Gnomes and trolls and ogres of our fairy stories

I bought a fifty year old book about geology, my new interest, one in the series of the Observer books; they were marvellous little pocket encyclopaedias about every sort of area you could imagine.

I’m particularly fascinated in our earliest ancestors, and I was very interested to read the half-century old understanding of our distant relatives. Having described them as sub-human, and believing that they were small, furry and with a bent almost crouched walk (completely disproved by modern research) there is a curious postscript to the section. I’ve only just read this, and funnily enough, someone mentioned this very idea to me!

It (Neanderthal man) may be remembered in our folk-lore, for such creatures, grotesquely semi-human, dwelling in caves, and preying on human flesh, may have suggested the gnomes and trolls and ogres of our fairy stories.

At first sight this observation seems amusing, and possibly (I do so hope) to be true. However the chilling references to sub-human and semi-human, have disturbing echoes of the Nazi’s dangerous and insidious belief in the untermensch… The Neanderthal and other early humans were skilled and experts in many fields, cave painting, hunting, tool-making, living successfully in their environment…

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