I think this can be traced initially back to a story I heard from a couple of Australians while backpacking through Europe many years ago.
Apparently a family in Australia awoke one morning to find their garden gnome missing. The thief who stole it then traveled around the world, taking photographs of the gnome in various famous locations and then mailing them back to the family as though the gnome himself had gone on vacation. One day, many months later, he was returned, covered with tourists trinkets and mementos from around the globe.
The prank was later picked up by the French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet who incorporated it into the storyline of his excellent movie, Amélie. A few years later, Travelocity hijacked the gnome prank and started using the red, pointy-hatted creature as their de facto spokesperson.
So, that brings us to the recent news from France that 79 garden gnomes which have gone missing throughout the French countryside have turned up on the banks of a local stream. This was in addition to the 86 gnomes discovered last month on the grounds of a nearby high school.
The gnome abductions was the handiwork of the Front for the Liberation of Garden Gnomes (FLNJ), an international activist group who, as their name suggests, liberates garden gnomes from their ignoble servitude in the gardens of the overly kitsch.
Unlike their Australian predecessors, the FLNJ did not take the gnomes on vacation, but merely set them free in the countryside underneath a sign reading, “Gnome mistreated, gnome liberated.”
I just love the French. Don’t you?