Energetic tinkerers connected to the earth.
Her bright, brown eyes opened wider. She could smell the quality of the metal under her fingers. Sizing up her machine, which was completely overtaking the back half of her workshop, she quickly determined she would have just enough of the adamantine to complete the center chassis. She had been awake and working for 16 hours. Most would second guess themselves, but her estimates were never wrong. The big race was three weeks away and she needed to show everyone just what she was capable of. Not only would her creation handle the rolling hills and forest loop, it would break the record. The secret was in how she had positioned the treads - three on each corner and side with crosshatched rubber and metal wire. And the drill. Oh how it would gleam in the sun as it spinned, its ornate silver finish flashing on top of the bronze and copper whirls! It had come to her in a dream one night, the shape of the thing barging into place after months of preoccupation with the equations. Now was the final moment of her triumph but she had to stay focused. She brushed her wild brown hair out of her face, smiled wide like a human child would, and got back to work.
In the mid-sixteenth century, an alchemist named Paracelsus described a creature measuring two span in height that could move through the solid earth just as humans could move through the air. From the latin word genomos, which means "earth-dweller", he derived a new name: Gnome. But gnomes are, in fact, much older than their name. And the name itself may contain other clues about them. Both Borges and Tolkien draw a connection to the word Gnosis which means "knowledge". Indeed, ancient gnomes knew the exact locations of hidden metals buried in the earth and could reveal them to us when properly incentivized. To this day, gnomes carry this innate knowledge, though modern gnomes are much more willing to share the information with humans. Tolkien, knowing their true power, sought to make the gnomes his second kindred of elves. In the end, he named that race Noldor instead. But in his invented, Elvish language (called Quenya) "noldo" means knowledge. In this way the reference to gnomes is hidden in plain sight.
You can think of gnomes as elves of the earth and mountains. Like elves they live for a long time, from 350-500 years. They mature at the same rate as humans and so settle into adult life by the age of 40. They are closely related to dwarves, sharing an affinity for the mountains and earth. But where dwarves are emotionally guarded and dependent on their physical prowess, gnomes are affable and lean much more heavily on their mental abilities. They take great delight in life, and invention. Gnomes have big dreams and take big risks. Their insatiable curiousity, combined with their innate intelligence, has moved them far beyond their humble beginnings to become some of the most inventive and technologically superior creatures in existence.
In the beginning, gnomes wore scraggly beards, brown tights and monastic cowls. The beards and earth tones remain today, but their style has progressed along with their technology and openness to civilization. A modern dwarf still wears a beard but in a myriad of fantastic arrangements. The earth tones remain in their clothing, but form the base layers. Over top, they wear elaborately embroidered cloaks of many colors. Their connection to the earth and unsurpassed craftsmanship is plain for all to see on the gems with which they adorn their clothes and hair.
I will close with this quote from a chronicle of the gnomes that inhabit the lands of Azeroth. In that far-off place, the gnomes built a techno-utopian city called Gnomeregan which fell to treachery and trogg invasion. Despite the scope of that tragedy, the gnomes carry on building and smiling widely:
“The clever, spunky, and oftentimes eccentric gnomes present a unique paradox among the civilized races of Azeroth. Brilliant inventors with an irrepressibly cheerful disposition, this race has suffered treachery, displacement, and near-genocide. It is their remarkable optimism in the face of such calamity that symbolizes the truly unshakable spirit of the gnomes.”
Written by Giles Ravensong.