The Gremlins is a children's book, written by Roald Dahl and published in 1943. It was Dahl's first children's book, and was written for Walt Disney Productions, as a promotional device for a feature-length animated film that was never made. With Dahl's assistance, a series of gremlin characters were developed, and while pre-production had begun, the film project was eventually abandoned, in part because the studio could not establish the precise rights of the "gremlin" story, and in part because the British Air Ministry that was heavily involved in the production because Dahl, who was on leave from his wartime Washington posting, insisted on final approval of script and production.
The story concerns mischievous mythical creatures, the Gremlins of the title, often invoked by Royal Air Force pilots as an explanation of mechanical troubles and mishaps. In Dahl's book, the gremlins' motivation for sabotaging British aircraft is revenge of the destruction of their forest home, which was razed to make way for an aircraft factory. The principal character in the book, Gus, has his Hawker Hurricane fighter destroyed over the English Channel by a gremlin, but is able to convince the gremlins as they parachute into the water that they should join forces against a common enemy, Hitler and the Nazis, rather than fight each other.
Eventually, the gremlins are re-trained by the Royal Air Force to repair rather than sabotage aircraft, and restore Gus to active flight status after a particularly severe crash. The book also contains picturesque details about the ordinary lives of gremlins: baby gremlins, for instance, are known as Widgets (boys) and Flibberty-gibbets (girls), though baby boys and girls were virtually indistinguishable until they mature, and adult females as Fifinellas. In every batch of Widgets you’ll find a Flibberty-gibbet. She’s the one who eventually becomes a Fifinella. From all reports, the Fifinella is a honey. They tell us her face is fizzing’ and she has wizard curves, all in the proper places. Nothing ropey about this little crumpet. We gather from this that she’s really an eyeful. The boys tell us that you’ll never catch a Fifinella drilling holes in your wing, cutting your parachute straps or draining the alcohol from your compass. All a Fifinella has to do is hop aboard a plane for a joyride and the Gremlins will follow her in droves. (Statistics show one Fifinella to every 12 Gremlins.) By the time they've chased her back and forth from one wing-tip to the other, wiggling your wing flaps, swinging on your aerial wire and playing see-saw on your elevators, you’ll wish she'd stayed at home to mind the Widgets. Before they’re a day old, Widgets are up to mischief. Gremlins never operate higher than 30,000 feet. It’s the Spandules who take over above this altitude. They hang on to the leading edge of your wing and slowly exhale, forming a nice thick coating of ice. Spandules are flat rug-like individuals covered with fur and have large pockets for storing hailstones, which they chew constantly.