Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Gnomes

Go To
A 1977 bestseller (first released in Dutch in 1976), written by Dutch author Wil Huygen and illustrated by fellow Dutchman Rien Poortvliet, in which the creators pretend to be providing "field notes" and observations after years of observing gnomes in the wild and is presented in the matter of a field guide for those who want to take a hand at observing gnomes themselves. Although popular among children, it isn't written in a "children's book" style, and does not shy away from more "adult" aspects of what it would be like for a race of beings to live like this, in the truest fashion of a field manual of this sort.

The bulk of the book is spent giving detailed descriptions of the gnomes' physical attributes, food, clothing, homebuilding, social structures and customs, highlighted by Poortvliet's gorgeous illustrations. It then tells nine "legends of the gnomes," which have numbers but no names, relaying the adventures of gnomes interacting with other beings, including humans. The final section recounts an alleged visit to the authors by one of their gnome informants, Tomte Haroldson, who delivers an Anvilicious lecture about how Humans Are Bastards because of their destructiveness to the environment and their failure to recognize great men in their time (especially artists).

The popularity of Gnomes led to several more books on the subject by Huygen and Poortvliet, a 1980 animated film and the animated series The World of David the Gnome and its spin-off Wisdom of the Gnomes. It also served as the inspiration for a whole Sub-Genre of "fantasy field guides" for things like dragons and whatnot, which became especially popular as secondary sources for other fantasy settings; very few of these ever really managed to match the sheer depth or beauty of Gnomes, however.

Gnomes provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Heroism: The gnomes are much nicer here than in the original myths. While mostly benevolent, the original gnomes had more in common with The Fair Folk, and had nasty tempers.
  • An Aesop: A couple of the legends have these, especially those involving human beings.
  • All Trolls Are Different:
    • Like most other creatures in the book, these ones hew fairly close to traditional Scandinavian lore. They're bestial, big-nosed, hairy, tailed humanoids who revel in filth and cruelty, regularly antagonize gnomes and humans alike, and turn to stone in the light of day.
    • There’s also stated to be a race of beings closely related to trolls called snotgurgles, only found far beyond the Urals. They have multiple clawed fingers and toes, are covered in matted, filthy hair crawling with all sorts of disgusting vermin, and are even crueler than trolls. For all their malice, trolls wouldn’t actually try to kill a captive gnome. Snotgurgles most certainly will, and they’ll be nasty about it.
  • Always Chaotic Evil:
    • The trolls, and even more so their cousins the snotgurgles.
    • Sirens are mentioned in the beastiary, and also fall under this trope. The Gnomes aren't human and are thus immune from the effects of their magical song, but humans are all too vulnerable, and often have to be saved when possible.
  • Always Lawful Good: The gnomes are sort of this. There are some bad apples, especially in Siberia. But the authors imply that this is due to cross-breeding, so pure gnome nature is essentially good.
  • Author Filibuster: The Tomte Haroldson section definitely has this feel to it. Especially the lament about unrecognized artists — up to that point, there's been no sign that gnome society, which is based on subsistence farming and foraging, even has professional artists.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: The Aesop of Legend No. 1.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The name "Tomte" is also the Scandinavian word for Gnome, where gnomes feature heavily in the folklore.
  • Break the Haughty: Legend No. 7 tells of a wealthy Jerkass farmer, Sigurd Larsson, who falls so ill that he's pronounced dead even though he's still conscious. He's revived, but is now dependent on the gnomes' medicine to remain so, ensuring he can no longer treat them poorly.
  • Buried Alive: The fate of Sigurd Larsson, until the gnomes dig him up and revive him on condition that he change his ways. He will be dependant on the gnomes for the rest of his life because he'll require a special medicine to avoid slipping back into a death state, ensuring that he'll have to stay on their good side
  • Can't Argue with Elves: The authors' attempts to defend their race to Tomte don't get very far. This is particularly galling to readers because the gnomes have so much going in their favor when it comes to making living in harmony with nature easy, that they come off as very arrogant and hypocritical.
  • Cassandra Truth: In Legend No. 3, a gnome tries to warn some rabbits that their home turf is going to get flooded (gnomes can predict the weather, among their other talents), but is roundly ignored.
