Do you see this book that my little friend is pointing at?
Copyright 1943 Walt Disney Productions
Disney & Roald Dahl fans have been rejoicing for months now, ever since word first leaked out that Dark Horse Books was going to reprint "The Gremlins: A Royal Air Force Story."
"What's the hubbub about?," you ask. Well, you have to understand that the original version of this book (Which was published by Random House back in 1943) has long been sought after by both Disney & Dahl collectors.
Copyright 1943 Walt Disney Productions
"And why is that?," you query. You see, since "The Gremlins" 's one & only printing, this Roald Dahl book has basically been unavailable for decades now. So when used copies of this book would pop up on the secondary market, they'd typically sell for $200 - $300 apiece.
Mind you, people used to be perfectly willing to pay that much for a used copy of "The Gremlins." Not just because it's Roald Dahl (Who actually wrote this slender volume while he was a lieutenant in RAF) 's very first published work. (Of course, given that Dahl is the acclaimed author of such fantasy classics as "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," James and the Giant Peach," "Matilda" and "The Witches," it's easy to understand why some of his fans might be willing to pay big bucks in order to get a copy of Roald's very first story. To get some sense of how this writer got his start.)
No, the main reason that people were willing to pay top dollar for a used copy of "The Gremlins" is that this book gave them a glimpse of a movie that Walt Disney almost made back in the early 1940s. An animated feature that would have then shined a spotlight on those curious little creatures who live up high in the clouds, who dine on used postage stamps when they're not busy drilling holes in British warplanes.
Dahl always insisted that he was the very first to document the secret lives of the Gremlins. (FYI: Only the male gremlins are actually called gremlins. The females of the species are known as fifinellas ...
... while the juvenile forms of gremlins are actually known as widgets ...
... Anyway ...) ... During his stint in the RAF, Roald wrote this story about these crafty little creatures. Which eventually found its way into the hands of Walt Disney.
Walt immediately recognized what he had with "The Gremlins." Which was the makings of a great World War II era fantasy film. So Disney brings Dahl out to Hollywood and -- working together with artists & writers at the studio -- they crafted at least two different screenplays for this project.
Coyright 1943 Walt Disney Productions
"So why wasn't this 'Gremlins' movie ever actually made?," you continue. Well .. There's a variety of theories about that. Some suggest that Walt ultimately decided not to make this film because -- by 1943 -- audiences were already growing tired of WWII-related films. More to the point, given the war would probably be over before production of this animated feature could actually be completed ... This "Gremlins" movie would then be out-of-date even before it hit the screen.
Then there are those who say that Walt pulled the plug on this particular project because the storymen at Disney Studios could never figure out a way to make these spiteful little sprites seem sympathetic. Which -- given their main goal in life was to disable British warplanes -- makes perfect sense.
Ironically enough, Dahl's "Gremlins" book actually addresses this issue. It details how the RAF pilots who fly out of a particular airbase eventually learn to befriend the gremlins. How they use aversion therapy (Plus bribes of used transatlantic-special-delivery-airmail stamps. Which are considered a real delicacy in the gremlin world) to gradually change these creatures' habits. Changing the gremlins from magical creatures that go out of their way to destroy British warplanes to sprites that now try to help the RAF fliers. Who then go out of their way to care for and repair the British planes.
And -- in Dahl's story -- this gremlin goodwill eventually begins extends to the RAF pilots themselves. There's a particularly touching passage in "The Gremlins" where these formerly fiendish creatures eventually band together to help a wounded flier pass his medical exam. So that this pilot can then get back in his plane and help with the war effort.
At only 56 pages, "The Gremlins: The Lost Walt Disney Productions" is admittedly a bit on the slender side. But the folks at Dark Horse Books have obviously put a lot of time & care into creating this reprint. Take -- for example -- the many beautiful illustrations from the original 1943 book (Some of which I've used today to illustrate this review) that have been digitally restored.
Or -- better yet -- the thoughtful introduction that film historian Leonard Maltin has written for this hardcover. Which (with the help of JHM alumni Jim Korkis) details how close this big screen collaboration between Walt Disney & Roald Dahl almost came to happening.
If you love Disney history and/or Dahl's darkly quirky stories, you really owe it to yourself to pick "The Gremlins." This long-out-of-print volume that finally found its way back into bookstores
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I am lucky enough to have an original copy of this book which belonged to my father, inscribed in the cover "Douglas from Geoffrey (1944)" Its in very good condition for its age and I loved the story.
(Nicky, Norfolk, England)