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Griping About Gremlins
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"There's something... on the wing of the plane!"
Bob Wilson, and millions of William Shatner impressions.

Gremlins are mythical little creatures who are said to live solely to infest mankind's machinery and tear it apart, either just to be mischievous (or downright evil), or in an insanely curious attempt to figure out how various devices work. Especially found around airfields or on airplanes, as they originated as a story told by British pilots starting in roughly the 1920's to explain various mechanical failures on their planes. They only began to penetrate mainstream culture during World War II; see below under Literature. Although the name may have been derived from an Olde English word, gremian, which means "to vex", this obviously makes them Newer Than They Think.

One possible precursor of the gremlin is the "sea gobelin", a solitary goblin from the Age of Sail nautical folklore. The gobelin would set up shop on a ship, start tangling ropes, scaring seamen and stealing their stuff. Of course, the folklore gobelin was usually used by less-than-innocent sailors as a scapegoat for their misgivings.


Examples

Anime and Manga
  • Impu, the gremlin from the hospital in Humanoid Monster Bem.
  • In Mahou Sensei Negima! when shadow-demon summons comes to Mahora, Nanaka Earhart from aviation club calls them gremlins.
  • In Rosario + Vampire, one was used to sabotage a plane the main characters were using to travel to China.

Film
  • Gremlins is the most known movie, despite being unrelated to planes.
  • Twilight Zone: The Movie remade the classic "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet".
  • The "buzz droids" from Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith are heavily inspired by gremlins. They are tiny robots that infest starfighters and tear them apart in mid-flight.
  • Cast a Deadly Spell. During his investigation, Lovecraft discovers gremlins infesting a car. A man tells him that they were brought back from the Pacific theater by the U.S. military during World War II.
  • Madagascar 2 references gremlins: Alex mistakes Mort for one when he's clinging on the plane's wing.

Humor
  • Here's a Russian joke about gremlins. Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill are flying on a plane. Suddenly, a gremlin is spotted sawing the plane's wing with a saw. Churchill asks the gremlin to leave them alone and promises him land and peerage; the gremlin ignores him. Roosevelt does the same and offers the gremlin a billion dollars. The gremlin ignores him, too. Stalin says: "You're good with a saw! You'll make a fine kolkhoznik!". The gremlin flees as fast as he can.

Literature
  • The first children's book by Roald Dahl was The Gremlins, a book written for Disney to tie in with a Movie that was never made. The characters in it, though, would go on to appear in Epic Mickey. The book was the first appearance of Gremlins outside of the Royal Air Force, making this the Trope Maker.
  • Gremlins are one of the many "Demon" (dimension-travelling) races in Robert Asprin's Myth books. Aahz the Pervect does not believe they exist until he meets one.
  • There's a Bailey School Kids episode featuring a gremlin who ruins technology around the school.
  • Gremlins show up as one of the many creatures in the Monster Mash noir City of Devils. They appear to be highly reminiscent of the film version, and are generally named for the shock of white hair on their bodies. One has giant white eyebrows (Brows), and the other has massive muttonchop sideburns (Chops). As a race, they're obsessed with candy, clever (if weird) inventors, and allergic to sunlight.

Live-Action TV

Tabletop Games
  • Gremlins of various sorts appear in Dungeons & Dragons, in which they are usually portrayed as related to goblins and/or evil fey.
    • Gremlins exist in the Basic/Expert/etc version of the D&D rules, in which they radiate an aura of "Murphy's Law", causing all manner of minor mishaps to occur around them. They appear prominently in "Top Ballista", in which skygnomes deflect their attentions from their Magitek airplanes by leaving complicated-looking, useless machines around to distract the pesky creatures.
    • In Pathfinder, gremlins are an evil, ugly, and small sub-type of fey who live to spread discord and mischief, usually through sabotage and dangerous pranks. The jinkin gremlin strongly resembles those in Gremlins; the vexgit variety are the sort that love (to take apart) machines; the pugwampi (who are quite possibly the most hated Tiny fey creatures in existence) have an aura duplicating the classic things-go-wrong ability of the classic gremlin.
    • Dragon magazine #79 had an article on gremlins. While some gremlins were observing a nuclear test in our real world they were sent through an energy rift to the AD&D world.
    • In AD&D and 3rd Edition, gremlins were called jermlaine, and were noted for having a sweet tooth, a fondness for cruel pranks, and a connection to rats. They're also known as jinxkin, hence the jinkin gremlins in Pathfinder.
  • Mortasheen has the Dingnut. It is normally a helpful mechanical monster, but in feral colonies, they often do imitate the behavior of gremlins.
  • Presented as a species of The Fair Folk in Gurps,Faerie.

