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A gnome is a fairy creature that is characterized by its very small stature and subterranean lifestyle.

Modern illustration



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.

A gnome is also called a "Cassie" in a fictitious book written by E.G. Khrenson in 1925.


Some confusion arises as the gnome is one of many similar but subtly different creatures in European folklore; mythical creatures such as goblins and dwarves are often represented as gnomes, and vice versa. In other traditions, they are simply small, misshapen, mischievous sprites or goblins (with pointy caps).

Gnomes feature in the legends of many of central, northern and eastern European lands by other names: a kaukis is a Prussian gnome, and barbegazi are gnome-like creatures with big feet in the traditions of France and Switzerland. In Iceland, gnomes (vættir) are so respected that roads are re-routed around areas said to be inhabited by them. Further east, tengu are sometimes referred to as winged gnomes.

According to Wil Huygen's books, "Gnomes, Secrets of the Gnomes and The Complete Gnomes", Gnomes consist of a number of different types. The most common is the Forest Gnome who rarely comes into contact with man. The Garden Gnome lives in old gardens and enjoys telling melancoly tales. Dune Gnomes are slightly larger than their woodland breathren and choose remarkably drab clothing. House Gnomes have the most knowledge of man, often speaking his language. It is from this family that Gnome Kings are chosen. Farm Gnomes resemble their House brethen, but are more conservative in manner and dress. Siberian Gnomes have been more interbred than other Gnomes and associate freely with trolls. They are much larger than the other types and have an infinately more nasty nature. It is best never to evoke the ire of such Gnomes for they delight in revenge.

  • Andorra — Gnom, Follet
  • Belgium — Gnome, Kabouter
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina — Gnom, Patuljak
  • Bulgaria — Гном
  • Croatia — Patuljak, Gnom, Polutan
  • Czech Republic — Skřítek
  • Denmark — Nisse
  • England — Gnome or Hob
  • Finland — Maahinen or menninkäinen
  • Germany — Gnom or Wichtel, though K(l)abauter is a known term as well. Gartenzwerg refers to a Garden Gnome
  • Greece — Gnomos, Gnomiko
  • Hungary — Manó
  • Iceland — Álfur or Dvergur
  • Ireland — Gnome, Goblin
  • Italy — Gnomo
  • Malta — Nanu
  • The Netherlands — Kabouter
  • Norway — Nisse
  • Poland — Krasnoludek, Skrzat
  • Portugal — Gnomo, Duende
  • Russia — Гном (Gnom)
  • Serbia — Патуљак (Patuljak), Гном (Gnom), Полушан (Polušan)
  • Slovakia — Škriatok
  • Slovenia — Kepec, Gnom
  • Spain — Gnomo, Duende
  • Sweden — Tomtenisse, Hustomte, Tomte or Småtomte


Often featured in Germanic fairy tales, including those by the Brothers Grimm, the gnome often resembles a gnarled old man living deep underground who guards buried treasure. Modern sources often depict gnomes as diminutive, stout humanoids who wear tall, pointed conical caps and dress in solid colors such as blue, red or green; in this depiction, the male gnome always has a long white beard.

Gnomes are usually an average of 15 centimeters tall, but with its cap on it appears much taller. Their feet are somewhat pigeon toed which gives them an extra edge on speed and agility through the wood and grass. The males weigh 300 grams, and female is 250-275 grams.

The male wears a peaked red cap, a blue brown-green pants, and ether felt boots, birch shoes, or wooden clogs. Around his waist is a belt with a tool kit attached, holding a knife, hammer, etc. They are fair of face, though the boast rosy red cheeks. Long beards adorn their faces and turn gray far sooner than their hair.

The female wears gray or khaki clothing, consisting of a blouse and skirt (to ankles). She also has black-gray knee socks and high shoes or slippers. Before she is married, she dons a green cap.

Prior to marriage her hair in hanging down, the outfit is complemented by a green cap and braids with which later disappear under a scarf while the green cap is replaced by more somber tones after she marries.



Paracelsus includes gnomes in his list of elementals, as earth elementals. He describes them as two spans high, and very taciturn. (C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image, p135 ISBN 0-521-47735-2)


Like dwarves, the sun's rays turn them into stone. Some sources claim they spend the daytime as toads instead of in stone and they are also said to have magical powers that make people feel sad or happy.

Most Gnomes are 7 times stronger than a man, can run at speeds of 35 miles per hour, and have better sight than a hawk. These abilities help the Gnome to do many things, such as find wounded, dying animals for which they feel they are responsible for. Because of their love for animals, all the animals of the forest are the Gnome's friends and are willing to help him at any time. Many people say that gnomes have elevated practical jokes to an art form. But most especially they love gems and jewelry and are considered by many to be the best gem cutters and jewelers in existence


Males are the guardians of animal kind and show little preference for their animal friends, not withstanding their aversion to cats both wild and domesticated. They are known for freeing wildlife from man's traps and for operating on farm animals whose owners have neglected them or who are simply to poor to afford a vetrinarian. Their enemies are mainly Trolls, and other beings who would try to destroy them or their homes. Otherwise, they are mostly peaceful beings.


They are generally vegetarian and never worry. The main meal consists of: Nuts (hazelnuts, walnuts, beechnuts, etc), mushrooms, peas, beans, a small potato, applesauce, fruit, berries (all kinds), tubers, spices, vegetables, and preserves for dessert. As a beverage, the gnome drinks mead dew (fermented honey), fermented raspberries (which have a very high alcohol content), and spiced gin as a nightcap. The gnome eats no meat, so often consumes the nectar of the high rotein plant called 'Vicia Sepuim'. fluffy willow catkins, dressing them up like dolls.


