplane wing arrangement, as did many aircraft in the early years of aviation. While a biplane wing structure has a structural advantage over a monoplane, it produces more drag than a similar unbraced or cantilever monoplane wing. Improved structural techniques, better materials and the quest for greater speed made the biplane configuration obsolete for most purposes by the late 1930s.

Battle of Britain 1940 German attempt to gain air superiority over southern England in order to prepare for invasion or force Britain into an armistice

The Battle of Britain was a military campaign of the Second World War, in which the Royal Air Force (RAF) defended the United Kingdom (UK) against large-scale attacks by Nazi Germany's air force, the Luftwaffe. It has been described as the first major military campaign fought entirely by air forces. The British officially recognise the battle's duration as being from 10 July until 31 October 1940, which overlaps the period of large-scale night attacks known as the Blitz, that lasted from 7 September 1940 to 11 May 1941. German historians do not accept this subdivision and regard the battle as a single campaign lasting from July 1940 to June 1941, including the Blitz.

A World War II poster warning of gremlins Gremlins are floor greasers^ Watch your step^ Back up our battleskies^ - NARA - 535378.jpg
A World War II poster warning of gremlins

This concept of gremlins was popularized during World War II among airmen of the UK's RAF units, [7] in particular the men of the high-altitude Photographic Reconnaissance Units (PRU) of RAF Benson, RAF Wick and RAF St Eval. The flight crews blamed gremlins for otherwise inexplicable accidents which sometimes occurred during their flights. Gremlins were also thought at one point to have enemy sympathies, but investigations revealed that enemy aircraft had similar and equally inexplicable mechanical problems. As such, gremlins were portrayed as being equal opportunity tricksters, taking no sides in the conflict, and acting out their mischief from their own self-interest. [8] In reality, the gremlins were a form of "buck passing" or deflecting blame. [8] This led folklorist John Hazen to note that "the gremlin has been looked on as new phenomenon, a product of the machine age  – the age of air". [3] Some experts believe this form of "passing the buck" was important to the morale of pilots. Author and historian Marlin Bressi stated, "Gremlins, while imaginary, played a very important role to the airmen of the Royal Air Force. Gremlin tales helped build morale among pilots, which, in turn, helped them repel the Luftwaffe invasion during the Battle of Britain during the summer of 1940. The war may have had a very different outcome if the R.A.F. pilots had lost their morale and allowed Germany's plans for Operation Sea Lion (the planned invasion of the U.K.) to develop. In a way, it could be argued that gremlins, troublesome as they were, ultimately helped the Allies win the war." Bressi also noted: "Morale among the R.A.F. pilots would have suffered if they pointed the finger of blame at each other. It was far better to make the scapegoat a fantastic and comical creature than another member of your own squadron." [9]

United Kingdom Country in Europe

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom or Britain, is a sovereign country located off the north­western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north­eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea separates Great Britain and Ireland. The United Kingdom's 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi) were home to an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.

RAF Benson Royal Air Force main operating base in Oxfordshire, England.

Royal Air Force Benson or RAF Benson is a Royal Air Force (RAF) station located at Benson, near Wallingford, in South Oxfordshire, England. It is a Main Operating Base of the RAF and home to its fleet of Westland Puma HC2 support helicopters, comprising No. 33 Squadron and No. 230 Squadron. Other flying units comprise No. 28 Squadron which is the combined Puma and Boeing Chinook HC4 operational conversion unit, the Oxford University Air Squadron and No. 6 Air Experience Flight both flying the Grob Tutor T1. The National Police Air Service and the Thames Valley and Chiltern Air Ambulance are also based at the station, both operating the Airbus H135 helicopter.

RAF St Eval

Royal Air Force St. Eval or RAF St. Eval was a strategic Royal Air Force station for the RAF Coastal Command during the Second World War. St Eval's primary role was to provide anti-submarine and anti-shipping patrols off the south west coast. Aircraft from the airfield were also used for photographic reconnaissance missions, meteorological flights, convoy patrols, air-sea rescue missions and protection of the airfield from the Luftwaffe.

Popularization by Roald Dahl

Author Roald Dahl is credited with getting the gremlins known outside the Royal Air Force. [10] He would have been familiar with the myth, having carried out his military service in 80 Squadron of the Royal Air Force in the Middle East. Dahl had his own experience in an accidental crash-landing in the Western Desert. In January 1942, he was transferred to Washington, D.C. as Assistant Air attaché at the British Embassy. It was there that he wrote his first children's novel, The Gremlins, in which "Gremlins" were tiny men who lived on RAF fighters. In the same novel, Dahl called the wives of gremlins "Fifinellas", their male children "Widgets", and their female children "Flibbertigibbets". Dahl showed the finished manuscript to Sidney Bernstein, the head of the British Information Service, who came up with the idea to send it to Walt Disney. [10] [N 2]

The manuscript arrived in Disney's hands in July 1942, and he considered using it as material for a live action/animated full-length feature film, offering Dahl a contract. [N 3] The film project was changed to an animated feature and entered pre-production, with characters "roughed out" and storyboards created. [11] Disney managed to have the story published in the December 1942 issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine. At Dahl's urging, in early 1943, a revised version of the story, again titled The Gremlins , was published as a picture book by Random House. (It was later updated and re-published in 2006 by Dark Horse Comics). [N 4]

The 1943 publication of The Gremlins by Random House consisted of 50,000 copies, with Dahl ordering 50 copies for himself as promotional material for himself and the upcoming film, handing them out to everyone he knew, including the British ambassador in Washington Lord Halifax, and the US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who read it to her grandchildren. [10] 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. [12] 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. [13] [N 5]

The film project was reduced to an animated short and eventually cancelled in August 1943, when copyright and RAF rights could not be resolved. But thanks mainly to Disney, the story had its share of publicity, which helped in introducing the concept to a wider audience. Issues #33–41 of Walt Disney's Comics and Stories published between June 1943 and February 1944 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 as they are human gremlins who lived in their own village as little flying human people.

