Lately I’ve been drawn to fairy tales having to do with gnomes. I’m fairly well acquainted with these little folks. I sculpted over a hundred of them fifteen years ago when I was taken into the underworld by chronic pain. These little guys (and they were mostly guys) didn’t care how badly I sculpted them. In fact, they were quite chuffed by their deformities, by their big noses and misshapen heads and feet. The gnomes would say oddities are marks of distinction. A fellow with a big nose is likely to get a name like Sniffer, and, while he’s coming to life, you’ll get all sorts of impressions about him, like where he lives, and why it’s such an advantage to be good at following your nose.
To give you one example of a gnome, let me introduce you to Maggie. Her full name is Maybe Maggie, because, as she was being formed, she couldn’t decide if she was male or female. She kept saying, “Maybe Maggie,” until Maybe Maggie she became, destined to be a perpetual fence-sitter. She has her own special wisdom to impart, like all the gnomes do. Maybe Maggie will introduce you to the power of “maybe” and get you considering the middle ground if you’re inclined to make a “black or white” decision. She’s a sensible character, and, like all the gnomes, she’s got her own way of seeing the world and a language to go along with it.
I’ve never really spoken much about the gnomes and the impact they had on me while I was “down and under.” They taught me a lot about what some people call the “fairy faith.” I’d like to dig into their knowing a bit more, and flesh out what they taught me. I find that the harsher the world gets, the more I need to dig into this source of delight that nourishes my spirit and faith in humanity.
With that in mind, I decided to look at a few fairy tales concerning gnomes. I did a search using the Story Finder and came upon a tale called The Story of Little King Loc (from the Olive Fairy Book). It’s about a seven year old girl named Abeille, who heads up a mountain one summer afternoon because she wants to see if she can find the undines in the lake. Undines are water fairies, and Abeille is enchanted by the possibility of meeting one. She leaves the castle and goes up the mountain with her step-brother, Youri. On the way, she gets a stone in her shoe and stops to rest on a bed of moss, while Youri goes off to explore the lake. He ends up getting drawn into the undine’s feminine world, while Abeille is visited by the gnomes. The gnome King soon falls in love with her and he keeps her in the mountain until she is old enough to consider his wedding proposal.
This little story is burrowing itself in my heart. I have the usual resistances. It’s a rather childish story. Children and fairies? It certainly doesn’t have the gravitas of a Grimm’s story. Still. It’s pulling me in.
Over the weekend, I decided to take myself into the country to do a little reflecting. I thought I might tackle the first chapter of WonderLit and play with the pictures that came up for me from a variety of gnomish stories.
While sitting by a man-made pond in the hotel garden, and re-reading The Story of Little King Loc on my iphone, two little girls approached me. One was about nine and the other was six or seven. “Can you hear the bullfrogs?” they inquired.
“I sure do. There must be a lot of them in there. Have you counted them?”
They smiled shyly, and skipped back over to the pond. Then the younger of the two girls came back over to me. She showed me her tube of pink lip gloss. She had smeared it all around her mouth but not on her lips, and she wanted me to put it on her lips. She said her name was Emerson, but I was half-expecting her to say Abeille. Her blond hair was cut in a short bob, and she was wearing a little green shirt with a tiny red heart at her own heart center. When her mother came along, she explained that the tunic was as close as she could get to getting Emerson in a dress. By contrast, her sister (whose name I didn’t get) was wearing a pink party dress covered in white netting and netted flowers. The girls lived in the country, their mother said, and so they were well used to mucking about in frog ponds, but here they were supposed to behave so stop bothering the nice lady.
Emerson came back so many times with her lip gloss that I almost asked her if she wanted to hear the story I was reading. Of course, there wouldn’t be enough time for me to tell her a fairy tale, and her mother kept dragging her away. It was clear, though, that Emerson was drawn to me by something. “What are you reading?” she asked finally.
“I’m reading a story on my iphone,” I said, missing my cue.
“Oh.” She veered away. Nothing interesting about that.
Still, it’s just that kind of synchronicity that is bound to tip me over the edge. I think I’ll dive back into the fairy realm. Find those gnomes in the mountain and pay a visit to the undines in the lake. Isn’t it great that the WonderLit creator thought to divide the course into three pieces? I could take the summer to do the Warm Up. Hey, maybe a friend or two will join me in my midsummer dream… If so, I’ll see you in the Forum!
painting by Edward Robert Hughes, 1851-1914