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Goblin illustration by John D. Batten from "English Fairy Tales" (19th century)

A goblin is a monstrous creature that appears in the folklore of multiple European cultures, first attested in stories from the Middle Ages. They are ascribed 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]

Goblins in folklore

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

European folklore and collected folk stories

  • A redcap is a type of goblin who dyes its hat in human blood in Anglo-Scottish border folklore.
  • Hobgoblins are friendly trickster goblins from English, Scottish, and Pilgrim folklore and literature.
  • The Benevolent Goblin, from Gesta Romanorum (England)[17]
  • The Erlking is a malevolent goblin from German legend.
  • The Trasgu is a Northern Spanish and Northern Portuguese mythological creature of Celtic and Roman origin.
  • "The Goblin Pony", from The Grey Fairy Book (French fairy tale)
  • "The Goblins at the Bath House" (Estonia), from A Book of Ghosts and Goblins (1969)
  • "The Goblins Turned to Stone" (Dutch fairy tale).[18]
  • King Gobb (Moldovan Gypsy folktale)
  • Goblins are featured in the Danish fairy tales:The Elf Mound, The Goblin and the Grocer, and The Goblin and the Woman.
  • Goblins are featured in the Norwegian folktale The Christmas Visitors at Kvame.
  • Goblins are featured in the Swedish fairy tales The Four big Trolls and little Peter Pastureman, and Dag, and Daga and the Flying Troll of Sky Mountain where they alongside sprites and gnomes live among trolls.
  • Goblins are Featured in the French fairy tale called The Golden Branch.
  • Goblins are featured in English, Scottish, and Irish Folklore where they are described as roaming around in marauding bands that pillage farms and villages, commune with the dead (especially on Halloween), and sell goblin fruits

Goblin-like creatures in other cultures

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

  • Chinese Ghouls and Goblins (England 1928)
  • The Goblin of Adachigahara (Japanese fairy tale)[19]
  • The Goblin Rat, from The Boy Who Drew Cats (Japanese fairy tale)
  • Twenty-Two Goblins (Indian fairy tale)[20]
  • In South Korea, goblins, known as dokkaebi (도깨비), are important creatures in folklore. They usually appear in children's books.[citation needed] The nursery song 'Mountain Goblin(산도깨비)' tells of meeting a goblin and running away to live.
  • In Bangladesh, Santal people believe in gudrobonga which is very similar to goblins.

Other Goblins had been identified with creatures from another culture:

  • Goblins sometimes became identified with jinn in Islamic culture.[21]Although different from the concept of Goblin, namely Ifreet is a subcategory of jinn and it was translated as such, regardless of the differences.

Goblins in modern fiction

Representation of a goblin as it appears in the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons

Goblinoids are a category of humanoid legendary creatures related to the goblin. The term was popularized in the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game,[22] in which goblins and related creatures are a staple of random encounters. Goblinoids are typically barbaric foes of the various human and "demi-human" races. Even though goblinoids in modern fantasy fiction are derived from J.R.R. Tolkien's orcs, in his Middle-earth "orc" and "goblin" were names for the same race of creatures. The main types of goblinoids in Dungeons & Dragons are goblins, bugbears and hobgoblins; these creatures are also figures of mythology, next to ordinary goblins.

In the Harry Potter book series and the shared universe in which its film adaptations are set, goblins are depicted as strange, but civilised, humanoids, who often serve as bankers or craftsmen.

The Green Goblin is a well-known supervillain, one of the archenemies of Spider-Man, who has various abilities including enhanced stamina, durability, agility, reflexes and superhuman strength due to ingesting a substance known as the "Goblin Formula". He has appeared in various Spider-Man related media, such as comics, television series, video games, and films, including Spider-Man (2002) and Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) as Norman Osborn, and Spider-Man 3 (2007) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) as Harry Osborn.

In early English translations, The Smurfs were called goblins.[23]

Goblin-related place names

See also


  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. ^ Sally M. Promey Sensational Religion: Sensory Cultures in Material Practice Yale University Press, 2014 ISBN 9780300187359 pp. 99–100
  22. ^ Weinstock, Jeffrey (2014). The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 9781409425625.
  23. ^ "9780854081530 - Dilly Duckling and the Goblins by Peyo; Matagne". www.biblio.com. Retrieved 2019-12-22.
  24. ^ Ghosts, Goblins, and Haunted Castles, Aventinum Publishers, 1990 in English, page 51
  25. ^ Glasgow Street Names, Carol Foreman, Birlinn, 2007, page 58.

Further reading

  • 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. ISBN 9780394502489.
  • 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. ISBN 9781570362842.
  • 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. ISBN 9780874368116.
  • 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. ISBN 978-0-19-512199-5.
  • Zanger, Jules (1997). "Goblins, Morlocks, and Weasels". Children's Literature in Education. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 8: 154–162. doi:10.1007/BF01146190. S2CID 161822697.