I WAS RECENTLY CORRECTED BY THE INTERNET regarding a very embarrassing misstatement regarding GNOMES.

YOU PERHAPS remember this remarkable book. In the early eighties it marked the height of the ILLUSTRATED FANTASY COFFEE TABLE BOOK CRAZE that we all remember, and even enjoyed its own animated special and series.

UNLIKE FROUD AND LEE'S "Faeries," "Gnomes" was not just an album of annotated illustrations, it was an ENTIRE FAKE ENCYCLOPEDIA of gnomic life and culture, explaining in great, unnecessary detail the way they built their homes, pitched their woo, and cured their ailments.

YOU MAY THUS APPRECIATE its attraction to me. Like the best books, it is unclear exactly who it was meant to reach. I may attest that children enjoy it, but it is very, ridiculously sophisticated and remarkably, bizarrely, europeanly frank about the gnome's physical and sexual lives. And while there is some discussion now on the internet about exactly how much Gnome nudity is in the book, I will settle the argument now: THERE IS ENOUGH.

HOWEVER, I was wrong. The authors, Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet, are not in any way Norwegian, as I claimed in a recent interview, but DUTCH.



  1. Also, I remember that the book was very popular even in the late 1970s, not just the 1980s.

    According to Amazon, it was originally published May 1977.

  2. And are you surprised? Nobody knows gnomes like the Dutch. Nobody. Except, perhaps, the Argentinians.

    And I’m still trying to figure out the code in your choice of capitalization John.

  3. I clearly remember seeing that book several times on the shelf, but usually reached out to the ones about fairies and dragons (no, not as a kid either ;) ).

    I wish I would have read this statement before:

    ridiculously sophisticated and remarkably, bizarrely, europeanly frank about the gnome’s physical and sexual lives

    Because now, I SO gotta go back for it! They ought to put that on the back cover.

  4. YES! Express your everlasting REGRET and KNEEL before the BLINDING LIGHT of the WISDOM OF THE MIGHTY INTERNET!

    -This message brought to you by the Norwegian Union of Gnome Nudity Enthusiasts.

  5. Heavens t’ Betsy (ALTHOUGH THE FIRST USE OF THIS PHRASE HAS BEEN TRACED TO Rose Terry Cooke’s “Huckleberries Gathered from New England Hills,” 1891, Betsy remains unidentified)! However do you get around the no-fly list?

  6. A friend of my mother’s gave me a copy of that book to donate to my school when I was in the 5th grade. But apparently the Gnome nudity was considered far too much for delicate sensibilities, and the book was put up high on a teacher’s shelf where no one was actually allowed to read it.

  7. I was always a fan of Terry Jones and Brian Froud’s “Lady Cottington’s Pressed Faerie Book”, myself. Which is awesome.

  8. I owned this book as a child and ADORED it. I would POUR over the illustrations, DRINKING them in.

    The NUDITY was the same as what you could EXPECT to see in any art gallery.

    Or Scandinavian WOOD.

  9. I think the capitalization of words by Mr. Hodgman is just a reflection of his speaking (at least to me)

    Just read his post like he was reading it to you and you hear it.

  10. Hey, I have that book in Dutch, and I have a matching mug. They also have a cookbook.

    It’s true the Dutch are remarkably frank about sex, and nudity is really no big deal. I once saw a story about a naked beach run on the morning news which included footage and interviews with fully naked people, none of this blurred out stuff.

  11. “Blog Submission” sounds like a gnomic wet spot. Furthermore, I think I found one such blob of blog in the garden this morning.

    I did have this book as a child which might explain the inappropriate innuendo I read into everything.

  12. That is a FANTASTIC book… for some reason there was a copy lying around the house when I was a kid and I read it many, many times… absolutely brilliant… I plan to have many such books lying around for my kids to discover…

  13. Zuzu @10: Brian Froud, who lives in a small village in Devon that has the highest per capita incidence of professional fantasy illustrators of any settlement on earth.

  14. Speaking of KNOMES, can anyone recall the name of the movie in which the main character steals KNOMES from peoples yards? There are some scenes in the movie where he sees things happening backwards.

  15. Page 17. Rubenesque female gnome. I was a young man in an age before Internet porn. That’s all I care to reveal.

  16. My family enjoyed this book so much we created a gift-giving holiday called Snotgurgle Day (Snotgurgles being a Gnome hating/consuming variety of Troll). It’s held annually on October 15th (which is no-so coincidentally halfway between my birthday and Christmas!).

  17. If you liked that book, Mr. Hodgman, you will just love Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book. It is delightful and becomes a touch erotic towards the end as the Lady grows up into a young woman.

