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The rusticity of the environment [Merridale Lane in Surrey] is enhanced by the wooden owls that keep guard over the names of houses, and by crumbling dwarfs indefatigably poised over goldfish ponds. The inhabitants of Merridale Lane do not paint their dwarfs, suspecting this to be a suburban vice, nor, for the same reason, do they varnish the owls; but wait patiently for the years to endow these treasures with an appearance of weathered antiquity, until one day even the beams on the garage may boast of beetle and woodworm.

Source: Call for the Dead (John Le Carre)

I am having difficulty understanding the description of the owls and the dwarfs. What kind of house decor is the wooden owl that guard over the name of the house? And is the dwarfs another ornament decorating the house? Am I correct to understand that the inhabitants there deliberately refrain from painting the owls and the dwarfs such that they will look old?

migrated from english.stackexchange.com Jul 27 '17 at 11:28

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  • Fake owls are sometimes used to deter pigeons... sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. Often cabins try to look "rustic', carved wood evoking a hobby evoking a more primitive time. Being silly or "fancyfull" with garden gnomes is something playful.... letting them weather shows that you are deliberately eschewing a type of conceit of materialism. It would really take some essays to spell out these little symbols of "rebellion" against what their owners might see as an escape from an overly rational world – Tom22 Jul 26 '17 at 23:40
  • I detect an air of benign neglect. " Am I correct to understand that the inhabitants there deliberately refrain from painting the owls and the dwarfs such that they will look old?" No, they just don't give a hoot. – Phil Sweet Jul 27 '17 at 0:24
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The descriptions are actually pretty literal.

Owls are reasonably common garden ornaments, and many of them are wooden. Here are some examples.

'Dwarfs' refer to what is more commonly called 'garden gnomes'. They are usually painted, but can be unfinished as well. Standing or sitting by a pond and fishing in it with a rod is a stereotypical pose for a gnome.

  • Garden gnomes are more often made of cement or fine concrete than pottery. Cement, particularly when unpainted, crumbles quite easily when exposed to the weather; pottery can often be more resilient. – BoldBen Jul 26 '17 at 20:25

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