The Gnome is not a story about your traditional yard gnome, roaming gnome, or David the gnome. It’s a story about a gnome who is kind of a jerk, but also kind of stupid. Actually, this story has less to do with the gnome than it lets on. This story has many similarities to other Grimm’s fairy tales.
Once upon a time there was a king who had a garden. In that garden was a beautiful apple tree. When the apples were ripe they turned a blood-red hue that tempted all. The king had placed something of a hex, or curse, or what have you on this apple tree. Anyone who harvested an apple from this tree would be wished a hundred fathoms underground.
His three daughters, who were beautiful, would often sit under the tree hoping one of the apples would fall on the ground. They never found an apple purely by chance. One day, the youngest decided that her father would only wish strangers underground and not his own daughters. She plucked a large apple from the tree and bit into it. It was the most delicious thing. She encouraged her sisters to try it, but after they had done so, they sunk down into the ground a hundred fathoms.
Later in the evening, the king wished to call his daughters to dinner, but they could not be found. He did not know of the apple situation. He sent out a decree that if any man could find his three daughters, that man could have one of them for his wife. Many men tried and many men failed. They looked all over the face of the Earth, but the princesses were not on the face of the Earth.
Three huntsmen decided to look for the three princesses. They went out into the world for eight days and came to a castle. No one was home, but there was a table covered with the most beautiful food. It was still warm, in fact, it was so warm that steam was still rising from it. They waited hours and hours for someone to come back to the castle, but no one ever did, so they decided to eat the food. It was all quite delicious.
The huntsmen decided that they wanted to stay in this castle. They decided that one man would always stay in the castle while the other two went out and searched for the princesses. The first day, the oldest huntsman stayed. A little mannikin came to the door. He asked for some bread. The eldest huntsman gave him some, but the mannikin promptly dropped the piece of bread on the ground. The mannikin asked the huntsman to pick the piece of bread up and while the huntsman bent down to retrieve the bread, the mannikin beat him. Later that day, the other two huntsman came home and asked him how he had fared and he had to reply that he did not fare well at all.
The next day the second huntsman fared no better. The older two did not like the younger huntsman. They actually called him Stupid Hans. They didn’t tell him about this little gnome man. When it was his turn to stay home, the little gnome appeared and played his same trick, but Hans wasn’t going to put up with this. He fussed at the little man. He told him that if he wanted his daily bread so badly, he should pick it up himself. Then he grabbed the little gnome and beat the living-daylights out of him.
The gnome had information. He told Hans that if he spared his life, he would tell him where the three princesses were. He also gave him a caution that the other two huntsman would not deal kindly with him. He relayed that there were a thousand other gnomes just like him. The three princesses were in three rooms underground. Each of the rooms held a dragon, with nine heads, that each princess was tasked with delousing. The way into these rooms was by an empty well. The gnome also said to take a bell and a hunting knife.
When the other two came home, they asked Hans how his day had went and he said, “Pretty good.” He told them about the gnome showing up and what he had done. He told them what the gnome had said. They were angry. They all went down to the well together on the next day. The deal was that the men would be lowered in a basket to the bottom of the well. If they rang the bell, they should be brought up immediately. The first huntsman was barely in the well when the bell rang. He was brought up. The second huntsman was also barely in the well when the bell rang, but Hans made it all the way to the bottom without ringing the bell.
He went to explore the rooms. In the first room he saw a princess with a nine-headed dragon. He used his knife to cut off its nine heads. He then went to each room and did the same. He saved all three princesses and sent them up one by one in the basket. When it was his turn to go up in the basket, he remembered the gnome’s caution. He, instead, put a large rock in the basket and not himself. When the basket was partially up the well shaft, the two other huntsman cut the rope, which sent the basket and the rock they believed to be Hans, crashing to the bottom of the well. They thought Hans was dead.
Hans was left at the bottom of the well in the rooms. He did not know what to do. Meanwhile, the other two huntsman took the three daughters back to their father and demanded two of them for wives. The king was pleased and soon arranged the weddings. Hans was in the underground rooms still. He wandered and paced until the floor was quite smooth. He saw the dead dragon heads and knew they would be of no help, but on a wall he saw a flute. He knew there could be no merriment so far below the Earth, but he tried the flute anyway. As soon as he blew a note, a gnome appeared. With each note the flute sounded, another gnome appeared.
When there were quite a few gnomes, they asked Hans what he desired. He told them he wanted to be out and into the daylight. They grabbed him by every hair upon his head and flew him up the well. He went to the king. When the princesses saw him they fainted because they thought he was dead. The king had Hans thrown into prison because he thought Hans had been very bad to his daughters. The princesses woke up from their faint. They told their father to let Hans out, but they could not tell him why because the two huntsman had told them not to tell.
