So comments on an earlier post about the difference between trolls and gnomes made me instantly start thinking of ways to make the distinction more interesting by expressing it as a matrix. The result draws heavily upon an apocryphal classification scheme prevalent in the Firm - only the names for the individual cells are my own.
Essentially this elegantly simple classification scheme has two dimensions: Taking yourself too seriously and trying too hard. The interaction of the two gives us the following figure.
Trolls are dull, silent creatures, secure and self-righteous. Typically lacking in any sense of humour whatsoever, Trolls are usually content to live their own insular and smug lives, and rarely inflict their opinions on other people. However, they are extremely sensitive to things that they see as attacking their values / beliefs and are quick to take offense at things that are said against them. They have an almost morbid fear of being made to look ridiculous and are unappreciative of jokes at their expense. These fears / hurts express themselves as disengagement rather than confrontation, however - Trolls are the ultimate passive-aggressives. Because they are afraid of being shown up, Trolls will tend not to react openly to negative stimuli, preferring to let a simmering resentment grow within them. Interestingly, Trolls are often pious and 'sincere' though this is a fake sincerity that is based on complacency rather than humility. Because their puny brains are often incapable of dealing with contradiction, Trolls have trouble respecting / considering other people's opinions and prefer a 'simple' if suffocating world view where they are always right.
Gnomes are possibly the most annoying of all creatures in this matrix. Opinionated and belligerent, Gnomes will seek out views that run contrary to their own without provocation, and proceed to attack them with all the bitterness they can muster. While Gnomes may often be full of biting wit, they have no real sense of humour, simply because they will never make (and usually cannot take) jokes at their own expense - humour to them is more a weapon than a toy. Driven by insecurity, Gnomes will constantly seek opportunities to assert their own points of view, but will be unwilling to listen to others and will react to opposing positions based more on emotional frenzy than on rational thought. Gnomes will never admit to being wrong. Logic is wasted on gnomes because they are selective listeners and will use it only to support conclusions that favour them - never considering how the same argument could be used against them. Gnomes are incapable of seeing things from the other point of view. The average Gnome suffers from a strong persecution complex and is extremely self-involved - to the point of assuming that everything in the world is somehow about him / her.
Pixies are the featherbrains of the world. Generous and good of heart, Pixies are anxious to please and desperate for acceptance. Rather than being self-involved, Pixies are infact almost entirely externally involved - they often have no discernible opinions / talents / personalities of their own, but always seem to be in search of external validation. While they are the most likely to make jokes (including jokes about themselves) their jokes are usually more notable for their quantity rather than their quality. Pixies are wanna-bes - strivers have no real personality and usually an extremely limited depth of understanding about the things that they talk about - yet silence makes them uncomfortable and they are often uncomfortable being alone. Unlike Gnomes, who are convinced that everyone hates them, Pixies cannot stand the thought that anyone could hate them and are therefore almost self-effacing in their desire to please - they arrange away confrontations. While pixies may have little faith in their own worth, they may often be convinced that other people find them charming and intelligent and believe that effort is all it takes to be respected - not realising how silly and cloying they may seem. Pixies can be annoying, but you cannot bring yourself to hate them - you know that they mean well and you often like them, but you cannot begin to take them seriously.
Elves are, of course, the most aspirational of all the life-forms in this model. Like Trolls, Elves are little concerned with what other people think about them, but unlike Trolls they are secure enough to admit that other people could be right. Elves have a great sense of humour and will laugh at themselves as much as they will laugh at others - they are intensely aware of both the world's absurdity and of their own ridiculousness. Frequently clever and talented, Elves use these gifts in a whimsical manner, often more interested in the effects / process than in the final meaning of what they come in with. Relativists by nature, Elves are uncomfortable with moral absolutes, and tend to take a more contingent view of the world. While they may often be interested in arts and culture, Elves seek these out more for their own pleasure than in order to impress others / be accepted by them. Even though they recognise that they might be wrong, Elves are not afraid to state their opinions on various issues, though they may be willing to change this opinion if they find a convincing argument that suggests a better one. Open and friendly, Elves have strong personalities, but see no reason to inflict them on other people unless asked to.