The Gremlins

Published in 1943


Gus is a World War II pilot. One day, patrolling in his Hurricane at 18,000 feet, he sees an amazing sight: a little man no more than six inches tall drilling a hole in his plane's wing...



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.

Find out more about the period of his life in which Roald Dahl wrote The Gremlins.


Pilots all were born to fly, higher than the highest high...

Gremlin Gus 1

Roald Dahl's The Gremlins

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