This article is about the mythical creatures. For alternate meanings see Gnome (disambiguation).
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Lawn gnome

A gnome is a mythical creature characterized by small stature and living underground. According to Paracelsus, gnomes are the most important of the elemental spirits of the element of earth. He wrote that they move as easily through the earth as humans walk upon the ground. The sun's rays turn them into stone. In other traditions, they are simply small, mischievous sprites or goblins. Some sources say they spend the day as a toad instead of as inanimate stone.

Often featured in Germanic fairy tales, including those by the Brothers Grimm, the gnome is usually a creature living deep underground and guarding buried treasure, resembling a small gnarled old man (accordingly Swiss bankers are sometimes disparagingly referred to as the Gnomes of Zurich). Gnomes feature in the legends of many of central, northern and eastern European lands under differing names: a kaukis is a Prussian gnome, and barbegazi are gnome-like creatures with big feet from the traditions of France and Switzerland. In Iceland, gnomes (vttir) are so respected that roads are re-routed around areas thought to be inhabited by them. Further east, tengu are sometimes referred to as winged gnomes.

Individual gnomes are not very often detailed or featured as characters in stories, but in Germanic folklore, Rubezahl, lord over the underworld, was sometimes referred to as a mountain gnome. Also, according to some traditions, the gnome king is called Gob.

Rudolf Steiner, and other theosophists before him, lectured at length about gnomes, and especially their supportive role in the development of plant life (and biodynamic agriculture). Rupert Sheldrake has written a good deal about morphogenic fields, which Terry Pratchett used in his depictions of gnomes to explain their existence.

The word "gnome" is said to derive from the New Latin gnomus and ultimately from the Greek gnosis, meaning knowledge. According to myth, gnomes hoarded secret knowledge just as they hoarded treasure.

Garden gnomes

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A replica of Lampy the Lamport gnome

The first garden gnomes were introduced to the United Kingdom in 1847 by Sir Charles Isham, when he brought 21 terracotta figures back from a trip to Germany and placed them around the gardens of his home, Lamport Hall in Northamptonshire. Only one of the original batch of gnomes survives: Lampy as he is known, is on display at Lamport Hall, and is insured for one million pounds.

Garden gnomes have become a popular accessory in many gardens, although they are not loved by all. They can be the target of pranks: people have been known to "return to the wild" these garden gnomes, most notably France's "Front de Liberation des Nains de Jardins" and Italy's "MALAG" (Garden Gnome Liberation Front). Some kidnapped garden gnomes have been sent on trips around the world, being passed from person to person and photographed at different famous landmarks, with the photos being returned to the owner; this practice is featured in the 2001 French film, Amlie. Non-conventional gnome statues have also been made, such as a flashing gnome in a raincoat, or a gnome couple having sex.

A sub-culture exists among those who collect garden gnomes. This phenomenon is frequently lampooned in popular culture.

Gnomes in literature

  • The Nome King (spelled without the silent "G") and his gnome subjects nearly transformed Dorothy Gale and her friends into bric-a-brac in Ozma of Oz, the third book in Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz series. The character appeared several times in later books in the series.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien used the english word gnomes in his early work "The Book of Lost Tales" for a fictional people later called High Elves. He dropped the term in his published works, since he found the gnomes of folklore to be so unlike his High Elves as to confuse his readers.
  • Terry Pratchett has also written a trilogy called The Bromeliad in which a race of "nomes" explore the world beyond their home, and keep discovering it's bigger than they thought.
  • In David Brin's novel Earth, a major nuclear war is described in which many nations attack Switzerland in an effort to reclaim money from the "gnomes" (bankers), money that has been illegally smuggled out of ailing developing nations and hidden in numbered Swiss bank accounts.
  • The British children's comic The Beano featured a character called Gordon Gnome, who was a garden gnome living next to a pond. An animated series is under production for the BBC which will air in 2005. [1] (
  • Dave Duncan has gnomes in his A Handful of Men tetralogy, where they are depicted as filth-eating tunnel-grubbers, somewhat like Dragonlance's gully dwarves.

See also

eo:Gnomo es:Gnomo fr:Gnome (crature fantastique) ja:ノーム nl:Kabouter


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