Daily Tedium

The Great Gnome Fad

Roughly 40 years ago, an illustrated Dutch book about gnomes took the U.S. book market by storm—and, curiously, quickly faded out of view.

By Ernie Smith

Quick: Four decades ago, back in 1977, what was the biggest pop-culture phenomena around? You probably said disco, maybe Star Wars. Fleetwood Mac was big that year. Maybe you thought of Laverne & Shirley, the top-rated show of that year.

But one surprisingly forgotten but unappreciated piece of pop culture that hit in a big way that year was the Gnome fad. The 1977 kid’s book, published in English in October of that year, became a massive phenomenon, one that was a mainstay on the New York Times bestseller list for more than a year after its release. The book sold more than a million copies, which is kind of a lot.

The success of the book, written by author Wil Huygen and illustrated by Rien Poortvliet—both Dutch, by the way—caught the U.S. publisher of the book, Harry N. Abrams, off-guard.

“We discovered that we cannot underestimate the power of the gnomes,” noted Lena Tabori, Abrams’ vice president of special sales, in a 1979 Chicago Sun Times article. “Everything about the book has been remarkable. For example, it hit the national bestseller lists just three weeks after it came out, which is unusual for an art book that sells for $17.50.”

But despite this, the book and its runaway success has largely been forgotten about by mainstream American audiences. And if we do remember it, it’s because of its spinoff cartoon show David the Gnome, a dubbed program from Spain which aired repeatedly on Nickelodeon during the late ’80s and early ’90s.

If you’re interested in checking out an awesome, beautifully illustrated book about gnomes, it’s a good time to note that it’s just hanging out in the Internet Archive’s Open Library.

(Art adapted from the 1977 book Gnomes)

Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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