THE WEIRD GNOME IN THE FAIRY TALE
Finally – a new pathway through the forest. You never know what you're going to find or who you might meet while you're wandering around in here.
Once upon a time there were three brothers. Sometimes you say, once upon a time a man had three sons. Alternatively, they could be daughters, which I would have mentioned first though it applies less directly to the rest of this story. Cinderella and King Lear are both stories with three daughters and some people think that King Lear is just an elaborate redaction of Cinderella. Since I am married to the youngest of three daughters myself I would come in as Prince Charming, but I prefer to think of myself as The King of France. Cousin Howie actually had three daughter so I guess we know who he was.
My father was the middle brother – or the middle son if you prefer to think about it that way - and it has finally dawned on me after all these years that this would have been the perfect set-up for a traditional Russian folk-tale along the lines of the Firebird or Ivan the Fool, where the unpromising youngest son is the one who fulfills the quest and marries the princess after the two older brothers mess up when they set out to seek their fortune and then meet up with Баба-Яга or whatever else they might come across along the way, a situation they handle without tact or sensitivity or even basic good manners. So we can say in a general sort of way that the unpromising youngest son is either very smart or else very stupid, but whatever he is or he isn’t the unpromising youngest son has a way of appreciating the weird gnome in the fairytale – generally speaking an ambiguous character but if you just take a chance on being reasonable maybe something pretty good will come of it. Walter Benjamin says that the youngest son is the hero of the fairy tale because he - or she if it happens to be a daughter who is the youngest - has the best chance of escaping from the archaic repression. So yes, I'm afraid your sucky little sister is the one.
After an austere breakfast of crackers and cheese we got on the road, down St. Rémi to Av. De l’Église, then up on the A-10 and over the bridge. I did not get a good look at the border guy’s name tag because he only kept us there for about 37 seconds. The car right in front of us had North Carolina plates – “First in Flight” – you know, Kitty Hawk, Wright Brothers and a picture of that airplane you’ve seen a thousand times. My son once made an almost-full-size replica of that plane for a television commercial but that’s another story – just keep your eyes open for the next installment of the weird gnome in the fairy tale. He bought a balsa wood scale model at the local hobby shop just so he could use the plans. He didn’t actually build it himself, he has a guy who does the building for him. Then they jury-rigged a gurney so they could pretend-fly it for the commercial. I think he said gurney.
The North Carolina Plate was a vanity plate that said GNOMER01. So I made up two stories. The first one was that the vanity plate stood for Genome Researcher 1 and the occupants were scientists, maybe from Duke or UNC. The second one was that the occupants were gnomers - yes, gnomers - on the analogy with birders. To get that one to work I had to make up a small niche-market or maybe a sub-culture of gnomeophilia – you know, people who love gnomes or at least they’re into gnomes, maybe collectors of those little garden gnomes or maybe they believe gnomes are real. There is a “talking” ceramic gnome in those television commercials for Travelocity but he never moves, not even when you hear him speak.
When you make up stuff like this you don’t have to have all the answers – fiction always has spots of indeterminacy according to Roman Ingarden - but you have to have enough answers to make a decently plausible world. If you’ve been teaching fiction and you haven’t read Ingarden you should head for the Library immediately and get yourself up to speed. If you’re writing fiction you could call your book "The Man Who Loved Gnomes” except that GNOMER01 from North Carolina First in Flight was a car full of women.
On that long grade down from St. Johnsbury to the Connecticut River the car from North Carolina with the vanity plate that said GNOMER01 passed us just before we got to the bridge and I could see them inside on the front seat. It would be gauche to walk up to them in the parking lot at a Vermont rest stop and ask “are you genome researchers or just gnomers?” I wouldn’t do that. Out of the question to scream that at them out the window when you’re flying down I-93 at 120 km/h so you just have to make up your own story.
I’m saying they were gnomophiliacs if that’s ok with you because I can’t make up any other story that fits the admittedly limited data I have at my disposal. Two women friends named Hilda and Jan are returning home to North Carolina First in Flight after visiting ruins of a deserted gnome village in the Mauricie.
If you think the women in the car were genome researchers I will be happy to reconsider. You could do a story about genome researchers who come to realize that gnomes really exist and then they go looking for some. By the time we arrived it was just about dark. There was a bottle of wine in the fridge, but I didn’t drink any. Doris had some and we found some crackers and cheese for dinner.