Avon Camelot, 1984
Gremlins, released on June 8th 1984, is a movie which almost everyone has seen. It is the perfect combination of comedy and ever so slight horror which entertains both children and parents. The well-known plot: Billy Peltzer receives a new pet for Christmas, but it isn’t any normal pet. It is a Mogwai, a cute and furry creature which must be taken care of carefully. Never expose it to light, never get it wet, and no matter how much it begs or cries, never feed it after midnight. Billy does all three.
George Gipe, author of a few other novelizations such as Back to the Future, was given the task of turning the movie into a book before the movie hit the theaters, or even before the script was completely finished. That meant adding in his own additions to the story to provide background for the characters as well as fix plot holes in the script.
The novel begins with new material right away on page 1 by introducing background on the Mogwai:
Centuries ago on another planet, Mogturmen had set out to produce a creature that was adaptable to any climate and condition, one that could easily reproduce itself, was gentle and highly intelligent… the galactic powers sent Mogwai to every inhabitable planet in the universe, their purpose being to inspire alien beings with their peaceful spirit and intelligence and to instruct them in the ways of living without violence and possible extinction.
The background which Gipe adds is necessary in order to have a comprehensible plot line, but is also in the tradition of the golden age of scientific fiction, in which such stereotypical origin stories are the standard. Gipe is also careful to not provide too much information, which would stifle the plot and deviate too far from the events of the movie.
The novel’s perspective switches between characters throughout the books, including the main Mogwai Gizmo and his fellow Gremlins. Gizmo’s perspective on the events of the novel is intelligent and analytical, certainly not what one would expect after seeing the film version. Gizmo is hands down the most intelligent character in the novel, but also the most defenseless, making his relationship with Billy far more dynamic than what was portrayed in the original film.
Gipe’s writing style and descriptions are effective at portraying the characters and scenes of what is an incredibly visual movie:
The creature was predominantly brown and white, about eight inches tall with long pointed ears and huge brown expressive eyes. Standing upright like a human being, its body was covered with fluffy fur except for bare spots at the ends of the ears, the extensions of its four fingered hands, and a quadrilateral space for a moist pug nose and wide mouth resembling that of an elderly gentlemen enjoying the luxury of not wearing his dentures.
Along with the wonderful language and description, the novel also works to avoid or resolve plot holes in the movie and to answer questions which aren’t answered in the film. The first big question is--why are the other Mogwai created from Gizmo so fundamentally different from him? Gipe reveals that there are two types of Mogwai: the minority and the majority. The minority Mogwai are like those originally created by the Mogturmen, gentle and intelligent, while the majority Mogwai are less intelligent and short lived. The difference between the two is revealed when the leader of the new Mogwai, Stripe, confronts Gizmo:
“It’s not fair that you should be allowed such a long life and we such a short one’, Stripe hissed in Mogwai words.
“It was an accident of the Mogturmen’s creative process,” Gizmo replied softly.
“You also have more knowledge than we,” Stripe charged. “More life and more knowledge. Why don’t you share it with us?”
Although fans of the movie might find it odd that in the book the Mogwai can talk to each other, the novel wouldn’t work otherwise. Since the dialogues don’t occur in the movie, Gipe uses them sparingly in order to introduce necessary background or plot information. The same dialogue also reveals why Stripe is so destructive:
“We want there to be more of us. If we’re doomed to short lives, at least we can spread our species, enjoy the company of our massed millions.”
The novel continues to move quickly through the plot, for the most part sticking to the events of the movie while also adding in perspective to the story. However, Gipe changes the plot as he sees fit. For example, in the movie, Stripe gets food after midnight by chewing the cord of Billy’s alarm clock, freezing it at a time before midnight. But how does Stripe know that he will become a Gremlin if he eats after midnight? In the novelization, Stripe pulls the cord to the alarm clock, thinking that it is connected to Billy’s television, in order to get Billy’s attention because he is hungry.
The best scene in the entire novel occurs when Gizmo realizes that Stripe has turned into a Gremlin, causing him to have a flashback of other times that Gremlins were let loose upon the world:
Before that… a montage of Gremlin-created or influenced events, some major and some trivial, rushed through Gizmo’s mind… There was… the Memphis runway escalators of 1972… the 1969 Super Bowl…. The East Coast power failure of November 1965… a lesser-known power failure a month later in Texas, New Mexico, and Juarez, Mexico… the closing in 1963 of the New York Mirror, a newspaper that simply could not get the Gremlins out of its machinery… the 1962 collision of a runaway train, jet plane, and seagoing tanker at Danzig, Poland, the largest sea-air-land disaster in history… the Bay of Pigs paramilitary fiasco of 1961… the hilarious but potentially dangerous three day episode at the Onawa, Iowa, buttonhole factory in 1957… the myriad antics of World War II all the way back to the complete disappearance of Vansk, until 1936 the largest city in Siberia...
Gipe can’t solve all of the plot holes, though. When he can’t, he settles with making fun of them:
“Let’s be serious,” Reilly said. “I’d really like to get to the bottom of this. Now he turns into a Gremlin if he eats after midnight. Midnight in what time zone? You mean I can take this little critter to the state line where the time zones change, and if he eats on one side of the line it’s OK, but if he eats on the other side he turns into a monster?”
“I guess so,” Billy stammered. “I’ve never thought of it that way.”
The novel is phenomenal, both as an independent work of science fiction and as a supplement to the movie. Despite the fact that the novel is quite different from the film in many regards one thing is certain: Gremlins is a fantastic read.