They're almost everywhere these days; some you catch sight of just on the edge of your vision lurking under some shrubbery while others can be seen frozen in the act of crossing the lawn. On occasion you'll even see them standing stock still with a lantern raised in one hand, peering frozen into the night at whatever spell it was that snatched them out of time.
Their garments show a uniformity, if not an inclination to conformity, as they are of the same cut and all made from the brightest of the primary colours. But no matter how similar their garments might be, clothes are still the only way to distinguish one from the other. Identical beards, hair, hat, and features would make them look to be the largest egg split on record or the smallest gene pool in the world.
I'm talking about garden gnomes of course, those ridiculous statues that are the butt of so many practical jokes in movies and in life. But what if there were actually garden gnomes who existed, whose life work is to tend to gardens that us Big People don't seem to be able to cope with?
Parker Owens has written a book based on that what if, called Gnome Harvest. Will is your average gnome with a bald spot on his head, invisible to humans, and obsessed with the garden assigned to him ever since his parents disappeared.
He lives his life according to the dictates of the mysterious assembly known as the Gnome Council. It would probably be more accurate to say that he lives his life in fear that the Gnome Council will find out about the rules he's broken, or that he won't live up to their standards.
And well he should; he flagrantly disregards the Council's edict about association with rabbits, as he has a type of friendship with a neighbouring rabbit named Roddy. Roddy has bigger things to worry about than what the Gnome Council might have to say about his association with Will — staying alive for one thing, recovering from the loss of his mate and kittens for another, as just the year before they were killed by the farm dog.
Meanwhile Will is consumed by doubts as to his abilities to tend the garden properly. Each year since he's taken over, the yield seems to have gotten lower and lower. It's gotten to the point where the farmer is thinking of getting rid of it and growing tobacco instead. Will tries everything he can think of – he gives the vegetables inspirational speeches, he performs what he hopes are magic dances, and above all he does his best to protect the sacred worms.
Not only do the worms work hard to make the dirt better for the plants to grow in, they also perform mysterious magic beneath the soil where they inscribe the secrets of the universe upon sacred tablets in underground caverns. The worms aren't the only creatures with magic, or supernatural powers; there is also the mysterious Queen Coon, the blind matriarch of the racoon horde.
Not only does she make prophecies concerning the future of Will and Roddy, but she is also the owner of magic kernels. One night she "accidentally" drops them for Will and he uses them in the garden. Are they responsible for the confusion of the summer? Why does Queen Coon want them back all of a sudden? Mysteries like this are enough to drive even the most balanced of gnomes to distraction, and poor Will has enough on his plate as it is.
Ms. Owens has done something very interesting with scale in this book so that as we read the book we end up feeling, like Will and Roddy, that the garden and the adjoining meadow are large expanses of land. We wander through the book as a creature so small he isn't seen by humans even when he tries to get their attention, and gradually our perceptions are changed without us even noticing.
We get caught up in the cares and worries of the two characters, marvel at the idiocy and crudeness of the humans (they treat the plants so mean, stomp on smaller ones and I can't even begin to tell you about the horrors they put tomatoes through after they have picked them), and be amazed by the sounds of plants growing and a garden living.
I believe the reason that we can become part of their world so easily is because of the wonderful job he has done creating the characters. Somehow or other he has managed to give them human attributes without overly anthropomorphising them. There is no confusing Roddy with a human; he is most definitely a rabbit.
I've personally never met a gnome so I'll have to take Ms. Owens' word for it that Will's character is that of one. He's not a human, that is for sure, as his reactions differ far too widely from ours. Or I should say, from those of the humans in the book, as I hope to hell I'm more like Will than those folk who own the farm.
Ms. Owen has also done a nice job of creating the internal struggle that both Roddy and Will deal with. He's aimed this book towards a young adult audience, but deals with issues like survivor's guilt, insecurity, and inadequacy in a very intelligent manner. Instead of either spelling it out, or making the book heavy-handed in tone, he manages to let the characters' actions speak for themselves.
By showing examples of how characters behave and providing the rationale for it, just the telling of the story is enough to get the lesson across. It's an ability that many writers of books for "adults" would do well to emulate.
Gnome Harvest by Parker Owens had the potential of being a cute book about fuzzy creatures and little people. Instead she has created a work with believable characters whose own life lessons serve as examples for his readers. As perfect an example of story telling in the sense of stories being a way to teach people how to avoid the pitfalls of being human without them even noticing they are learning a lesson.