While Roald Dahl was famous for making gremlins known worldwide, many returning Air Servicemen swear they saw creatures tinkering with their equipment. One crewman swore he saw one before an engine malfunction that caused his B-25 Mitchell bomber to rapidly lose altitude, forcing the aircraft to return to base. Folklorist Hazen likewise offers his own alleged eyewitness testimony of these creatures, which appeared in an academically praised and peer-reviewed publication, describing an occasion he found "a parted cable which bore obvious tooth marks in spite of the fact that the break occurred in a most inaccessible part of the plane". At this point, Hazen states he heard "a gruff voice" demand, "How many times must you be told to obey orders and not tackle jobs you aren't qualified for? – This is how it should be done." Upon which Hazen heard a "musical twang" and another cable was parted. [14]

Critics of this idea state that the stress of combat and the dizzying heights caused such hallucinations, often believed to be a coping mechanism of the mind to help explain the many problems aircraft faced whilst in combat.

Differences between Dahl versions
In The Gremlins In Sometime Never
HabitatFormerly in the prima forest and swamps of England, later in hangars (the Spandules, a different breed of Gremlins, live in clouds)In one forest in England before the Industrial Revolution then moved underground
Food sourceUsed postage stamps Snozzberries
Social StructureUncertain; rivalry between gremlins of different habitats; no established familiesRuled by one Leader, human-like society
IntelligenceComparable to children, no clear culture of their ownFully comparable to human; read human books

In media

Film

Television

William Shatner and the Gremlin in The Twilight Zone episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" (1963). PubTThou01.jpg
William Shatner and the Gremlin in The Twilight Zone episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" (1963).

Radio

Music

Literature

Card games

Video games

Other gremlins

Gremlin Americanus: A Scrap Book Collection of Gremlins by artist and pilot Eric Sloane may predate the Roald Dahl publication. Published in 1942 by B.F. Jay & Co, the central characters are characterized as "pixies of the air" and are friends of both RAF and USAAF pilots. The gremlins are mischievous and give pilots a great deal of trouble, but they have never been known to cause fatal accidents but can be blamed for any untoward incident or "bonehead play", qualities that endear them to all flyers. [20] [N 6]

See also Ssh! Gremlins by H.W. illustrated by Ronald Neighbour ("Neb" of the Daily Maily), published by H. W. John Crowther Publication, England, in 1942. This booklet featured numerous humorous illustrations describing the gremlins as whimsical but essentially friendly folk. According to "H.W.", contrary to some reports, gremlins are a universal phenomenon and by no means only the friends of flying men. [21] [N 7]

See also

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References

Notes

  1. Hazen also claims: "It was not until 1922 that anyone dared mention their name."
  2. Dahl claimed that the gremlins were exclusively a Royal Air Force icon and he originated the term, but the elf-like figures had a very convoluted origin that predated his original writings.
  3. Dahl was given permission by the British Air Ministry to work in Hollywood and an arrangement had been made that all proceeds from the eventual film would be split between the RAF Benevolent Fund and Dahl. [11]
  4. 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.
  5. In 1950, Collins Publishing (New York) published a limited reprint of The Gremlins.
  6. On the front pastedown endpaper, Sloane's book featured a sketch of an aircraft in flight, with the pilot saying, "The Gremlins will get you if you don't watch out!!" and giving a thumbs up. [20]
  7. The booklet was published posthumously as Wilson had died in 1940.

Citations

  1. "gremlin". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved: 12 October 2010.
  2. Word Histories and Mysteries: From Abracadabra to Zeus. Lewisville, TX: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004. ISBN   978-0-618-45450-1.
  3. 1 2 3 Hazen 1972, p. 465.
  4. Merry 2010, p. 66.
  5. "The Gremlin Question". Royal Air Force Journal, Number 13, 18 April 1942.
  6. Laming, John. "Do You Believe In Gremlins?" Stories of 10 Squadron RAAF in Townsville, 30 December 1998. Retrieved: 12 October 2010.
  7. Desmond, John. "The Gremlins Reform: An R.A.F. Fable". The New York Times, 11 April 1943. Retrieved: 12 October 2010.
  8. 1 2 Sasser 1971, p. 1094.
  9. Marlin Bressi, quoted in Newburg, Anna L (12 July 2015). "All about gremlins, fifinellas and flippertygibbets". Journal of the Bizarre. Retrieved 25 May 2015.
  10. 1 2 3 Donald 2008, p. 147.
  11. 1 2 Conant 2008, p. 43.
  12. Sturrock 2010, p. 188.
  13. Conant 2008, pp. 43–46.
  14. Hazen 1972, p. 466.
  15. Merrie Melodies: Falling Hare at Internet Archive Movie Archive (The film is now in public domain) Archived 22 July 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  16. "The Twilight Zone" TV series on IMDb
  17. "The Twilight Zone" movie on IMDb
  18. Smith 2010, p. 218.
  19. Ceiling Unlimited "Gremlins" at the Paley Center for Media; retrieved 28 May 2012
  20. 1 2 Sloane, Eric. Gremlin Americanus: A Scrap Book Collection of Gremlins. New York, B.F. Jay & Co., 1944, 1943, First edition 1942.
  21. Wilson, Herbert Wrigley (H.W.). R. A. F. Book of the Season: Ssh! Gremlins by H.W. London: H. W. John Crowther Publication, 1942.

Bibliography