Books: Gremlins Go Home

A week ago I was trying to think of ways to make the gremlin mask I was going to wear for Halloween more recognizable. (If you read my post last Friday, you know that I didn’t succeed. I was most often identified as a frog.) It occurred to me that perhaps if I carried around a copy of the Gremlins DVD people would get the idea. Our library didn’t have it on DVD, however, only on videotape, and those tapes come in plain plastic cases.

Next I tried books. Surely there must be some books about gremlins. But there are surprisingly few, and only one our library listed with gremlins in the title was missing from the shelf. I found out from the librarian that it had been listed in the catalog for years but had had no activity in over a decade. Having spent as much time as I had searching for it, I decided to accept his offer to get it by interlibrary loan, even though I wouldn’t get it in time to help any with my costume.

I picked it up a few days ago, and read it yesterday (it is a very quick read). It’s a fun book, much lighter in tone than a good deal of science fiction I have read. Of course, the two co-authors, Ben Bova and Gordon R. Dickson, are known for the humor in their writing. I haven’t read anything by Bova before but I have enjoyed a number of Dickson’s books.

The main character is a boy, and some libraries (although not ours) shelve it in juvenile fiction. (My husband’s comment was “cute book – typical junior high.”) One thing I couldn’t help noticing was how  different it seems from a lot of juvenile fiction published today. (It was published in 1974, when I was a freshman in high school.)

Like children’s books that I enjoyed as a girl, and others that were around back then but I never read until I was an adult, Gremlins Go Home depicts a world where there are some problems but things seem mostly good. Rolf is concerned about environmental pollution, but it is based on his concern for animals, not fear of a bleak future due to human activity. He is unhappy about how busy his father is with work and his mother with his baby sister, but he does have an intact family. And he is free to come and go on his bike pretty much as he pleases, without worries about drugs, gangs, or abduction.

I don’t know whether today’s children face more serious problems, or if today’s parents are more likely to project some of their own fears onto their children. Or if perhaps too many of today’s writers take themselves and their subject too seriously.

Speaking of subject, the books really is about gremlins, not about environmentalism and family issues, though those do have a key role in the plot. Gremlins, as mythical creatures, are of a fairly recent origin, from the RAF in the early twentieth century. They were specifically associated with the mechanical problems in airplanes, so it is appropriate enough that they appear in a book where a rocket is about to be launched toward Mars.

These gremlins, however, have been on earth for thousands of years. They are actually aliens, from the planet Gremla, and now they want to hitch a ride on the rocket to get back home. Bova and Dickson do a marvelous job giving the gremlins distinct personalities and histories, and intertwining some of Earth’s cultural history with the gremlin history. (Hint: according to the gremlins, a lot of what humans know, they actually learned from gremlins.)

Rolf learns some valuable lessons, and so do the gremlins, but the book is primarily a good story, not a moral tale. Which, in my opinion, is a large part of what makes a good book.

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