They are attributed with various (sometimes conflicting) abilities, temperaments and appearances depending on the story and country of origin. In some cases, goblins have been classified as constantly annoying little creatures somewhat related to the brownie and gnome. They are usually depicted as small, sometimes only a few inches tall, sometimes the size of a dwarf. They also often are said to possess various magical abilities. They are also very greedy and love money.
English goblin was borrowed from Old Frenchgobelin, rendered as Medieval Latingobelinus, of uncertain origin. It may be related to German kobold or to Medieval Latin cabalus, itself from Greek κόβαλος (kobalos), "rogue" or "knave". Alternatively, it may be a diminutive or other derivative of the proper nameGobel;Gobling could mean 'descendant of Gobel', with the same suffix –ing that occurs in many English place-names (such as Hastings, founded by descendants or followers of Hasta).
Alternative spellings include gobblin, gobeline, gobling, goblyn, and gobbelin.
The Welsh coblyn, a type of knocker, derives from the Old French gobelin via the English goblin.
European folklore and collected folk stories
Illustration of a goblin
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J. R. R. Tolkien generally used the terms goblin and orc synonymously in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Smaller orcs tend to be called goblins, but the term is occasionally applied even to large orcs. These works, featuring goblins of almost-human stature, generally informed the depiction of goblins in later fiction and games.
Goblins are represented in Magic: The Gathering as a species of predominantly red-aligned creatures generally organized into various tribes, and are usually depicted as fierce and war-mongering, but of comically low intelligence. Most are similar to other depictions of goblins save those of the Akki race, which bear chitinous shells on their backs.
The 1973 film Don't Be Afraid of the Dark portrays a house infested with goblins; it was remade in 2011. In both versions the Goblins are small, intelligent, nimble and evil creatures with a penchant for preying on children. They feed on human teeth and are afraid of light.
In the Jim Henson Productions film Labyrinth, the Goblins are led by Jareth the Goblin King (played by David Bowie). The Goblins in this film range from a few inches to several feet in height. Each of the Goblins comes with a variety of descriptions. Some Goblins have small eyes, some Goblins have large eyes, some Goblins have protruding eyes, some Goblins have horns, some Goblins have hair, and some Goblins don't have hair. It has been implied by Jareth that the Goblins were once human children.
Goblins are shown in diminutive form in the film Legend. The Goblins serve the Lord of Darkness.
Goblins play an important role in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. They guard the wizard bank Gringotts and are portrayed as clever, arrogant, greedy, and churlish.
Despite its title, goblins are featured as the main villains in the cult filmTroll 2.
The Complete Encyclopedia of Elves, Goblins, and Other Little Creatures depicts them as originating in the British Isles, from whence they spread by ship to all of Continental Europe. They have no homes, being wanderers, dwelling temporarily in mossy cracks in rocks and tree roots.
Jack Prelutsky's children's poetry book It's Halloween includes a poem called "The Goblin", in which a little boy describes "A goblin as green as a goblin can be, Who is sitting outside and is waiting for me".
In Enid Blyton's Noddy children's books and their adaptations appear small humanoids called goblins, who are often very mischievous.
There are many (human) villains in Marvel Comics whose names include the word "goblin", and who use a goblin motif, such as several incarnations of the Green Goblin as well as Hobgoblin and Demogoblin. Most of them are enemies of Spider-Man with some of them being created through the result of the Goblin Serum. The villain Menace is also a goblin-type villain.
In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the goblins appear as green-skinned creatures, a little shorter than humans, carrying iron weapons and sometimes lockpicks. They are seen as "dirty little beasts", and can be found in sewers or abandoned houses and forts.
Goblins are usually the main opponents in Dwarf Fortress. They are described as evil creatures having green skin and glowing red eyes. They often kidnap children of the other races and raise them as goblins.
Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl depicts goblins as reptilian entities having lidless eyes, forked tongues, and scaly skin. The goblins in the series are dull-witted and have an ability to conjure fireballs.
In The Spiderwick Chronicles, goblins are portrayed as small, grotesque toad-like creatures born without teeth who therefore use broken glass and rocks as dentition. They have a chaotic behaviour and will only behave orderly if ordered so by a more powerful villain, such as the ogre Mulgarath.