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-April 1943

The Gremlins

The Gremlins has a very good claim to being Roald Dahl's first piece of writing for children. It is certainly one of the first stories he ever wrote. He began work on it in 1942, soon after his first paid piece of writing, Shot Down Over Libya, was published in the Saturday Evening Post. He was working for the British Embassy in Washington DC at the time and sent his finished Gremlins story to his bosses for approval. From there, it was forwarded by British movie producer and entrepreneur Sidney Bernstein on to Walt Disney, who liked the story so much he wanted to turn it into a movie.

The gremlins are little creatures responsible for the various mechanical failures on aeroplanes, as the pilot in the story, Gus, discovers. Taking its inspiration from RAF folklore and the many gremlin tales he had heard during his own time as a pilot, Roald's story went on to tell how Gus tames the gremlins and persuades them to help him return to flying.

Although the Disney film version of The Gremlins was later shelved, a shortened version of the story appeared in the American general interest magazine Cosmopolitan in 1942 with Roald using the pen name 'Pegasus.' And a year later, The Gremlins was released as a book by Walt Disney and Random House with proceeds going to the RAF Benevolent Fund. Roald bought 50 copies to send out, delivering one to the first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, who responded with enthusiasm and was said to have read the story to her grandchildren.

Although James and the Giant Peach - released in 1961, nearly 20 years later - was Roald Dahl's first novel consciously written for children, The Gremlins was marketed as a children's story at the time and remains an early example of the appeal of his writing to a young audience. It was re-issued in 2006 by Dark Horse Books.

The Gremlins also helped the little creatures already well-known in RAF folklore to cross over into wider popular culture. The 1984 film Gremlins, produced by Stephen Spielberg and directed by Joe Dante, is said to be loosely inspired by the characters in Roald Dahl's story.

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-January 1946

Over to You

Over to You brings together 10 of Roald Dahl's earliest stories, many of them set during the Second World War and drawing on his own experiences as a fighter pilot. It includes his first paid piece of writing, the short story A Piece of Cake, which was originally published in 1942 in American magazine The Saturday Evening Post under the title Shot Down Over Libya

The 10 stories featured are:

  • Death of an Old, Old Man
  • An African Story
  • A Piece of Cake
  • Madame Rosette
  • Katina
  • Yesterday Was Beautiful
  • They Shall Not Grow Old
  • Beware of the Dog
  • Only This
  • Someone Like You

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-April 1948

Some Time Never: A Fable for Supermen

Very loosely based on his earlier gremlin stories, Some Time Never: A Fable for Supermen was Roald Dahl's first full-length novel. But where The Gremlins was marketed as a children's story, Some Time Never was, as Roald said to his agent in a letter, "horrifyingly adult" in its themes. In this story the gremlins are no longer merely mischevious and unpredictable. Here they are sinister and evil, waiting for the humans who live above them to kill each other so that they can take over the planet.

Released in 1948, Some Time Never was an apocalyptic book, a critique of the atom bomb and what Roald saw as the inevitability of nuclear war. It is notable for being perhaps the first fictional account of nuclear war to be published. The book met with mainly negative reviews, although The Glasgow Herald praised it as "highly original," going on to say "in spite of its terrifying course and gloomy conclusion, it also contrives to be hugely entertaining."

Despite this, the overall response to the book was muted and Roald distanced himself from it, later calling it a "ghastly book" in a letter to his agent, and telling a fan who wrote to him about it in 1971 that it was "not worth reading."

Some Time Never is still available to purchase in Holland, but is currently out-of-print in other countries.

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