The Goblin is one of the classic monsters of myth. More a class of creature than a single creature itself, it draws from myths across the world. While the classic goblin is fairly easy to describe, the many sub-species of goblin make it the type of creature that can fit into virtually any story.
Quick Facts about Goblins
- They are shorter than average people but larger than pixies, gnomes and elves.
- Goblins are often presented as devious, mischievous or evil creatures.
- Stories of these creatures have strong roots in Europe, but can be found in folklore around the world.
- Some have magical powers, but one of their trademark traits is that they are stealthy.
- They are frequently referenced with ghosts around Halloween (e.g. ghosts and goblins).
One of the real issues with describing the appearance of goblins is that there are several types of goblin. Depending on where in the world you are and when the story was written, goblins can range from the terrifyingly inhuman to monsters who are only differentiated by a few minor features.
There are dozens of different types of builds and bodies, though there are at least a few things that tend to be true. In most cases, goblins are short. They are not tiny like fairies, but they are generally shorter than the average man.
Most goblins tend to be quite ugly, bordering on hideous or monstrous. They have deformed features, often accompanied by being strangely hairy or having grayish or greenish skin that is oddly-textured.
Goblins in modern fiction tend to have long, grasping fingers that might end in claws. Most goblins also have decidedly inhuman eyes. Many also have long and pointed ears.
They tend to work well as generic evil spirits and creatures, the kind of monsters that can be held responsible for everything from simple mischief to truly horrifying acts. These are the monsters that are used to explain events that are generally too horrifying the blame on man or nature.
Even the more benevolent goblins in folklore have tended to have a mean streak, so they’re also a good example of myths surrounding the importance of keeping one’s word and upholding contracts.
The powers and abilities of a goblin tend to be related to the type of goblin in the story. There are fairly few universal constants in terms of power, with the exception of the fact that they can be relatively stealthy.
Goblins are more likely to be active at night or in hidden places, but some myths do tend to give them the ability to turn invisible at will. As general trickster monsters, some versions of goblins may also have access to limited magic and the ability to change shape at will.
In more modern tales, goblins tend to be deceptively strong for their size. They are easily able to kidnap and subdue adults, though they often are seen to prey on children and livestock. Goblins may have a certain affinity for gold or for treasure, though they can also be bound by promises and contracts.
Goblins are such a diverse type of monster that it’s safe to attribute virtually any type of behavior or power to these creatures.
Goblins are a generally European invention, with the bulk of modern folklore coming out of present-day Germany. There are, however, goblin-like creatures described virtually everywhere in the world.
Goblins have a tendency to pop up in rural areas, especially in those that are near forests. They represent an overall fear of the dark and unknown, with the tacit admission that humans can’t necessarily fight back against those things that can’t be seen.
Because goblin myths are so ubiquitous, though, they have the relatively uncommon benefit of being able to fit into virtually any type of myth framework.
Goblins have become a go-to in modern fantasy media. They are often the rank-and-file monsters, though many authors have supplanted them with the historically-similar orcs. Works that feature goblins include, but are not limited to:
– The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
– Snuff by Terry Pratchett
– The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
– World of Warcraft
– Magic: The Gathering