In 1976, Dutch illustrator Rien Poortvliet and writer Wil Huygen published ‘Gnomes’, a quasi-scientific work about the history, anatomy, habits, quirks and other aspects of the lives of these little people. The book, supposedly written with the consent and cooperation of the gnomes, was an international success, translated in 21 different languages and selling over 4 million copies.
Gnomes are extremely small, human-like creatures who wear pointy red hats, all have beards (the men, not the women) and live in holes beneath the ground. They are benevolent, caring for animals, but also sympathetic to humans. Several subspecies can be distinguished: wood gnomes, garden gnomes, dune gnomes (at the coast), farm gnomes and mill gnomes. Or at least some people believe so; in the olden days, gnomes were an accepted fact of life, as is attested by the widespread knowledge of them, but their ever rarer sightings have confined them to the realm of folklore.
This map shows the extent of the gnome habitat in Europe: vast but fragmented, from Ireland in the west to an eastern boundary deep in Siberia, and from high up in Scandinavia to a southern limit running throught Belgium to Switzerland and down into the northern Balkan. Southern countries like France, Spain, Italy, Albania, most of ex-Yugoslavia, Albania, Bulgaria and Greece are (almost) completely gnome-free. Heavy concentrations of gnomes can be found in the British Isles, Scandinavia, the Alps and Carpathians and areas of Belarus and the Ukraine.
This map, taken from ‘Leven en werk van de kabouter’ (the original Dutch edition of ‘Gnomes’), was kindly provided by Christof Rutten.