    I would post a link, but I’m in a hurry. I’m sure you can find it on teh Google.

  18. Your capitalization is quite extraordinary. I remember reading this book endlessly growing up, always wishing there was another page to turn to! The fake schematics were incredible! I know exactly where that book is in my parents house. Right outside the bathroom on the bottom shelf of the bookcase!

    I must buy a copy for my nephew. THANK YOU SIR!

  19. @24
    I’m not really sure this would be on any kid’s must have list. You might want to search a bit more for the perfect book for the nephew. When I start my own blog, it will be long discussions and exhaustive lists of all the best in children’s lit.

    The best thing about the Gnome book as I recall was the calligraphy used for most of the diagrams and what not. A book with calligraphy instead of text is a very nice artifact, although not one all kids are going to go for.

    But I am intrigued that JohnHodgman thought to reference this artifcact from MY past as I flipped through MY Onion newspaper this morning to find him there AGAIN… in MY living room, in MY brain.

    That is all.

  20. I remember that book making the rounds of my proto-nerd friends in the fifth grade. The gnome gnudity was plentiful although mostly casual.

    Nevertheless I remember it well, especially as I was seeing minutely-detailed gnome gnockers at a time that was, in retrospect, DISTRESSINGLY CLOSE TO MY OWN SEXUAL AWAKENING.

  21. #14: “They also have a cookbook.”

    With recipes by gnomes or using gnomes?

    Do gnomes and trolls ever get busy with each other?

  22. There is ALSO discussion on the internets LINKING HODGMAN with a GNOME/MOLE UPRISING. Their platform based on NUDITY AND ALUMINUM FOIL COOKING RIGHTS has caused quite a stir in some circles.

  23. My mother bought this book for me as a child–both of us believing it to be fun and extremely imaginative. It was both. It also led to a lot of questions, earlier than she anticipated.

    @30, Stefan, if you can get a copy, please do. You will find that trolls and gnomes are bitter foes. The lives of trolls are also detailed in the Gnomes book. Also, the size differentiation between the two would make ‘getting busy’ painful, if not impossible.

    /going home this weekend to get my copy out of storage…along with the figures.

  24. FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH, John’s TYPING STYLE HURTS my eyes, and for this reason I TEND TO SKIP PAST his posts RATHER THAN try to READ THEM.

    De gustibus, do what you like; just felt I owed you the data point

  25. #18 the gnomes are kabouters, the naked people are just attention whores

    #30 the recipes are real recipes, pretty typical dutch fare, but nicely illustrated like the other book

  26. ^^^ Technogeek’s post x 2.

    I’ve been reading BOINGBOING FOR YEARS and if John had been using the INTERNET FOR THE SAME TIME then he’d realise that TYPING IN ALL CAPS is the same as SHOUTING.

    I’m finding myself SKIPPING JOHN’s POSTS instead of reading them, unfortunately.

  27. I remember watching David the Gnome all the time as a kid. Wasn’t it on Nickelodeon? Nickelodeon isn’t how it used to be…

  28. Funny that this book comes up again now. I recently thought about it for the first time in 15 or 20 years, I remember finding it at my uncle’s house and instantly bought it again on amazon marketplace. It’s wonderful.
    Not the worst choice for your first book with boobs.

  29. I own “Secrets of The Gnomes” and my daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed it as bedtime reading two winters ago.

    It is a ferociously sweet book, but the ending can be a little harsh for a five-year old…

  30. I loved it when I was a kid. I even thought about gnomes being real because, who was going to go for the trouble of making so much things up?

  31. My parents had this book (not sure why), and I was going to post a comment about the depiction of a naked female gnome, but then I read:

    “#22 posted by Cunning , October 23, 2008 9:57 AM

    Page 17. Rubenesque female gnome. I was a young man in an age before Internet porn. That’s all I care to reveal.”

    and I realized that I couldn’t have said it better.

  32. Thank you John Hodgman for recalling that CRAZE from the late 1970’s for me. PADDINGTON BEAR was also very popular at that time as well.

    For those of you nostalgic for Gnomes but not wishing to RETURN TO YOUR PARENTS’ HOME to seek it out, check out your local public LIBRARY!

  33. I really want to read this book now. I wonder if it is available at my local library. I now know what I am doing this weekend, haha.

  34. I THANK YOU, SIR, for directing my attention to the FINE SELECTION of David the Gnome episodes available on the YouTubes. It has brought back MANY FINE MEMORIES that I had previously DROWNED OUT with STOUTLY FERMENTED BEVERAGES.

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