Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Are you a gnome or an elf? (Some Amplebeak FAQ's.)

If I had a Linden Dollar for every time I've been asked that question I would now be wealthy enough to buy out Ansche Chung. My typist offered his sympathies and offered to help in any way he could. I mulled it over and suggested that a short list of the most frequently asked questions and their answers would be most helpful. He graciously agreed to write this article for me.

Are you a Gnome or an Elf?

Amplebeak is both. The term Gnome was coined by the late medieval natural philosopher Paracelsus who applied the term to Earth elementals. The term may have been of earlier classical origin, possibly from the Greek words gnosis (knowledge) or genomos (earth dweller). Paracelsus saw them as the ruling class of elementals, with the greatest store of knowledge and wisdom. They were characterized as small in stature, generally helpful, intensely curious and therefore fond of learning and teaching. Over time as the term "Gnome" became more widely used the concept of what a gnome was became diluted by local folk influences, which will be addressed in other FAQ's.

Amplebeak's people are a rare and little known subgroup of the Elves of Arda, more commonly known as Middle Earth, the history of which has been told by the famed chronicler J.R.R. Tolkien. They separated from the main population of the elves prior to the arrival of the Valar. They went Eastward where they saw the stars rise into the sky and after many centuries of travel, adventure, and hardship they came to settle in a mountainous territory that they share with a group of Durin's people (Commonly called Naugrim or Dwarves).

Like their western kindred they do not age and die, though they may be killed by malice or misadventure. A young gnome's formal education lasts for about 100 years after which they undertake a learning quest. Most such quests are within the territory of their people, but some few are specially trained and sent far afield to learn of the greater world and its peoples. This quest often lasts for several millennia, particularly for those tasked with study abroad.

There have never been more than a handful of questing gnomes outside of their home territory at any given time, thus they are largely unknown in the greater world. They also often travel disguised as Naugrim, as they are of similar stature. They are also of stockier build, darker skinned, and more rugged in countenance than their elven kin. Thus they are often called the "Dwarflike Ones" by Western elves, those few that know of them at any rate. Their own name for themselves translates as "The People" in English. Not an uncommon convention in tribal societies.

The adoption of Paracelsus' term "Gnome" came about shortly ofter the sage's passing when the young gnomes then on quest in Europe (Amplebeak being one of that number) came across his writings. Being amused by his description they adopted it as the name they identified themselves with to men.

How old are you?

Elves do not reckon time with the passing of years, but rather by historical epochs. The first date he remembers from the Gregorian calendar was in the Eigth Century AD, so he has been in the world of men that long. His attempts to reconcile the Gregorian with Elven calendars have been fruitless so far. To the best of his reckoning Amplebeak's age is somewhere between 1,200 and 1,500 years.

Gnomes have beards and pointy hats. You don't. How can you call yourself a gnome?

The common stereotype of gnomes in modern pop culture has been shaped by the influence of many folk traditions and fables other than Paracelsus' original definition. The most common of which are the Molded clay garden figurines that originated in Germany in the middle of the 19th century, which usually have beards, pot bellies, and bright red hats. These are not elements of gnomes as originally described, nor are they common to all cultures.

Amplebeak has been known to wear hats from time to time, his favorites being a lime green top hat given to him on his travels and Sir Edward Pearse's Steampunk Crash Helmet. He has also been known to cavort merrily while wearing a ten gallon hat after drinking too much mead. (Amp finds the notion of a Ten Gallon Hat on a Half Pint Gnome wildly amusing.)

Caledon is a Victorian community. Why don't you wear Victorian fashions?

As stated above Amplebeak has been in the world of Man a bit over 1,000 years. Gnomish clothing hasn't changed significantly in design since before the race of Man existed. Thus most gnomes pay little attention to human fashion. Also Amplebeak didn't really consider human civilization advanced enough to approach humans openly* until around the Renaissance. Thus most of his ideas about human clothing was formed by his interaction with people of that time and his basic wardrobe remains basically that of an Medieval worker mixed with an Elizabethan Adventurer/Explorer. Since Gnomish styles change slowly, if at all, he was not aware until recently how outlandish he looked to his Victorian neighbors. Therefore he has made the effort recently to acquire Victorian garb. He is quite proud of his new wardrobe, so much so that I haven't the heart to tell him he looks like a colourblind gadfly who takes fashion advice from a mad parrot. As long as he's happy I'm happy for him.

* Most of Amplebeak's fellow questing gnomes still don't consider humans civilized enough to approach openly. Their loss.

Why don't gnomes like people?

Other than their opinions on human civilization, world wars, nuclear weapons, and melted chewing gum on sidewalks? Actually gnomes are cautious of all peoples other than themselves and the Dwarves they share their homeland with. Not actually xenophobic, but for historical reasons they are very careful dealing with the other races of Earth.

You see, the first speaking race they encountered in their journey through the Eastern lands of Middle Earth were the forefathers of the Orcs. At that early stage in history (Torward the end of what Tolkein called the First Age) the Orcs still showed much of their elven origins and the Gnomes took them to be another elvish group who had come Eastward and welcomed them. They found out to their sorrow how wrong they were. Fully two thirds of their population was killed, a loss they have never recovered from. Indeed their numbers still dwindle and they know their race is slowly coming to an end. Their birthrate isn't high enough to replace the population lost then, let alone replace those who die or are lost over the course of time.

Amplebeak for his part is very fond of humans and even chooses to live among them. He does however prefer small gatherings to large numbers of humans although he is becoming more comfortable with the formal social gatherings so popular in Caledon. He does travel from time to time to various elven realms for a respite.

A Victorian Elf/Gnome?

Fantasy beings from myth, legend, and folklore were very popular in the Victorian period. Elves particularly so, and as mentioned above the classic garden Gnome is a product of that period.

What work do you do?

Amplebeak is a gardener. A natural occupation for a gnome.

Why a gnome?

He was meant to be a penguin, modeled on Opus of Bloom County fame. I didn't really understand how AV's worked at the time and found making a penguin to be beyond my building abilities. So instead I played with the appearance adjustments to find out how they worked and what could be done. After many amusing permutations of my AV I finally ended up with a little chap who looked like a cross between Rumpelstiltskin and Pinocchio.

The word "Gnome" popped to mind, and not knowing anything about gnomes I popped off to the Internet to do a bit of cultural research. I found an excellent article on Wikipedia and several other sites that I used to develop my character. One of the most interesting bits I came across were anecdotes to the effect that Tolkein had originally planned to call the High Elven Noldor "Gnomes", based on Paracelsus original description. I sat down and thought it over, then wrote up an outline of what gnomes would be (to me that is) and incorporated much of the knowledge of gnomes I had gained into it.

It has been more than a year and a half since then and even though I could easily change my AV to a penguin I've become rather fond of the little fellow and wouldn't change him for the world. Well, not much.

1 comment:

Hotspur O'Toole said...

Some of my best friends are gnomes.