I picked up a present for Christmas the other day for someone who has a bit of a green thumb– part of it involves a very tiny gnome. Now, I’m one of those artsy people who have painted gnomes for their grandparents (mostly so they can have ostensibly red noses and cheeks so they look like they’ve got reason to be so darn cheerful) but when I was deciding what denizen to pick on this week, I thought I’d go with one of the more recent additions to the fantasy fae menagerie: The Gnome.
I’ve seen tons of beautiful art for elves, faeries, even hobbits and other denizens, but your gnomes are generally speaking the portly, squat, cheerful looking creatures that remind me of brownies. Even though I’d argue that they’ve been cutesied up for the average garden, the interpretation of gnomes isn’t near as varied as other fantasy species. Wikipedia states that the earliest version of the word gnomes were first introduced in the 16th century during the renaissance brought on by an author named Paracelsus, though his rendition was referring to a sort of earth elemental, with the creatures being brought into more solidifying light in works such as The Wizard of Oz, Narnia, and even Harry Potter. Though gnomes have been used in a variety of ways in the fantasy genre, in addition to being diminutive outdoorsy underground dwellers, they also seem to have the knack (gnack?) for being regarded in literature as inventors and alchemists.
To me, the most logical reason for this is that they’re the ‘good’ (or at least, not so bad) offshoot as goblins. Now, I haven’t gotten into goblins (the possibility with them are virtually endless without making *any* reference to David Bowie…) but consider – small, diminutive creatures that live underground, associated with the earth and are known for creating things? The only difference – besides looks – is that goblins traditionally are the more devious, cruel creatures known for stealing. In a cartoon I watched growing up, they were always at odds with the trolls (Youtube David the Gnome, if you’re curious). Though it is telling that with the exception of the Oz series, I can’t think of a negative interpretation of the creatures. Neutral, perhaps, whereas goblins – well, I know they’ve been painted in a much more varied light but, let’s do a quick comparison, with me using the first images that show up on google:
You tell me which one you find more trustworthy – ‘cause quite frankly, I don’t really trust either of them.