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Hobgoblin Hall, William Wordsworth's house, Rydal Mount, 1904
Hobgoblin is a term typically applied in folktales to describe a friendly but troublesome creature, a type of fairy from the Seelie Court. The most commonly known hobgoblin is the character Puck in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Hobgoblins seem to be small, hairy little men who—like their close relative, brownies—are often found within human dwellings, doing odd jobs around the house while the family is lost in sleep. Such chores are typically small deeds, like dusting and ironing. Often, the only compensation necessary in return for these is food. Attempts to give them clothing will often banish them forever, though whether they take offense to such gifts or are simply too proud to work in new clothes differs from teller to teller. It is possible that the "hob" in their name comes from the hob, a part of the hearth meant for holding food or utensils.
While brownies are more peaceful creatures, hobgoblins are more fond of practical jokes. They also seem to be able to shape-shift, as seen in one of Puck's monologues in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Robin Goodfellow is perhaps the most mischievous and most infamous of all his kind, but many are less antagonizing. Like all of the fae folk, hobgoblins are easily annoyed. When teased or misused excessively, brownies become boggarts—creatures whose sole existence is to play tricks and cause trouble for people. They can be mischievous, frightening, and even dangerous, and they are very difficult to get rid of.
The term "hobgoblin" has grown to mean a superficial object that is a source of (often imagined) fear or trouble. Probably the best-known example of this usage is Ralph Waldo Emerson's line, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds", from the essay Self-Reliance.
In modern fantasy fiction
The Spiderwick Chronicles
In the English translation of Finn Family Moomintroll, the third book of the Moomin series of children's books by Tove Jansson, The Hobgoblin is a strange magical personage -- even his hat, when found by other creatures, can work strange sorts of magic all by itself. While slightly frightening to those who do not know him, he is in fact a rather lonely and sensitive creature, who can grant the wishes of others but not his own: unless somebody specifically asks him for something which he wants, and then gives him what he himself created.
In the original Swedish, the character is called "Trollkarlen," which normally would just mean "The Wizard." While "troll" *can* be a supernatural being, it also means a spell or charm and it is likely that the term is his title, not his species: Jansson's illustrations depict him as a cloaked and bearded man.
The 13½ lives of Captain Bluebear
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
While called a house-elf in the book Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and subsequent titles, the parallels between hobgoblin stories and Dobby seem strong. Dobby was freed from service when given an article of clothing belonging to the Malfoys. Although the fact that he was a slave and happy to be freed, the parallel to the hobgoblin myth seems direct. Dobby's work was always done out of sight, just as hobgoblins do their work while their families sleep. Although Dobby's subsequent efforts to thwart the Malfoys and their allies go beyond the simple mischief a hobgoblin might commit if annoyed, the similarities are strong. J.K. Rowling hasn't said she modelled Dobby or other house-elves after hobgoblins specifically.
The word "hobgoblin" appears occasionally in J.R.R. Tolkien's children's novel The Hobbit, where it refers to larger species of orcs (more commonly referred to as "goblins"). In the much longer sequel The Lord of the Rings the word "goblin" is used only occasionally and "hobgoblin" does not appear at all.
The creature commonly appears in the bestiaries of fantasy role-playing games, where it is portrayed as a larger, stronger, smarter and more menacing cousin of the goblin, but not as high up on the goblinoid hierarchy as bugbears.
In Aidyn Chronicles: The First Mage, hobgoblins are large, thorny brutes that infest the desolate mountain passes of Errormon, home of the Mirari folk. Their leader is Kitarak, who must be slain in a certain point of the game.
In Mage: The Ascension, a hobgoblin is a physical manifestation of a hallucination suffered by a Mage's avatar.
In Exalted, hobgoblins are warrior grunts of the fair folk.
In Flintloque, hobgoblins are a race similar to the Welsh who come from the land of Taffsea and fight for the Grand Alliance with the orcs of Albion. They portray various Welsh stereotypes, often being named as the Boyos of Taffsea, and their cavalry ride on war sheep.
In Changeling: the Lost, hobgoblins are strange fae creatures that live within the hedge that divides Arcadia and the mortal world.
Comic books and manga
In Ao no Exorcist (Blue Exorcist) Behemoth is a hobgoblin. He is the familiar of Amaimon. Whenever Amaimon is not fighting, Behemoth is usually seen with him. Behemoth is usually led around by Amaimon using a leash. Behemoth also carries out Amaimon's orders and will participate in fights if Amaimon orders it.
In Wild and Horned Hermit, a manga series that is part of the Touhou Project universe, hobgoblins are introduced to the story's world as foreign youkais who are friendly and helpful with household chores, despite appearing as horrific creatures and feared by children.
- Huey and The Hobgoblins are an 8-piece band from Drogheda, Ireland.
- The name of Icelandic progressive rock group Þursaflokkurinn translates as "The Hobgoblins" in English.
- The Fall released a song called "City Hobgoblins" in 1980.
- Hobgoblin is also a punk band from Newport, South Wales.
- Hobgoblin is also the name of a strong dark ale produced by the Wychwood Brewery (England).
- Hobgoblin Clothing is a clothing manufacturer in Australia that caters to the adventure sports fraternity.
- The hymn To be a Pilgrim, written by John Bunyan, – which includes a verse in which the first line reads, "Hobgoblin nor foul fiend/Shall daunt his spirit."
- Briggs (1979) p.32 p.100
- "Self-Reliance". Emersoncentral.com. Retrieved 2013-09-09.
- "Huey And The Hobgoblins". Thehobgoblins.com. Retrieved 2013-09-09.
- "Hobgoblin Clothing, mens and womens wholesale adrenaline clothing". Hobgoblinclothing.com. Retrieved 2013-09-09.