Gnomenclature Gnomes

Cute Garden Gnomes and other
Woodland Gnome Ancestors

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One of the marks of gnomic influence on human culture is the fact that garden gnomes have made it into our literature in a big way. British writers are especially proficient at working gnomes into their stories, perhaps because they've had more experience in dealing with them than Americans have. While J.K. Rowling's gnomes are more garden pest than beneficial influence ("potatoes with legs" indeed!), fellow Briton Terry Pratchett has included no fewer than two types of gnomes in his body of work. In his Bromeliad series, nomes (less the "g") are free-ranging folk who live not just in the great outdoors, but also in various homes and grand department stores. It turns out, after various adventures, that they're the descendants of stranded space aliens, who came for a visit centuries before. Then there's the Discworld series, which takes place on a magical flat world carried on the back of four huge elephants who, in turn, stand on the shell of a world-sized turtle swimming through space. The Discworld gnomes are pugnacious little blue men called the Nac Mac Feegle, who got kicked out of Fairyland for being drunk at two in the afternoon. They'll steal anything not nailed down (and if it's nailed down, they'll steal the nails too) and have an abiding fear of lawyers.

As amusing as all this may be, it bears little similarity to reality. The standard gnome is perhaps 15-30 cm (6-12 in) tall, weighing less than a pound. Male gnomes wear colorful clothes and red caps, while female gnomes prefer earth tones. A male gnome will generally wear a small tool-belt around his waist, just in case something needs fixing. Most are nocturnal. Because they're completely incapable of worrying, gnomes never grow bald or have heart attacks, and can live as long as 400 years (that explains the long white beards). As a rule, gnomes are much stronger than humans, and can run much faster when provoked. They're benevolent towards most animals, but don't much like cats (who try to eat them). They'll happily release an animal from a human trap, or try to heal any animal that has been neglected or forgotten. Most are strict vegetarians, and of course their affinity for plant-life is legendary.

Although there's only one species of gnome (just as there's only one species of human), there are several gnome races:

  • Woodland
  • Garden
  • Dune
  • Farm
  • House
  • Siberian

Woodland gnomes are thought to be the most populous, but they're so good at hiding that it's hard to be sure. The Woodland gnome is your typical red-hatted gnome with a white beard, very like the Garden gnome; in fact, most Woodland gnomes are probably just free-living Garden gnomes who aren't overly fond of humans. Garden gnomes somewhat enjoy human company, and can survive quite well even in gardens in semi-urbanized and suburban areas. They aren't necessarily the best of company, though; while they do like get-togethers, Garden gnomes tend to be somber, and are fond of melancholy stories with unhappy endings.

Dune gnomes are slightly taller than their forest cousins, and wear remarkably drab clothing; they also eschew human contact. They can be found anywhere there is enough sand to form dunes, particularly on beaches and in deserts.

Siberian gnomes, on the other hand, prefer the wintry wastes of, you guessed it, Siberia. Somewhat taller than other gnomes, they wear thick furs to keep warm, and don't like humans at all. Get crosswise with a Siberian gnome and he just might kill your cow or cause a bad harvest.

Farm gnomes are rural dwellers, and love to live in old barns, especially among the rafters. (They have an uneasy truce with the barn owls). They are hard-workers, and quite conservative. They are one of the two varieties of what might be called "domestic" gnomes.

House gnomes (the other domestic breed), prefer to live in historic houses, with or without people. They understand humans very well, speak human languages, and maintain a teasing relationship with the Big Folk (or "bigjobs" as some of them call us). They love practical jokes, too. They're sometimes seen and often heard, and usually pay for their cohabitation with good luck. Legend has it that gnome kings are selected from among the house gnome population.


On to part three :: Gnomes Enemies: A Rogues Gallery of Trolls & Goblins!
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