Ever seen a gartenzwerge before?

That’s the German word for “garden gnome”. They’re lawn ornaments that vary in size from small versions the size of your finger, to large ones that come up to your waist. If the name hasn’t tipped you off, they look like gnomes and are usually found in gardens.

They are insanely popular in Britain and France, having mostly originated from Germany, which has an estimated 25 million of them in 2008 (you know they’re serious about their garden gnomes when someone bothered to count how many there were).

They range from harmless looking ones…

Sherlock Gnomes. Credit: Golden Village CinemasSherlock Gnomes. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

to really horrific looking ones.

Nightmare fuel. Credit: Pinterest

Nightmare fuel. Credit: Pinterest

The jury remains divided on whether garden gnomes are inherently creepy or cute. After all, they do look like diminutive little people, which can be cute to an extent. However, they can look a little too human – which is where their eeriness comes in.

But where do they come from?

 

Garden gnomes – the descendants of statues of a rather suggestive Roman god

Priapus. Credit: Wikipedia

Priapus. Credit: Wikipedia

If you’ve ever thought that garden gnomes look a little… phallic (what with their short stumpy stature and particularly pointed hats), there’s a reason for that.

Garden gnomes have their roots in Ancient Rome in the form of small stone statues found in gardens. The statues depicted the god Priapus, a minor rustic fertility god.

Fertility god? It gets better.

His domains included livestock, fruit plants, gardens and male genitalia. In fact, his most distinctive feature is, well, the picture speaks for itself. Suffice it to say, he’s always up for mating.

During the Renaissance, the statues evolved into metre-tall stone figurines of gobbi (Italian for dwarves) that were usually placed in the gardens of the wealthy. In the 1700s, wood or porcelain statues of gnomes, called “house dwarfs”, became popular household decorations.

Eventually, they reached Germany, where these “house dwarfs” became entangled with Germanic faerie folklore about the “little folk” (yep, apparently all short magical creatures are the same) and started gaining a mystical quality to them.

It’s a little creepy when you realise that keeping garden gnomes is, in effect, worshipping a really, really explicit fertility god.

 

Gnomes

Gnomes. Credit: Auktionshaus Bergmann

Gnomes. Credit: Auktionshaus Bergmann

Which leads to the next question – what are gnomes anyway?

During the Renaissance, a Swiss alchemist and astrologer named Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (Paracelsus for short) introduced the idea of tiny magical spirits named gnomes. They were a type of earth entity that were three apples two spans high, grumpy, and could move through earth as easily as humans walked on the ground.

Basically, they were human-like Smurfs with elemental earth powers.

And since they could glide through the earth pretty easily – that meant that gnomes could pop up anywhere. Keeping a garden gnome just sounds like the Romans were asking for trouble.

In Germany, the idea of the gnomes and dwarves fused together. These “little folk” were believed to help out in mines and on farms, which explains why garden gnomes became popular there – they were actually trying to create a form of free labour.

Which makes sense if you think about it – why hire another farm hand when you could buy a statue that could come to life and help you? I mean, it’s not like anyone has ever heard of a toyol before – what could go wrong with dabbling with forces beyond our mortal ken?

Garden gnomes were subtly believed (or even expected) to come alive.

 

They were designed to be literally grotesque

Grotesques. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Grotesques. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Remember the metre-tall stone figurines during the Renaissance? The gobbi ones were just a subset of them. The stone figurines were collectively called “grotesques” and they included figures that looked like Punch (from Punch and Judy) too.

From the get go, the inspiration for the humble garden gnome was something a little unnerving (although admittedly, grotesques are more artistic than garden gnomes).

 

Looking like humans is just uncanny

The Uncanny Valley. Adapted from Wikipedia.

The Uncanny Valley. Adapted from Wikipedia.

We’ve explained before why the Titans from Attack on Titan are so creepy. It’s not because they look human – it’s because they look too human. And that’s the same problem that plagues garden gnomes – they’re just too human for our comfort.

Imagine a garden gnome staring at you all day long. Or even an army of them. Leading up to your house.

Gnome invasion. Credit: Metro

Gnome invasion. Credit: Metro

Well, most of us may be creeped out, but this tough British nurse was unfazed when she woke up to find 107 of these gnomes in her house.

She’s got nerves of steel, I can tell you that.

Sherlock Gnomes. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

Sherlock Gnomes. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

So what do you think? Are garden gnomes creepy or cute? Given their strange origins, intentional designs, and supernatural connotations, its fair to say that garden gnomes aren’t really something that people put in their gardens for comfort.

However, it hasn’t stopped them for being incredibly popular in the United Kingdom, which has 5 million of them (again, you really need to appreciate the dedication of the poor person who went out to count all these gnomes).

Do they send shivers up your spine, or are they really just adorable little human statues?

Sherlock Gnomes. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

Sherlock Gnomes. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

I don’t know about you, but the garden gnomes in Sherlock Gnomes are definitely cute! The sequel to 2011’s Gnomeo and Juliet, this film sees the return of our cute and beloved garden gnomes in another adventure. Ace gnome detective Sherlock Gnomes is on the case to assist Gnomeo and Juliet as they solve the mystery of London’s missing gnomes.

Don’t you just love the gnomenclature in Sherlock Gnomes ?

 

Credits: Golden Village Cinemas, Pinterest, WikipediaAuktionshaus Bergmann, Wikimedia Commons, Metro