  • Cats Are Mean: The gnome trusts all animals except the housecat, which "is not a member of the natural animal world and is completely unreliable." Why this doesn't apply to other domestic animals is never explained. This is possibly just a personal bias on the side of the gnomes, due to the domesticated cats instinctive hunting of anything small.
  • Changeling Tale: Legend No. 6 starts with trolls stealing a human baby and replacing it with one of their own.
  • Chubby Chaser: Male gnomes in general tend to prefer their women to be plump.
  • Clueless Aesop: While going for a Green Aesop by contrasting gnome society with human, the fact that gnomes are a Superior Species stacks the deck. Sure, you can be In Harmony with Nature ... if you're born with immunity to most diseases, a magical ability to control your fertility and predict natural disasters, and fluency in animal languages, not to mention being so tiny that you can live in a house the size of a rabbit hole.
  • Creator Provincialism: The book largely focuses on northern and west European Gnomes, with only cursory mention being made of gnomes outside of Europe (and some of these are less than flattering). This is somewhat understandable, since originally Huygen was writing mostly for a Dutch audience, and is even to some degree "in-universe" (since the conceit of the book is that Huygen is making an actual field guide based on his own experience, and as a Dutchman in The '70s, that'd be limited in large part to democratic Europe) but it can still stick out to some extent (the Siberian gnomes being especially bad about this).
  • Cryptic Background Reference: The Framing Device of Legend No. 9 has some gnome children asking their father to tell a bedtime story about gnome hero Wartje that they haven't heard before, which leads to the following teases for the reader:
    "Have I told you how Wartje got back the gold and precious stones a dragon had stolen and returned them to the elves of Thaja?"
    "And how, to save the life of a little human girl who lay dying, he plucked the life-giving herb from the island in Siberia that was guarded by a ferocious dinosaur?"
  • Dark Is Evil: The Siberian gnomes, while not outright evil, are significantly less benevolent, and sometimes outright more malicious than their cousins. They also wear hats of black wool and grey clothes in contrast to the colorful clothes of other gnomes.
  • Direct Line to the Author: Huygen and Poortvliet pretend that they're just passing along what they've observed and what gnomes have told them. This is played very straight.
  • Distressed Dude: Despite his evidently manly past adventures, in the story of Wartje that we get he has to be rescued by his wife.
  • The Dividual: In their discussion with Tomte, Huygen and Poortvliet are depicted as literally speaking with one voice. For instance, when Tomte asks how the book is going: "Beautifully," we cried. "We're almost finished." At no point in the lengthy dialogue is either of them identified as speaking individually.
  • Downer Ending: Legend No. 6 ends with both the heroine and the writer in the Framing Device dying.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Secrets of the Gnomes shows that gnomes around the world tend to have similar appearances and cultures to the humans near whom they live.
  • For the Evulz: Except for the story about Wartje, trolls rarely seem to have any reason other than this to catch and torture a gnome.
  • Friend to All Living Things: The gnomes are basically this, apart from trolls, cats and some humans.
  • Girls With Mustaches: Elderly female gnomes will start to grow a light beard when they reach 350 years of age.
  • Greed: One of the defining characteristics of Trolls, far outstripping even their sadism. On their worst day, the greediest human still doesn't hold a candle to the obsession trolls have with gold.
  • Green Aesop: Tomte's lecture at the end of the book speaks of how humanity has not only suppressed and replaced its instinct with its intellect, but that it has grown reckless in its destruction of the environment, removing balance, and driving so many animals and plants to extinction that members of our population don't even know what some of them are anymore due to never having seen them. He even points out how the extinction of certain animals, if mankind continues unabated, will cause an ecosystem collapse. There are also numerous references to environmental destruction throughout the book and how it negatively affects wildlife as well as the gnomes.
  • Hand Wave: A couple of them. Gnome couples all have exactly two children — a pair of twins — through "a certain intervention about which gnomes decline to speak." We're also told that even though there's no sign of mining or other extractive industry among gnomes, the royal palace has an abundant supply of metals of mysterious origin, which the subjects are free to take. Basically, both these hand waves let the gnomes have certain modern technologies and low-impact creative industry (such as glassblowing) while still being In Harmony with Nature.