Toys

Video Games
  • Epic Mickey has Gus the Gremlin and his friends.
    • In a bit of Irony both the original and the second game give you at least one quest where you can break something a gremlin made.
  • In Disgaea, the second variation of the winged demons are called gremlins.
  • Heroes of Might and Magic 3 had Gremlins as recruitable units, in a technomagical city of Tower. Average unit, but upgraded Gremlins were one of the few first tier units with ranged attack.
    • They return in V. In the vanilla game their upgrade, the Master Gremlin, can repair friendly mechanical units (like golems) and war machines. In Tribes of the East, their alternate upgrade the Gremlin Saboteur is closer to the classic depiction of gremlins since it has the ability to shut down enemy mechanical units and war machines.
  • Rotom from Pokémon Diamond and Pearl is an Electric/Ghost type Pokémon that can posess electronics, and its name even comes from the word "motor" spelled backwards.
  • Spiral Knights has Gremlins as a monster type. They originally were just the "insanely curious" type, but the players stepping into their territory prompted Project Roarmulus, a superweapon to be used to destroy Haven. Gremlins actually have some form of hierarchy, but you never see it in game. note 
  • The eponymous Zool is a Ninja Gremlin from the Nth dimension.
  • In Attack Of The Mutant Penguins, gremlins actually help build machines rather than cause them to break down. They are also necessary for opening treasure chests; the more gremlins working on a chest, the sooner it will burst open.
  • Gremlin appears in Tales of Phantasia as a summon spirit found in the Bonus Dungeon. When summoned, he and his friends bite on every enemy on-screen for over 6000 damage.

Web Original

Western Animation
  • The Simpsons gives us Terror at 5 1/2 feet, replacing the plane with a bus and William Shatner with Bart. Of course, when Bart tells Otto "there's a Gremlin on the side of the bus!" Otto sees an AMC Gremlin car and sideswipes it off the road.
  • Looney Tunes had two appearances of gremlins in two wartime cartoons : Falling Hare, a Bugs Bunny cartoon, and Russian Rhapsody, involving Soviet Gremlins making Adolf Hitler's life hell.
  • Tiny Toon Adventures had two more appearances of the gremlins from Falling Hare. The first is another parody of "Terror at 20,000 Feet", this time with Plucky Duck in the Bob Wilson role. The second, "Journey to the Center of Acme Acres", has the gremlins causing earthquakes after Montana Max steals a Golden Idol.
  • Simon the gremlin from Trollz plays this straight and averts this; while he's skilled at building magical machines, he has no aptitude for modern-day technology.
  • An episode of Extreme Ghostbusters did this. Apparently a gremlin sunk the Titanic in The Ghostbuster Verse.
  • Gremlins appear in American Dragon Jake Long where they are slippery and hard to catch and can only be caught if they're put to sleep by Hawaiian Folk Music.
  • One of Ben's alien forms in Ben 10: Ultimate Alien, Jury Rigg, is basically an alien gremlin. It's very good at taking machines apart (and has a powerful compulsion to do so that Ben can't control) and it's also very good at fixing them.
  • Averted with Mr. Bogus, who may be a gremlin, but is actually often shown to have a good heart as well as displaying heroic feats in the line of duty.
  • Gravity Falls features the Gremloblin, which is half-goblin and half-gremlin.


Gorgeous GorgonIndex of Fictional CreaturesOur Gremlins Are Different
Roald DahlImageSource/LiteratureSuper Spit

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