The king told his three daughters to tell their sorrows to the iron stove. He listened outside the door. He heard everything. He let Hans out of prison. Hans was awarded the youngest daughter. The other two huntsman were hanged.
“on that occasion I wore a pair of glass shoes, and I struck them against a stone, and they said “Klink” and were broken.”
We have this combination of three men again. It’s shown up several times. Of these three men, the youngest is always the stupid one or the one that nobody likes. It’s no different in this story. He’s named Hans on top of it all, Hans being the name we’ve been using in the Grimm’s anthology to denote a man of lesser intelligence.
We also have three princesses again. Why do children come in threes in the world of the Grimm’s stories? No, you can’t just have two kids. You either have one child or you have three kids. There is no more or no less. Well, except for those stories about seven brothers or twelve brothers. Then you have a whole passel of children.
I do not know why the story ends the way it does, the quoted portion. This is almost the same ending that the story Hans Married has. Maybe it’s the same ending because Hans gets married in each tale. We often see glass shoes as belonging to Cinderella, but if you’ve been following along, we know that glass shoes do not belong to Cinderella. She had golden shoes.
As far as delousing, I don’t think reptiles can get lice, but I could be wrong. I’m pretty sure lice are more of a mammalian woe, but again, I could be wrong. I do know that birds can get various mites and there might be some sort of insect that plagues reptiles. I’m not a zoologist. Of course, this whole argument would depend on the fact that dragons are reptiles and they actually exist.
Why are stoves confessionals? Ah, I’ve got it, I’ll explain below.
Just as an observation, I think I would like to have a yard gnome.
The number three makes a big appearance in this tale, but what is standing out against everything else in this story is temptation. Everyone can be tempted, everyone can sin, and everyone can be punished for that sin. No one is excluded. The king made this hex, this rule, this judgement that whoever plucked an apple from his tree would be sent deep underground. He did not include any exceptions, not even for his own children, who you would think might get some special treatment. They do not. They are equalized with everyone else.
This tale does have a religious basis, just as many of the other Grimm’s tales have had. It’s not as openly discussed as in some of the other tales, but it is definitely there.
Let’s dissect it. The king is God. He says, “Here’s the garden and here’s the apple tree, but whosoever eats from this apple tree will die.” Well, that is what God says in Genesis anyway. The three daughters, like Adam and Eve, believe they will not die, they will not be punished. They are too special to be punished. You could even say that two of the daughters represent Adam and Eve while the youngest represents the serpent himself. I would actually lean more towards the youngest daughter being Eve and the older two daughters representing Adam. There is never really any distinction between the two older daughters. Adam and Eve eat the apple and they are cast out of the garden of Eden. The daughters eat the apple and are punished just as their father said.
If you ask a variety of Christians, who believe in Hell, where Hell is, they will tell you that Hell is underground. It’s in some deep cavern full of fire and lava. There’s a lake of fire and brimstone there. Where are the daughters banished to? Underground, and therefore, Hell.
Their father wants them back. He wants them to return just as God would want his children to return to his presence in heaven. Three men go in search of these daughters. They are hidden away in the dark weighed down with terrible tasks. The mission of the three men is to bring them back into the light. Hans succeeds in bringing all three princesses back into the light. He frees them from their burdens of sin. He facilitates their journey back to their father. Unfortunately, Hans is weighed down by some darkness himself for a while because the other two betray him and he feels angry at them. He holds a grudge, which would be akin to not forgiving someone in the world of religion. When he asks for aid from others, he is able to go back into the light himself.
Here’s the most telling part, in the judgement of the King(God) everything is meted out correctly in the end. Hans gets his reward while the two dishonest huntsmen are punished for their deeds that only came to light during a confession.
Let’s discuss the stove.This is at least the second tale in which a stove acts as a confessional. Why? What does a stove do? It burns things right? You put wood or coal into a stove. It creates heat. It changes the matter of whatever you fuel it with. Heat can do a lot of neat things. Immense heat and pressure can make a diamond. Heat can be applied to mined ores to burn away impurities from the mineral that you do want. That is what we want to get at. The scriptures do mention “the refiner’s fire.” The refiner is the guy who is applying heat to those ores. The refiner is the guy taking a hunk of rock and turning it into nice, smooth silver.
For those of you who have the element of “confession” in your religion, no matter what kind of religion it may be, the confession serves as part of your purification process from sin. You are being forgiven, and as a result, refined and purified.
People confess to stoves in these stories because the stoves is symbolic of the whole repentance process.
This story is a little religion heavy for me. I think it’s clever, and not clever in the “clever Hans” sense, but, clever in the correct way. I liked the gnomes. I did not know that gnomes could fly, that’s a first for me.