  • Hated by All: When Sigurd Larsson, the main character of Legend 7, gets deathly ill, nobody is sad about it. Mainly because Sigurd was a cruel, abusive slavedriver who lorded his wealth over everyone and used it as a weapon to torment the whole community. While on his deathbed, a gnome tells him that his family is burning all of his debt papers and freeing everyone from the unjust burdens he put on them.
  • Historical Domain Character: Apparently, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had a gnome friend and even gave him music lessons.
  • Humans Are Flawed: Gnomes tend to take this view of humanity, rather than the overwrought Humans Are Bastards trope. Doesn't make their Can't Argue with Elves tendencies less grating, but they're at least trying to help.
  • I Gave My Word: As stated in one of the Legends, a gnome, whether he's good or bad, always keeps his word.
  • The Good Kingdom: Though the gnomes are scattered all over the northern temperate zone, they seem to have just one king, and their society fits this trope. The gnome numbers are small enough, in fact, that the king traditionally greets them all personally after they get married.
  • In Harmony with Nature: One of the purest examples of the trope you're likely to see.
  • Kick the Dog: Almost literally, as the trolls who capture Wartje abuse his fox companion as well.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Justified in that all the gnomes' clothes are made at home, from scratch.
  • Love at First Sight: Happens to the changeling girl in Legend No. 6.
  • Made a Slave: Trolls capture Wartje to exploit his skills at metallurgy.
  • Mouse World: Described in loving detail. Acorns are used as cups, field mice are pets, watch-crickets act as guard dogs, and so on.
  • National Geographic Nudity: Several instances in both books.
  • Never Bareheaded: A gnome would "rather be without his pants than without his cap."
  • One-Word Title
  • Our Elves Are Different: Gnomes themselves fill the superior and In Harmony with Nature typical elven role. Actual elves, on the other hand, are little flying critters identical to the modern stereotype of fairies.
  • Our Gnomes Are Weirder: Gnomes in this book actually resemble small versions of Tolkienesque elves, which is why the Can't Argue with Elves trope applies to them.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: What happened to Sigurd Larsson. Normally, a fate this bad would almost be disproportionate (in traditional myth, gnomes could be very nasty if they got angry enough), but Sigurd was such a bastard he really earned every bit of it.
  • Rule of Three: In Legend No. 1, a gnome repays a human for saving his wife by granting him Three Wishes. Also invoked in Legend No. 6, which features three escape attempts.
  • Santa Claus: One of the Legends reveal that the myth of Santa is based on a mirage caused by a huge snowstorm that made the sillouhette of a gnome character on skis look massive
  • Scenery Porn: Poortvliet's woodland scenes are definitely one of the book's attractions.
  • Secret Test of Character: The events of Secrets of the Gnomes turn out to be this, to see if the authors ought to be punished for the inaccuracies of the first book (particularly the depiction of Siberian gnomes). They pass.
  • Self-Deprecation: Secrets of the Gnomes features several gnomes explaining to the authors (who have been temporarily turned into gnomes) how the first book was shallow and inaccurate in many respects.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: All gnomes can talk to animals.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Falling in love with a girl raised by trolls can only lead a man to trouble.
  • Superior Species: Not only are the gnomes morally superior to people, but they're also physically stronger (in proportion to their size), live 400 years on average, have superhuman senses including ESP, and never die of disease. They also seem to have no genetic abnormalities worth mentioning.
  • Uncleanliness Is Next to Ungodliness: The book mentions a troll's complete lack of hygienic habits and the fact that they stink numerous times. (Snotgurgles are even worse.)
  • Veganopia: The gnomes don't eat meat, but they do consume some eggs.
  • Woodland Creatures: Played mostly straight, though it doesn't hide the fact of predation.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: Sort of. Gold and silver isn't worth anything to gnomes as far as money is concerned, but they do value it for its beauty and durability, using it to craft ornamental art. Supposedly their royal family keeps a large vault of it which their subjects can obtain it from via request. Also, in Legends No. 1, a man who learns, with a gnomes help, that some things are worth more than gold. This is in contrast to the limitless greed of the trolls, who are obsessed with gold, and hoard mountains of it.