Gnomes tend to live in hilly meadows and rocky woodlands. In Huygen's book, it says they live in three trees, the house itself, with a hidden entrance from another tree, and then a third is the supply room, with grains, beans, potatoes and everything else the gnomes may need during the winter.


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

Theories and analysis

According to the alchemist Paracelsus, gnomes are the most important of the elemental spirits of the classical element of Earth;

Rudolf Steiner, and other theosophists before him, lectured at length on gnomes, and especially their supportive role in the development of plant life (and biodynamic agriculture).


Garden gnomes

Typical German garden gnome
A replica of Lampy the Lamport gnome.

The first garden gnomes were made in Graefenroda in Thuringia, Germany in the mid-1800's by Philipp Griebel. Griebel made terracotta animals as decorations and created the gnome based on local myths as a way for people to enjoy the stories of their power to help in the garden at night. The gnome quickly spread across German and into France and England where ever gardening was a serious hobby.

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 as ornaments in the gardens of his home, Lamport Hall in Northamptonshire. Only one of the original batch of gnomes survives: Lampy as he is known, fully washes himself every Tuesday, and 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 are often the target of pranks: people have been known to return garden gnomes "to the wild", 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 (the travelling gnome prank).

They have become controversial in serious gardening circles in the UK, and are banned from the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show as the organisers claim that they detract from the garden designs. Gnome enthusiasts accuse the organisers of snobbery because they are popular in working class and suburban gardens.

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

Garden gnomes were made in various poses and pursuing various pastimes, such as fishing or gardening. More recently, garden gnomes have been depicted indulging in indecent exposure or having sexual intercourse.


  • The Gnome King is the principal villain in Eva Katherine Gibson's Zauberlinda the Wise Witch. The book was one for the first to capitalize on L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and this character leaves wonder to wonder if it in turn influenced Baum.
  • J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter book series makes a brief mention of garden gnomes. Unlike the common portrayal of congenial, human-like dwarves with beards, the gnomes in Harry Potter are crude creatures "like a potato with legs". To the wizarding community, gnomes are nothing more than an average garden nuisance like a mole.
  • In Terry Brooks' Sword of Shannara series, gnomes are a race of short, ugly humanoids that share many common characteristics with the goblins of Tolkien's Middle-earth and other works of modern fantasy fiction.
  • The Gnome King in L. Frank Baum's The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. The Gnome King, one of the immortals, wants toys for his children (presumably as fixed in ages as the Light Elf princes Flash and Twilight), but he does not believe in the concept of gifts, so he trades a string of sleigh bells, one for each of Santa Claus's ten reindeer, in exchange for each gift he receives. He is also among the council that votes to give Santa Claus the Mantle of Immortality.
  • The Nome King (spelled without the silent "G") and his nome subjects nearly transformed Dorothy Gale and her friends into bric-a-brac in Ozma of Oz, the third book in L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz series. The character appeared several times in later The Oz books, usually as an ambitious enemy. Fans have debated what relationship, if any, he has to the above character.
  • Tolkien used the word gnome in his early work The Book of Lost Tales for a fictional people later called Ñoldor. 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. "Gnomes" also refer to the Valar.
  • Gnomes are one of several races on Terry Pratchett's Discworld, where they are also called goblins. The Nac Mac Feegle are sometimes considered an ethnic subgroup of gnomes. One notable gnome character is Wee Mad Arthur.
  • Nomes (again without a "G") are a race of tiny aliens who have been living on Earth for centuries in Pratchett's trilogy of children's books The Bromeliad.
  • Gnomes and Secrets of the Gnomes by Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet are illustrated fictional guidebooks to the mythical creatures, and resulted in the spin-off animated series David the Gnome. These are originally written in Dutch, where gnomes are called Kabouters. These books depict gnomes as a wise, noble, and civilized race whose natural enemies are the trolls, due to their contrasting natures.



  • The French film Amélie includes a portrayal of the popular custom of stealing a garden gnome and returning it with pictures of the gnome in various faraway places.
  • Revenge of the Gnomes was a popular 1989 Korean film, banned in several countries for racist dialogue.
  • In King of the Hill's 9th season episode 'Yard, She Blows!', Peggy Hill becomes infatuated with a garden gnome named Winklebottom and places it on the front lawn, to the embarrassment of her husband, Hank. Their son Bobby accidentally breaks its ear off, so Hank takes the opportunity to destroy and bury it, telling Peggy it was stolen. Peggy is distraught and Hank, not wanting to continue to lie to Peggy, goes to a German tourist town to buy a new garden gnome, named Figgleforth. Peggy loves her new gnome but suggests it be kept indoors to prevent theft. Hank is delighted until the gnome is placed in his bedroom. He is so creeped out by the gnome that he cannot undress in front of it.
  • In the Pixie Tricks series by Tracey West, Robert B. Gnome is of the Otherworld, given permission by the Fairy Queen to live as a colonist of sorts in the human world. He poses (literally) as a garden statue for much of the time, but can be interacted with as if with a living being.
  • "The Gnome" is the eighth track on Pink Floyd's debut album "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn."


  • Wil Huygen's books, "Gnomes, Secrets of the Gnomes and The Complete Gnomes"
  • Part of this article consists of modified text from Wikipedia, and the article is therefore licensed under GFDL.

See also

External links