This year I’m blogging once a month about finishing reading everything Roald Dahl wrote. Full disclosure: I’m not a Dahl scholar, just a humble fan of his work. This is a lay endeavor, perhaps not even all that fascinating to others. We’ll see. By the end, I hope to be able to say “I’ve read everything written by Roald Dahl!” or at least “I’ve read everything Roald Dahl wrote save for that one play I can’t seem to find a script for.” Something like that.
This month I’m dealing with Dahl’s earliest book for children: The Gremlins (1943), adorably attributed to ‘Flight Lieutenant Roald Dahl.’
If you are anything like me, you associate Gremlins with Gizmo, and the phrase “don’t feed them after midnight.” But Dahl’s Gremlins are… different. Dahl’s Gremlins—which he claimed to the end of his days were his creation, and therefore the original Gremlins—are a second sentient race on our earth, who destroy airplanes with hand drills and other simple machines because they’re small, adorable eco-warriors.
Sounds cute, right? It is, for the most part. Dahl’s other version of this story, which appeared in his first novel, Sometime Never, will be my topic for next month. Just… keep all this in mind.
Anyways. The plot of The Gremlins is this: a square-jawed RAF pilot named Gus is flying his Hurricane against some German fighter pilots (Dahl, for the record, loved flying Hurricanes) over the English countryside when he notices a small, horned little man with suction boots using a hand drill to bore holes in his plane. He goes down when the creature bores holes in his engine. He reports this to the mechanics, denying the holes came from bullets, and calling the beast who perpetrated the crime a “Gremlin.”
The entire squadron laughs Gus off until the Gremlins (and Fifinellas, the female of the species) start appearing all over the place. They find out the Gremlins have been destroying planes because they’re annoyed at the destruction of British forests for the sake of warfare. The humans promise them the deepest woodland of England (apparently rank and file RAF pilots are granted the power to negotiate with unknown, malicious species) if the Gremlins will help them in their fight against the Germans. They come to an agreement.