Gremlins: Demonic Trouble-makers or Adorable Pets?

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By: Andrej Jovanovski

Do Gremlins and Mogwai Exist?

Within the past few decades, the popularity of Gremlins and Mogwai has been on the rise, but are these creatures just a part of folklore and fiction, or do they really exist in the wilds?

Well, the simple and short answer is NO, they do not exist.

However, if we look into the animal kingdom we will be more than able to find a doppelganger that resembles our furry friends and quite possibly be the inspiration behind their physical appearance. 

Of course, I’m talking about the rediscovered species called Pygmy tarsier which is often called the real-life gremlin.

The gremlins are a rare species of goblins that start off as Mogwai, which turn into little monsters if they are fed after midnight, this should be more than enough for us to come to the conclusion that they are fictional since such transformation is next to impossible in the real world.

With the release of the Gremlin franchise, the myth about these creatures has gone from the world of folk into everyday life through the cult following that was built around the cute, adorable, and protective main character named Gizmo, who, unlike the other gremlins and most Mogwai, lacks the vicious nature. 

The traditional concept of gremlins doesn’t differ that much from the concept we find in the movies, the biggest difference would be that the folkloric gremlins are mischievous creatures that sabotage aircraft and other machinery, while the fictional gremlins are villainous Mogwai that is capable of using technology.

Although the Pygmy tarsier is not capable of doing such things, its existence sparked the interest in finding such animals that we could consider gremlins. 

Even though, as previously mentioned, they do not exist outside of fiction and folklore, the search for gremlins has been on the rise, which turned them from just another mythological creature into a wildly sought-out cryptid.

Gremlins and Mogwai in Pop Culture

With this transition, the infamous gremlins became a common Halloween costume for the adults, while the loveable Gizmo became a costume worn by the children.

With this being one of many appearances of these creatures in pop culture, I believe the most common one is the term “gremlin” alone.

Stripe from the movie Gremlins

The modern gremlins, those that were in the franchise Gremlin, could be described as creatures who resemble the antagonist of the book The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde who turns from a kindhearted Doctor into an evil man called Hyde who seeks to only cause harm to others.

With this, in recent years we could hear the word “gremlin” much more often than before which is used as a friendly insult, usually used when describing short people who most of the time are passive but have sudden outbursts of energy, becoming hyperactive and mischievous, in rare cases even violent, but would return to their natural state by the morning, usually feeling embarrassed for their previous actions.

Moreover, with the rise of technology, we have been witnessing constant malfunctions that appear to be happening out of the blue, which allows us to add on to the world of fiction by pinning the blame for the malfunction on the gremlins, knowing full well that such creatures do not exist.

Gremlins in film and TV

  • Falling Hare, 1943, is one of the first films shown to feature gremlins. It features Bugs Bunny trying to prevent a gremlin from crashing a military aircraft.
  • Johnny Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, 1944, is a romantic comedy in which the protagonist is being followed by a gremlin. The movie describes the gremlins as little people who live somewhere in the clouds.
  • Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, 2008, this movie does not feature a gremlin, however, the main protagonist Alex sees Mort, who is a Goodman’s mouse lemur, and confuses him for a gremlin.
  • Gremlins, 1984, produced by Steven Spielberg is the movie that set off the gremlin craze, starting a whole franchise that built the reputation the gremlins are known for today.

Although the gremlins in the before mentioned movies differ, they are all loosely inspired by Roald Dahl’s characters from the book The Gremlins which was published by Disney in December 1942 and is considered to be the book that set off the gremlin trend. 

History of the Mischievous Creatures

Long before a movie was produced, or even a book, the origin of these little monsters may be attributed to the Royal Air Force. The British magazine The Spectator seems to be an original reference to the creatures and their effects on the RAF.

It turns out that pilots were reporting gremlins doing damage to their aircraft as far back as 1917 or 1918. They described them as “malicious spirits”, however, it wasn’t until 1922 that they were daring enough to give the phenomenon a name.

This type of mythology comes from anthropomorphizing the mishaps and errors that happen in our everyday lives. A problem being caused by a specific “gremlin” gives people a face or name to the circumstances around them.

Once the name and phenomenon are attached to the happenstance, by World War II, gremlins became common parlance among the pilots and flight crews. This creates an oral tradition that lives and thrives going forward.

Gremlins then became a part of the fabric of our common experiences, which led to the books, movies, and media that we see today.

Fun facts, Misconceptions, and FAQs About the Gremlin

Throughout the franchise Gremlins, in Kingston Falls, we are led to believe that the Mogwai are cute and cuddly critters who turn into gremlins if they are fed or wet after midnight. 

However, the real origin of Mogwai couldn’t be further from this. The Mogwai are demons from Chinese mythology, which when translated to English means “monster” or “evil spirit”.

These demons are able to reproduce during a mating season which is triggered by the coming of rain.

Nowadays, the most common representation of the gremlins and Mogwai is that of the franchise Gremlins. The folklore version of the gremlins, which were mostly spoken about after World War II, has become less and less represented in film and TV.

While the Mogwai from Chinese folklore is still talked about, recently they have been called mogui in order to differentiate them from Gizmo.

In the franchise Gremlins, the gremlins multiply when they come in contact with water, whereas other liquids like soda or alcohol may not trigger this effect.                   

 Can Mogwai drink?

In the official Gremlins novelization, it is shown that the Mogwai do not drink.

 Which animals look like gremlins?

The Pygmy mouse lemur, Goodman’s mouse lemur, and Pygmy tarsier have all been considered to be the physical equivalent of a gremlin.

 What do gremlins do?

Traditionally, gremlins are mischievous creatures that mostly sabotage airplanes and technology. The term originated with pilots in the RAF that assumed the creatures were causing their problems with the planes.

Why is Gizmo good in Gremlins?

Gizmo is responsible and humble, while having enough self-control and self-confidence to not eat after midnight, knows that his existence is secure as a Mogwai, and sees no reason to turn evil.

Is Furby a Gremlin?

No, however, a Gizmo-styled Furby has been produced. While the Furby is a wholly original creature, there is absolutely no doubt where the design may have been inspired from.

References:

Qiguang Zhao, Chinese Mythology in the Context of Hydraulic Society, Asian Folklore Studies, 1989, pp. 231-246.
George Gipe, Gremlins, Avon Books, 1984.
It's a Furby, It's a Gremlin, It's...a Pygmy Tarsier!
https://www.discovermagazine.com/planet-earth/its-a-furby-its-a-gremlin-itsa-pygmy-tarsier , Accessed, 29 July 2021.
https://www.historynet.com/gremlins.htm
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