The Gremlins

Last updated

The Gremlins
Cover of the first edition of The Gremlins
Author Roald Dahl
Illustrator Bill Justice
Al Dempster
CountryUnited Kingdom
Published1943 Walt Disney Company (original)
Dark Horse Comics (current)
Media type Hardback
ISBN 1-59307-496-4
Roald Dahl, c. 1954 Roald Dahl.jpg
Roald Dahl, c. 1954

The Gremlins is a book written by Roald Dahl and published in 1943. [1]


It was Dahl's first book and was written for Walt Disney Productions, in anticipation of a feature-length animated film that was never made. [Note 1] 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. [2] [Note 2]


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. [4] 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. [Note 3] 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 U.S. market [Note 4] 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 U.S. Eleanor Roosevelt, who loved to read it to her grandchildren. [4] 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. [5] 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. [6] [Note 5]

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. [2]

Subsequent use

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. [7]


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. [8] 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. [9]

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. [10]

"Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", a 1963 Twilight Zone episode, starring William Shatner, is a 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 Return of the Gremlins, a comic sequel mini-series in which the grandson of pilot Gus meets the Gremlins when inheriting his grandfather's house in England. [11]

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.

Related Research Articles

Roald Dahl British novelist, short story writer, poet, fighter pilot, spy, and screenwriter

Roald Dahl was a British novelist, short-story writer, poet, screenwriter, and wartime fighter pilot. His books have sold more than 250 million copies worldwide.

Floyd Gottfredson American cartoonist

Arthur Floyd Gottfredson was an American cartoonist best known for his defining work on the Mickey Mouse comic strip, which he worked on from 1930 until his retirement in 1975. He has probably had the same impact on the Mickey Mouse comics as Carl Barks had on the Donald Duck comics. 17 years after his death, his memory was honored with the Disney Legends award in 2003 and induction into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2006.

Al Taliaferro American comics artist

Charles Alfred Taliaferro, known simply as Al Taliaferro, was a Disney comics artist who produced Disney comic strips for King Features Syndicate. Taliaferro is best known for his work on the Donald Duck comic strip. Many of his strips were written by Bob Karp.

Disney comics are comic books and comic strips featuring characters created by the Walt Disney Company, including Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge.

Walt Kelly American cartoonist

Walter Crawford Kelly, Jr., commonly known as Walt Kelly, was an American animator and cartoonist, best known for the comic strip Pogo. He began his animation career in 1936 at Walt Disney Studios, contributing to Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Dumbo. In 1941, at the age of 28, Kelly transferred to work at Dell Comics, where he created Pogo, which eventually became his platform for political and philosophical commentary.

<i>Walt Disneys Comics and Stories</i> Anthology comic book series featuring Disney characters

Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, sometimes abbreviated WDC or WDC&S, is an American anthology comic book series featuring an assortment of Disney characters, including Donald Duck, Scrooge McDuck, Mickey Mouse, Chip 'n Dale, Li'l Bad Wolf, Scamp, Bucky Bug, Grandma Duck, Brer Rabbit, Winnie the Pooh, and others. With more than 700 issues, Walt Disney's Comics & Stories is the longest-running Disney comic book in the United States, making it the flagship title, and it's regarded as one of the best-selling comic books of all time.

Gremlin A gremlin is a folkloric mischievous creature that causes malfunctions in aircraft or other machinery.

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.

<i>Mickey Mouse Adventures</i> 1990-1991 Disney comic book

Mickey Mouse Adventures was a Disney comic book first published by Disney Comics from 1990 to 1991. It featured Mickey Mouse as the main character along with other characters from the Mickey Mouse universe. Somewhat similar in style to the animated series DuckTales, it was based on the continuity of earlier print material starring Mickey, mainly Floyd Gottfredson's stories in the Mickey Mouse comic strip.

<i>Falling Hare</i> 1943 animated short film directed by Bob Clampett

Falling Hare is a 1943 Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies cartoon directed by Robert Clampett. The cartoon features Bugs Bunny.

