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Nineteenth-century illustration of a goblin

A goblin is a monstrous creature from European folklore, first attested in stories from the Middle Ages. They are ascribed various and conflicting abilities, temperaments and appearances depending on the story and country of origin. They are almost always small and grotesque, mischievous or outright malicious, and greedy, especially for gold and jewelry. They often have magical abilities similar to a fairy or demon. Similar creatures include brownies, dwarfs, duendes, gnomes, imps, and kobolds.


Alternative spellings include gobblin, gobeline, gobling, goblyn, goblino, and gobbelin

English goblin is first recorded in the 14th century and is probably from unattested Anglo-Norman *gobelin,[1] similar to Old French gobelin, already attested around 1195 in Ambroise of Normandy's Guerre sainte, and to Medieval Latin gobelinus in Orderic Vitalis before 1141,[2][3] which was the name of a devil or daemon haunting the country around Évreux, Normandy.

It may be related both to German kobold and to Medieval Latin cabalus, or *gobalus, itself from Greek κόβαλος (kobalos), "rogue", "knave", "imp", "goblin".[2][4] Alternatively, it may be a diminutive or other derivative of the French proper name Gobel, more often Gobeau,[5][6] diminutive forms Gobelet, Goblin, Goblot, but their signification is probably "somebody who sells tumblers or beakers or cups".[7] Moreover, these proper names are not from Normandy, where the word gobelin, gobelinus first appears in the old documents. German Kobold contains the Germanic root kov- (Middle German Kobe "refuge, cavity", "hollow in a rock", Dial. English cove "hollow in a rock", English "sheltered recess on a coast", Old Norse kofi "hut, shed" ) which means originally a "hollow in the earth".[8][9] The word is probably related to Dial. Norman gobe "hollow in a cliff", with simple suffix -lin or double suffixation -el-in (cf. Norman surnames Beuzelin,[10] Gosselin,[11] Étancelin,[12] etc.)

The Welsh coblyn, a type of knocker, derives from the Old French gobelin via the English goblin.[13][14]

The term goblette has been used to refer to female goblins.[15][16]

European folklore and collected folk stories[edit]

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith, 1920

Goblin-like creatures in other cultures[edit]

Many Asian lagyt creatures have been likened to, or translated as, goblins. Some examples for these:

Goblin-related place names[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

From The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith, 1920
A Goblin from Warhammer
A model of Goblin from the Harry Potter series
  • The Goblins, a comedy play by Sir John Suckling (1638 England; the title alludes to thieves rather than actual goblins)
  • The Goblins Who Stole A Sexton is a short story by Charles Dickens where goblins torment a gravedigger for being cruel on Christmas.
  • Goblin Market, a poem by Christina Rossetti (1859 England)
  • The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald (1872) depicts the Goblins as grotesque humanoids, vulnerable to sunlight, song, and pressure on their feet.
  • Davy and the Goblin by Charles E. Carryl[23] (1884)
  • J. R. R. Tolkien used the terms goblin and orc synonymously in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. These works, featuring goblins of almost-human stature, informed the depiction of goblins in later fiction and games. William Thompson writes, "In The Hobbit – whose title character resembles the traditional hobgoblin, thinly disguised by name and role – Tolkien's goblins, though villains, retain a hint of earlier portrayals as scamps, with their bumbling efforts, punctuated by boisterous and doggerel song, posing little threat to the story's heroes and perhaps reflecting the novel's intended young audience. Yet, in notes for the novel, he acknowledges an indebtedness to MacDonald, and while his goblins may appear burlesque, they are also grotesque, filthy, and wicked, preying upon travelers from underground lairs." Thompson adds that, in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien has "abandoned all pretence at depicting goblins in a comic light, instead casting them as the great evil race of Middle-earth..."[24]
  • Goblins are portrayed as roughly half the size of adult humans as non-player characters in the tabletop role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons, which influenced most later depictions in tabletop and computer roleplating games, including Akalabeth, Ultima, Tibia, RuneScape and World of Warcraft
  • 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.
  • The Jim Henson Productions film Labyrinth centres around a kingdom of Goblins ruled by Jareth the Goblin King (played by David Bowie). The Goblins in this film come in many diverse forms: they range from a few inches to several feet in height; some have small eyes, some have large eyes, some have protruding eyes, some have horns, some have hair, and some are hairless. It has been implied by Jareth that all the Goblins were once human children.
  • 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. They are skilled in metalwork; goblin-made steel, such as the sword of Gryffindor, absorbs the magic of other substances to make it stronger.
  • The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy by Clare B. Dunkle features a creative re-imagining of goblins, elves, and dwarves.
  • The Complete Encyclopedia of Elves, Goblins, and Other Little Creatures depicts them as originating in the British Isles, 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.[25][26]
  • The music of the band Nekrogoblikon centers around goblins.
  • A goblin appears in one of the poems in the book It's Halloween by Jack Prelutsky.
  • The Marvel Comics superhero Spider-Man has several enemies that dress as goblins such as the Green Goblin and Hobgoblin.
  • Goblins take the place of Orknies in the film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
  • In The Spiderwick Chronicles, goblins serve the main antagonist, the ogre Mulgarath, and terrorize the Grace children in an attempt to snatch Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide from them. They are frog-like in form with whiskers and pointed ears. Hobgoblins, like Hogsqueal, are depicted as mischievous but more benign.
  • In Guardian: The Lonely and Great God, a popular 2016 Korean drama, 939-year-old immortal goblin Kim Shin (played by Gong Yoo) is the protector of souls who looks for his bride (the only one who can remove the sword he was killed with) to end his immortality and rest in peace.
  • In the television fantasy game show Knightmare, goblins were regular antagonists. They were child-sized humanoid creatures, with ugly, hairless features and brown, leathery skin, and usually armed with a club and sometimes a shield. Their arrival was always heralded by the distinctive sound of a goblin horn. They were always aggressive, pursuing and attempting to kill the 'dungeoneer' (competitor). On rare occasions hobgoblins appeared, which were identical but far larger (taller than an average adult human).[27]

