Meet the Monsters is a web series providing background on the mythological creatures featured in MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES.
According to European mythology, gnomes are small, shy, and cunning humanoids who live underground and can move through earth as easily as humans move through air.
The chthonic, or earth-dwelling, spirit has precedents in numerous ancient and medieval mythologies, often guarding mines and precious underground treasures, notably in the Germanic dwarves and the Greek Chalybes, Telchines or Dactyls
The English word is attested from the early 18th century. Gnomes are used in Alexander Pope’s THE RAPE OF THE LOCK. The creatures from this mock-epic are small, celestial creatures which were prudish women in their past lives, and now spend all of eternity looking out for prudish women (in parallel to the guardian angels in Catholic belief). Other uses of the term gnome remain obscure until the early 19th century, when it is taken up by authors of Romanticist collections of fairy tales and becomes mostly synonymous with the older word goblin.
Pope’s stated source, the French satire Comte de Gabalis (1670), used the term gnomide to refer to female gnomes (often “gnomid” in English translations).
In 19th century fiction, the chthonic gnome became a sort of antithesis to the more airy or luminous fairy. Nathaniel Hawthorne in TWICE-TOLD TALES (1837) contrasts the two in “Small enough to be king of the fairies, and ugly enough to be king of the gnomes”. Similarly, gnomes are contrasted to elves, as in William Cullen Bryant’s LITTLE PEOPLE OF THE SNOW (1877), which has “let us have a tale of elves that ride by night, with jingling reins, or gnomes of the mine”.
After World War II (with early references, in ironical use, from the late 1930s) the diminutive figurines introduced as lawn ornaments during the 19th century came to be known as garden gnomes.
Gnomes appear in the game Dungeons & Dragons, and in the OZ series by L. Frank Baum (referred to as “nomes”), THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA series by C.S. Lewis (sometimes referred to as “earthmen”), GNOMES by Wil Huygen, the SHANNARA series by Terry Brooks, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK by Chuck Sambuchino, and MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES by Henry Herz.
Gnome with newspaper and tobacco pipe by Heinrich Schlitt
Illustration by E. Stuart Hardy for THE BOOK OF GNOMES Fred. E. Weatherly
Gnome King Kyrië in Hoogeloon, the Netherlands.
Alfred Smedberg’s THE TROLLS AND THE GNOME BOY in the childrens’ stories collection AMONG PIXIES AND TROLLS
To the left a gnome who is cutting stones in the underground.
Night Gnome by Victor Hugo – 1856
The worlds biggest Garden Gnome, called “Solus”, recognized by Guinness World Records Book 2009, placed in Nowa Sól, Poland (5,4 m. high)