When I was six years old, one of my Christmas presents was the book, Gnomes, by Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet. Even at such a young age, I was charmed so much by the little nocturnal creatures and their tiny homes, that I was bound and determined to also live in one. The book was so well written and so beautifully illustrated, it was as if Huygen and Poortvliet had been studying the little people for decades.
Written with a naturalist’s hand, Gnomes is a guide to the life of the little woodland and garden creatures. It covers everything from courtship and marriage, children, food gathering, handicrafts, and the building and care of the gnome’s tiny underground house.
According to the book, the male gnome begins to build his little house about 15-20 years before his marriage (gnomes can live up to 400 years), and meticulously takes into consideration the location and the direction that the house will face. Secret underground tunnels, polecat traps and escape routes are built into the home’s infrastructure as well as a chimney for the Large Stove, a boot room which houses the Watch-Cricket, and an elegant bathroom.
As a craftsman, the gnome’s artistic flair can be seen in the beautiful carvings on the doors, the handmade furniture, and even the colorful toilet. His wife and children also take pride in their tiny home as they enjoy their nightly chores, sleep in cozy alcoves built into the home’s walls and play with their pet field mice.
The book has recently been printed again for its 30th anniversary and the gnomes’ natural building techniques, knowledge of sustainability and natural energy, and kindness to animals will hopefully be enjoyed by today’s generation.
“To my amazement I have heard that there are people who have never seen a gnome. I can’t help pitying these people. I am certain there must be something wrong with their eyesight.”
~ Axel Munthe, Swedish psychiatrist, 1857-1949
Illustrations courtesy of the book Gnomes (which I still have after 30 years).