The Gremlin (not the car)
Gremlin is an English folkloric creature, commonly depicted as mischievous and mechanically oriented, with a specific interest in aircraft. 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”.Since World War II, different fantastical creatures have been referred to as gremlins, bearing varying degrees of resemblance to the originals.
- In 1943, Bob Clampett directed Falling Hare, a Merrie Melodies cartoon featuring Bugs Bunny. With Roald Dahl’s book and Walt Disney’s proposed film being the inspiration, this short has been one of the early Gremlin stories shown to cinema audiences in which multiple gremlins featured.It features Bugs Bunny in conflict with a gremlin at an airfield. The Bugs Bunny cartoon was followed in 1944 by Russian Rhapsody, another Merrie Melodies short showing Russian gremlins sabotaging an aircraft piloted by Adolf Hitler.
- A 1963 episode of The Twilight Zone, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” directed by Richard Donner, featured a gremlin attacking a plane.This episode was remade as a segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983). In the original television episode, the gremlin appears as an almost ape-like creature which inspects the aircraft’s wing with the curiosity of an animal and then proceeds to damage the wing. William Shatner plays the passenger who sees the Gremlin on the plane’s wing. No one else sees the Gremlin and Shatner’s character is removed from the plane on a stretcher with symptoms of psychosis. In the movie segment, the gremlin more resembles a troll or a goblin, with green skin and a frightening grin. This incarnation of the gremlin appears to be more intellectual and menacing, and is also shown to be capable of flying. The episode was famous enough to inspire at least two parodies:
- A gremlin makes an appearance in a Halloween special of The Simpsons paralleling The Twilight Zone’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, (the segment is even named “Terror at 5½ Feet”) in which the gremlin attempts to destroy the wheel of Bart’s school bus.
- A Tiny Toon special titled Night Ghoulery (a spoof of Night Gallery, with Babs presenting in Rod Serling’s style) has a segment named “Gremlin on a Wing”, which parodies “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” as well, with Plucky in William Shatner’s place, accompanied by Hamton in an airplane, and a gremlin similar to that which appearen in Bugs’ short Falling Hare. In fact, this gremlin is so persistent, he even appears at the end as if he had impersonated the stewardess (who looks remarkably similar to Star Trek character Lt. Uhura).
As is not uncommon with folkloric creatures in fiction, the nature of gremlins differs greatly depending on the setting. Creatures called gremlins are encountered in various forms in video games, fantasy literature, role playing games, etc. Many of the gremlins encountered in popular culture have little in common with the original critters from the air force legend other than their name.
A famous example is the 1984 movie Gremlins and its 1990 sequel Gremlins 2: The New Batch. The gremlins in these movies had nothing obvious to do with aircraft in particular, although they were portrayed as adept at subverting or sabotaging mechanical systems; more explicit connections between the films’ Gremlins and those of folklore were drawn in the novelizations however. The gremlins in these movies differ from traditional folkloric mythology as they appear as monsters with large ears that are similar to a bat’s, sharp teeth and claws, red eyes, and dark reptilian skin.
In fact, the creatures of this movie are named “gremlins” because the protagonist, Billy Peltzer, recalls a speech by his friend, Murray Futterman, about the legend of gremlins. Thus, noting the similarities, he names them “gremlins”.
Another example of gremlins in popular culture appears on the episode of Charmed named “The Power of Three Blondes” where two little blue creatures Paige referred to as gremlins start sabotaging things at her new temp job.
Tagged with: goremaster • Gremlin • gremlin attacking a plane • Gremlin on a Wing • Gremlin on the plane’s wing • Gremlins 2: The New Batch • John W. Hazen • Lt. Uhura • Murray Futterman • Night Gallery • Night Ghoulery • Nightmare at 20000 Feet • Pilot and Gremlin • red eyes • Richard Donner • Roald Dahl • Rod Serling • Russian Rhapsody • sharp teeth and claws • Simpsons \"Treehouse of Horror IV\" • Star Trek • Terror at 5½ Feet • The Gremlins • The Power of Three Blondes • The Simpsons • The Twilight Zone • Twilight Zone: The Movie • Walt Disney • William Shatner
Filed under: North American Folklore (USA & Canada)
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