Gnome Sweet Gnome
In European folklore, gnomes are a race of beings characterized by their small, stocky stature (they are about three feet tall) and pointed conical hats. German fairy tales, including those by the Brothers Grimm, often picture the gnome as an old man living in a cave or mine with a store of hidden treasure. Gnomes are considered to be excellent gem cutters and metalworkers, fashioning jewelry out of precious minerals and metals.
Gnomes are related to goblins and dwarfs. They are peaceful creatures, although they do have trolls as enemies. Some say gnomes cannot stand sunlight because it turns them into stone, while others think they turn into toads. There are several different types of gnomes: Forest Gnomes, Garden Gnomes, Dune Gnomes, House Gnomes, and Farm Gnomes. All gnomes love animals, both wild and domesticated, except for cats. Many gnomes have magical powers and can make themselves invisible.
A medieval alchemist and scholar, Paracelsus, described gnomes as elemental spirits of the earth that live underground and move through the earth as easily as humans do on land. The word “gnome” comes from the Greek word “gnome” meaning “to know.” Gnomes supposedly hoard some secret knowledge along with their treasure.
One of the most famous of lawn ornaments (along with plastic pink flamingoes), garden gnomes are a popular outdoor accessory. Gnome figurines can be found in lawns and gardens everywhere, to enhance their appearance and as a symbol of luck because gnomes are believed to be nighttime guardians of homes, farms, and gardens. The first gnome statuettes were originally made in Germany in the mid-1800's to decorate gardens and windowsills. From there, the garden gnome spread to England, France, Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, the United States, and wherever gardening is a serious hobby.
The traditional garden gnome is a cheerful white-bearded old man with a pointy red cap and dressed in solid colors such as blue, red or green. Garden gnomes are made in various poses and pursuing different pastimes such as fishing or gardening. The modern garden gnome seems to be a peculiarly British obsession. They even have a garden gnome museum and sanctuary. Nevertheless, these once proud residents of grand Victorian estates are now generally considered to be kitsch, rightly banished to suburbia.
There are some gardens where the gnomes, rather than the plants, are the main focal point. Unfortunately, though, garden gnomes are often the target of pranks. Members of the international Garden Gnome Liberation Front have been known to “rescue” gnomes from their garden prisons and “return them to the wild.” There is also a traveling gnome prank in which kidnapped garden gnomes are sent on trips around the world. This became the basis for Travelocity’s “Roaming Gnome” ad campaign.
Garden gnomes appear in all of Nick Park’s movies: Wallace and Gromit’s “A Grand Day Out,” “The Wrong Trousers,” “A Close Shave,” and “The Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” as well as “Chicken Run.” As Mr. Tweedy says, “So it’s gnomes now, is it?” Watch the movies and see if you can find them all.
“Gnomes,” by Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet. (Originally published in the Netherlands, this is a charming introduction to the world of the gnomes for the young at heart. Huygen is a Dutch physician and the late Poortvliet was one of Holland's favorite illustrators. In page after page of detailed illustrations, this book covers everything about gnomes including their anatomy, physiology, medicine, transportation, marriage and family life, types of gnomes, where they live, favorite foods, what sorts of pets they have, how they care for animals, etc. Looking at the adorable cutaway illustration of the house and imagining the gnomes in the midst of their daily activities makes one feel like a kid again.)
“Gnome Life,” by Hugh Huygen. (Inspired by the classic “Gnomes,” this delightful picture book has illustrations taken from that volume. Arranged in calendar order from January to December, the book reveals the everyday activities and adventures of a gnome family. Whether feeding hungry animals in the snow, guarding baby birds from predators, riding on the backs of ducks to tend a sick human child, or storing food for winter, the lives of gnomes are full of wonder.)
“The World Guide to Gnomes, Fairies, Elves and Other Little People,” by Thomas Keightley. (This book was originally published in 1880 so it only has a few black and white illustrations. However, it is a rich source of folklore, superstitions, and mythology surrounding the “little people” that influenced great works of English literature and fantasy authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien and George MacDonald.)
“Gnomes,” by Vivian Russell. (Full-color photographs of real garden gnomes in a wide variety of settings and poses – digging in the dirt, mowing the lawn, pushing a wheelbarrow, swinging in a swing, sunbathing on a lily pad, sitting on a toadstool, riding a snail and a motocross bike. There is a gnome chess set, and a gnome with a laptop and cell phone. It’s interesting to see how each gnome has a unique facial expression and personality. The book contains an introduction that gives a brief history of both real and imaginary gnomes.)
“Wee Little Garden Gnome,” by Alison Trulock and Jesse LeDoux. (A cute miniature gnome comes with a pocket-sized book of essential gnome information. This would make a great gift for anyone who likes gnomes.)
“Gnome Away from Home,” by Andrews McMeel Publishing. (Celebrate the roaming gnome with a mini traveling gnome figurine and a booklet of gnome travel tips, travel lore, and gnome history. A fun and quirky gift for gnome lovers and travelers.)
Beryl the Gnome (A short history of gnomes for humans.)
Free the Gnomes (A satirical protest of the oppressive treatment of garden gnomes.)
Garden Gnomes Need Homes (Adopt a garden gnome today! Includes a history and additional information about garden gnomes.)
Gnome-Away-From-Home (This blog is dedicated to the adventures of a gnome called Zep.)
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