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For other uses, see Goblin (disambiguation).
Goya - Caprichos (49).jpg
Grouping Dwarf
Country Northwestern Europe, Scandinavia, British Isles, United States
Habitat Caves, woodland

A goblin is a legendary evil or mischievous grotesque dwarf-like daemon or monster that appeared in European stories and accounts during the Middle Ages. They are ascribed various (sometimes conflicting) abilities, temperaments and appearances depending on the story and country of origin. In some cases, goblins are little creatures related to the brownie and gnome. They are usually small, sometimes only a few inches tall, sometimes the size of a dwarf, and have magical abilities; they are greedy, especially for gold and jewelry.


Alternative spellings include gobblin, gobeline, gobling, goblyn, 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 a 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 timblers 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]

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:

  • Twenty-Two Goblins (Indian fairy tale)[19]
  • In South Korea, goblins are known as Dokkaebi (도깨비). They are especially important mythical creatures in Korean folklore. They usually appear in children's books.[citation needed]

Goblin-related place names[edit]

  • 'The Gap of Goeblin', a hole and underground tunnel in Croxteth under the Green residence where Daniel Green resides feeding on children's bones and ectoplasm to survive.[20]
  • Goblin Combe, in north Somerset, UK
  • Goblin Valley State Park, Utah, U.S.
  • Goblin Crescent, Bryndwr, Christchurch, NZ
  • Yester Castle (aka 'Goblin Hall') East Lothian, Scotland
  • Goblin Bay, Beausoleil Island, Ontario, Canada
  • Cowcaddens and Cowlairs, Glasgow, Scotland. 'Cow' is an old Scots word for Goblin, while 'cad' means 'nasty'. 'Dens' and 'lairs' refers to goblin homes.[21]

In popular culture[edit]

From The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith, 1920
  • The Goblins, a comedy play by Sir John Suckling (1638 England; the title alludes to thieves rather than actual goblins)
  • 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[22] (1884)
  • J. R. R. Tolkien generally used the terms goblin and orc synonymously in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. These works, featuring goblins of almost-human stature, generally 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..."[23]
  • 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 including the games Akalabeth, Ultima, Tibia, RuneScape and World of Warcraft (they become a playable race in the WoW expansion World of Warcraft: Cataclysm). In the 1980s Goblins were depicted as a separate race subservient to the Orcs in the Games Workshop tabletop game Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Games Workshop also popularized the depiction of goblins with bright green skin. Warcraft adopted both of these concepts from Warhammer. The Warcraft goblins are very technologically advanced. Goblins are also present as the first tier creature in the Orc faction in Heroes of Might and Magic V: Tribes of the East.[24]
  • Goblins are recurring minor enemies in the Final Fantasy franchise, where they usually appear near the beginning of each game and pose little to no threat to the player. They often use a technique called Goblin Punch which does increased damage to enemies of the same experience level. The MMORPG entries in the series have reimagined goblins as a nomadic race of bandits and tinkerers with a high affinity for machinery who are never seen without their trademark leather gas masks and speak in their own characteristic dialect.
  • 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. 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 are hairless. It has been implied by Jareth that 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.
  • 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, 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.[25][26]
  • 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.

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. ^ Apples4theTeacher - short stories
  16. ^ Dutch Fairy Tales for Young Folks, 1918, compiled by William Elliot Griffis
  17. ^ Sacred texts
  18. ^ Rick Walton - folktale
  19. ^ Sacred texts
  20. ^ Ghosts, Goblins, and Haunted Castles, Aventinum Publishers, 1990 in English, page 51
  21. ^ Glasgow Street Names, Carol Foreman, Birlinn, 2007, page 58.
  22. ^ SF Site
  23. ^ 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. 
  24. ^ F, S (2008). "Stronghold Creatures". Age Of Heroes. Retrieved 2011-02-24. 
  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

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.