<i>Going Solo</i> memoir by Roald Dahl

Going Solo is a book by Roald Dahl, first published by Jonathan Cape in London in 1986. It is a continuation of his autobiography describing his childhood, Boy and detailed his travel to Africa and exploits as a World War II pilot.

A gremlin is a mythological mischievous creature.

Fifinella Mascot of the U.S. Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) in World War II

Fifinella was a female gremlin designed by Walt Disney for a proposed film from Roald Dahl's book The Gremlins. During World War II, the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) asked permission to use the image as their official mascot, and the Disney Company granted them the rights.

Walt Disney Comics Digest was one of three digest size comics published by Gold Key Comics in the early 1970s. The other two were Mystery Comics Digest and Golden Comics Digest. It was the first digest-sized regular Disney comic published in the US, and was very successful, offering relief from the company's slipping comic book sales.

<i>Some Time Never: A Fable for Supermen</i> 1948 novel by Roald Dahl

Some Time Never: A Fable for Supermen is a 1948 book by Roald Dahl, his first adult novel. Dahl began writing it after editor Maxwell Perkins expressed an interest in publishing a novel length book if Dahl were to write it. The book was met with predominantly poor reception and was considered to be a failure, although it is historically noteworthy as the first novel about nuclear war to be published in the United States after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The story is a darker take on the same premise as Dahl's first children's novel, The Gremlins.

The third wave of Walt Disney Treasures was released on May 18, 2004. It was originally planned to be released in December 2003, but was delayed for almost half a year in order to meet an increased demand with a higher number of tins produced. This wave was the first to have a certificate of authenticity with the individual number of the tin on it, replacing the number embossed on the tin. This was the final wave released with side straps.

<i>Mickey Mouse</i> (comic book) American Disney comic book launched in 1941

Mickey Mouse is a Disney comic book series that has a long-running history, first appearing in 1943 as part of the Four Color one-shot series. It received its own numbering system with issue #28, and after many iterations with various publishers, ended with #330 from IDW Publishing.

Roald Dahl bibliography Author bibliography

Roald Dahl (1916–1990) was a British author and scriptwriter, and "the most popular writer of children's books since Enid Blyton", according to Philip Howard, the literary editor of The Times. He was raised by his Norwegian mother, who took him on annual trips to Norway, where she told him the stories of trolls and witches present in the dark Scandinavian fables. Dahl was influenced by the stories, and returned to many of the themes in his children's books. His mother also nurtured a passion in the young Dahl for reading and literature.

Donald Duck is an American comic strip by the Walt Disney Company starring Donald Duck, distributed by King Features Syndicate. The first daily Donald Duck strip debuted in American newspapers on February 7, 1938. On December 10, 1939, the strip expanded to a Sunday page as well. Writer Bob Karp and artist Al Taliaferro worked together on the strip for more than 30 years. The strip ended in May 1995.

<i>Mickey Mouse</i> (comic strip) 1930-1995 American Disney comic strip

Mickey Mouse is an American newspaper comic strip by the Walt Disney Company featuring Mickey Mouse, and is the first published example of Disney comics. The strip debuted on January 13, 1930, and ran until July 29, 1995. It was syndicated by King Features Syndicate.

<i>Mickey Mouse Magazine</i> 1935-1940 American Disney comics magazine

Mickey Mouse Magazine is an American Disney comics publication that preceded the popular 1940 anthology comic book Walt Disney's Comics and Stories. There were three versions of the title -- two promotional giveaway magazines published from 1933 to 1935, and a newsstand magazine published from 1935 to 1940. The publication gradually evolved from a 16-page booklet of illustrated text stories and single-page comic panels into a 64-page comic book featuring reprints of the Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck comic strips.



  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]
  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]
  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. 1 2 3 Conant 2008, p. 173.
  3. Conant 2008, p. 43.
  4. 1 2 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." 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." Retrieved: 11 October 2010.
  11. Dahl 2006, pp. v–viii.