In the Elder Scrolls series Goblins appear in several locations in Oblivion and The Elder Scrolls Online, usually being hostile toward the player.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ T. F. Hoad, English Etymology, Oxford University Press, p. 196b.
  2. ^ a b CNRTL etymology of gobelin (online French)
  3. ^ Du Cange et al, Glossarium mediae et infimae latinitatis ...(online French and Latin) [1]
  4. ^ κόβαλος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  5. ^ Harper, Douglas. "Goblin". The Online Etymological Dictionary. Retrieved 2011-12-20.
  6. ^ HOAD, p. 196b.
  7. ^ Albert Dauzat, Noms et prénoms de France, Librairie Larousse 1980, édition revue et commentée par Marie-Thérèse Morlet. p. 295b Gobel.
  8. ^ Duden, Herkunftswörterbuch : Etymologie der deutschen Sprache, Band 7, Dudenverlag, p. 359 : Kobel, koben, Kobold.
  9. ^ HOAD, p. 101b.
  10. ^ Géopatronyme : surname Beuzelin in France (online French)
  11. ^ Géopatronyme : surname Gosselin in France (online French) Gosselin
  12. ^ Géopatronyme : surname Étancelin in France (online French)
  13. ^ Franklin, Anna (2002). "Goblin", The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Fairies. London: Paper Tiger. ISBN 1-84340-240-8. p. 108
  14. ^ The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English
  15. ^ Anthony, Piers (1992). The Color of Her Panties. You can't move me out, you skirted goblette.
  16. ^ Porter, Jesse (28 September 2015). "Goblin". The Adventures of Puss in Boots. Episode 12. My dear, dear goblette, there is really nothing to it.
  17. ^ Apples4theTeacher - short stories
  18. ^ Dutch Fairy Tales for Young Folks, 1918, compiled by William Elliot Griffis
  19. ^ Rick Walton - folktale
  20. ^ Sacred texts
  21. ^ Ghosts, Goblins, and Haunted Castles, Aventinum Publishers, 1990 in English, page 51
  22. ^ Glasgow Street Names, Carol Foreman, Birlinn, 2007, page 58.
  23. ^ SF Site
  24. ^ Thompson, William (2005). "Goblins". In Gary Westfahl. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works, and Wonders. 1. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. p. 348. ISBN 0-313-32951-6.
  25. ^ The Complete Encyclopedia of Elves, Goblins, and Other Little Creatures by Pierre Dubois, in English 2005
  26. ^ Encyclopedia of Things That Never Were by Michael Page & Robert Ingpen, 1987
  27. ^ Interactive Knightmare Lexicon, http://interactive.knightmare.org.uk/component/legacy/page/display/lexicon?s=view&EID=goblin

Further reading[edit]

  • Briggs, K. M. (2003). The Anatomy of Puck. London: Routledge.
  • Briggs, K. M. (1967). The Fairies in English Literature and Tradition. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
  • Briggs, K. M. (1978). The Vanishing People. London: B.T. Batsford.
  • Carryl, Charles E. (1884). Davy And The Goblin. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Dubois, Pierre (2005). The Complete Encyclopedia of Elves, Goblins, and Other Little Creatures. New York: Abbeville Press. ISBN 0-789-20878-4.
  • Froud, Brian (1996). The Goblin Companion. Atlanta: Turner.
  • Froud, Brian (1983). Goblins!. New York: Macmillan.
  • Page, Michael and Robert Ingpen (1987). British Goblins: Encyclopedia of Things That Never Were. New York: Viking.
  • Purkiss, Diane (2001). At the Bottom of the Garden. New York: New York University Press.
  • Rose, Carol (1996). Spirits, Fairies, Gnomes and Goblins: an Encyclopedia of the Little People. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO.
  • Sikes, Wirt (1973). British Goblins: Welsh Folk-lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions. Wakefield: EP Pub.
  • Silver, Carole G. (1999). Strange and Secret Peoples. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Zanger, Jules (1997). "Goblins, Morlocks, and Weasels". Children's Literature in Education. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 8: 154–162.