Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Any form of mischievous or evil spirit. The name entered Folklore in the 14th century; the name of the Ghibellines who, a century earlier, had supported the Holy Roman Emperor against the Papacy (see Dante Alighieri) may have encouraged the usage by association, but the word comes from the Greek kobalos, through which root the Germans also derived the word "kobold". Early appearances of goblins in Folktales present them merely as tormenters, often of children. They appear as boggarts, bogles or bogey-beasts. Charles Dickens used goblins thus in the story within Pickwick Papers (1836-1837) entitled "The Goblins Who Stole a Sexton" (1836), and they are the influential spirits who encourage Toby Veck to his good deeds in The Chimes (1844 chap). Goblins became more distinct in the poem Goblin Market (1862 chap) by Christina Rossetti, where they try to tempt children to eat poisonous fairy fruit. They are more closely associated with kobolds and Dwarfs in George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin (1872); here they were once human, now degenerate through millennia of living Underground. The illustrations by Arthur Hughes (1823-1915) to this volume and by Arthur Rackham to later editions of Goblin Market have coloured our perceptions of goblins.

Those with a better nature are called hobgoblins, retaining the mischievousness without the maliciousness. This version is usually represented by Puck or Robin Goodfellow, and was given form in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (performed 1596; 1600). It is this variety that appears in Davy and the Goblin (1884) by Charles E Carryl (1841-1920). In the Hob series by William Mayne, Hob is a form of brownie (see Elves). The main image today derives from J R R Tolkien's The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955), by which time he had renamed them orcs. Tolkien's goblins/orcs were similar to the Nordic svarts, hideously evil creatures created by magic, who appear in Alan Garner's The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960). Brian Froud produced his own book of Goblins (graph 1983 chap) and teamed up with Terry Jones to produce The Goblins of Labyrinth (graph 1986) and The Goblin Companion (graph 1996 chap). A representative anthology is The Hamish Hamilton Book of Goblins (anth 1972; vt A Cavalcade of Goblins 1969 US; vt A Book of Goblins 1972 UK) ed Alan Garner. [MA]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.