At home in northern lands from the British Isles to Scandinavia and across Siberia, gnomes are chiefly forest-dwellers, wise in the lore of plants and trees, skilled woodworkers, basket-makers, weavers, and potters, enthusiastic musicians, and caretakers of woodland creatures. Called Tonttu in Finland, Nisse in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, and Domovoi in Russia, these small but storied beings live for centuries in snug homes built among the roots of venerable oaks and beeches.
Though today gnomes are rarely noticed by lumbering, near-sighted humans—who mostly tend to think of them as nothing more than silly ceramic garden ornaments—gnomes can be great friends to people. In cottages and farms where they are known and respected, gnomes help protect the welfare of livestock, and skillfully aid in the comfortable keeping of the household.
Gnome boys receive their tall red caps at a tender age, and keep them all their lives. “A gnome without a cap is not a gnome, and he knows it,” one scholar has declared. Long beards, blue smocks, and soft felt boots are common to all forest gnomes; but in handsome noses and smiling eyes, each reveals his own character.