Mythical creature
An illustration of a small, hairy mischievous-looking humanoid creature with large, bat-like ears wearing a hooded cloak.
Goblin illustration by John D. Batten from "English Fairy Tales" (19th century)
GroupingDiminutive spirit
Similar entitiesFairies, demons, brownies, dwarfs, duendes, gnomes, imps, and kobolds.

A goblin is a small, grotesque, 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, ranging from mischievous household spirits to malicious, bestial thieves.[1][2] They often have magical abilities similar to a fairy or demon, such as the ability to shapeshift.[2]

Similar creatures include brownies, dwarves, duendes, gnomes, imps, leprechauns, and kobolds, but it is also commonly used as a blanket term for all small, fay creatures.[2] The term is sometimes expanded to include goblin-like creatures of other cultures, such as the pukwudgie, dokkaebi, or ifrit.[2]


Alternative spellings include gobblin, gobeline, gobling, goblyn, goblino, and gobbelin. The term "goblette" has been used to refer to female goblins.[3][4]

The word goblin is first recorded in the 14th century and is probably from unattested Anglo-Norman *gobelin,[5] 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,[6][7] 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".[6] 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.)[13]

Alternatively, it may be a diminutive or other derivative of the French proper name Gobel, more often Gobeau,[5][14] diminutive forms Gobelet, Goblin, Goblot, but their signification is probably "somebody who sells tumblers or beakers or cups".[15] Moreover, these proper names are not from Normandy, where the word gobelin, gobelinus first appears in the old documents.

The Welsh coblyn, a type of knocker, derives from the Old French gobelin via the English goblin.[16]

In folklore

An illustration of a group of goblins surrounding a small child.
The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith, 1920

European folklore

Goblin-like creatures in other cultures

  • A pukwudgie is a type of goblin from Wamponoag folklore.
  • The muki is a pale goblin who lives in caves in the Andes in Quechuan folklore.
  • In South Korea, goblins, known as dokkaebi (도깨비), are important creatures in folklore, where they reward good people and punish the evil, playing tricks on them.[2]
  • In Bangladesh, Santal people believe in gudrobonga which is very similar to goblins.
  • In South India, Kuttichathan is a type of mischievous/evil goblin mainly found in Kerala folklore.
  • In South African mythology, the tokoloshe (or tikoloshe or tikoloshi) is a dwarf-like creatures similar to a goblin.
  • Goblins have at times been conflated with the jinn, specifically ifrit and ghilan, of Islamic culture.[17]

In fiction

Fairy tales and folk stories

  • "The Goblin Pony", from The Grey Fairy Book (French fairy tale)
  • "The Benevolent Goblin", from Gesta Romanorum (England)[18]
  • "The Goblins at the Bath House" (Estonia), from A Book of Ghosts and Goblins (1969)
  • "The Goblins Turned to Stone" (Dutch fairy tale)[19]
  • King Gobb (Moldovan Gypsy folktale)[citation needed]
  • 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 live among trolls alongside sprites and gnomes.
  • Goblins are featured in the French fairy tale called The Golden Branch.
  • Chinese Ghouls and Goblins (England 1928)
  • "The Goblin of Adachigahara" (Japanese fairy tale)[20]
  • The Boy Who Drew Cats (Japanese fairy tale)
  • Twenty-Two Goblins (Indian fairy tale)[21]
  • The Korean nursery song 'Mountain Goblin(산도깨비)' tells of meeting a dokkaebi and running away to live.

Modern fiction

In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit the evil creatures living in the Misty Mountains are referred to as goblins. In The Lord of the Rings the same creatures are primarily referred to as orcs.

An illustration of a goblin wearing armour made of leather and skulls, wielding a cutlass.
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, 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.

In Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, goblins are initially a despised and shunned subterranean race; however, in later books, goblins are eventually integrated with the other races, and their mechanical and engineering talents come to be valued.

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 the video game series Elder Scrolls, goblins are a hostile beast race said to originate from Summerset Isle, can range in size from being smaller than a Wood Elf to being larger than a Nord and love living in dank places such as caves and sewers.

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

Goblin-related place names

See also


  1. ^ Edwards, Gillian (1974). Hobgoblin and Sweet Puck: Fairy names and natures. London: Geoffrey Bles. ISBN 9780713807103.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Shaijan, Annliya (2019-03-27). "Goblin Mythology: A Brief Study of the Archetype, Tracing the Explications in English Literature". Global Journal of Human-Social Science Research. 19 (4). ISSN 2249-460X. Archived from the original on 2022-04-10. Retrieved 2022-05-19.
  3. ^ Anthony, Piers (1992). The Color of Her Panties. You can't move me out, you skirted goblette.
  4. ^ Porter, Jesse (28 September 2015). "Goblin". The Adventures of Puss in Boots. Episode 12. My dear, dear goblette, there is really nothing to it.
  5. ^ a b Hoad 1993, p. 196.
  6. ^ a b CNRTL etymology of gobelin (online French)
  7. ^ Du Cange et al, Glossarium mediae et infimae latinitatis ...(online French and Latin) [1]
  8. ^ Duden, Herkunftswörterbuch : Etymologie der deutschen Sprache, Band 7, Dudenverlag, p. 359 : Kobel, koben, Kobold.
  9. ^ Hoad 1993, p. 101.
  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. ^ κόβαλος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  14. ^ Harper, Douglas. "Goblin". The Online Etymological Dictionary. Retrieved 2011-12-20.
  15. ^ Albert Dauzat, Noms et prénoms de France, Librairie Larousse 1980, édition revue et commentée par Marie-Thérèse Morlet. p. 295 Gobel.
  16. ^ Franklin, Anna (2002). "Goblin", The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Fairies. London: Paper Tiger. ISBN 1-84340-240-8. p. 108
  17. ^ Promey, Sally M. (2014) Sensational Religion: Sensory Cultures in Material Practice. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300187359 pp. 99–100
  18. ^ "Apples4theTeacher - short stories". Archived from the original on 2017-08-27. Retrieved 2007-06-15.
  19. ^ Dutch Fairy Tales for Young Folks, 1918, compiled by William Elliot Griffis
  20. ^ "Rick Walton - folktale". Archived from the original on 2007-08-25. Retrieved 2007-06-15.
  21. ^ Ryder, Arthur W. (1917) Twenty-two Goblins. Sacred texts
  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. ^ Tichy, Jaroslav (1990) Ghosts, Goblins, and Haunted Castles, Aventinum Publishers. p. 51
  25. ^ Hobroyd, Survey of English Place-Names. University of Nottingham
  26. ^ Foreman, Carol (2007) Glasgow Street Names. Birlinn. p. 58. ISBN 1841585882


Wikiquote has quotations related to Goblin.
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Goblins.
  • 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.
  • Hoad, T. F. (1993). English Etymology. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0192830988.
  • 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. 8. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 154–162. doi:10.1007/BF01146190. S2CID 161822697.
  • v
  • t
  • e
Fairies in folklore
Related articlesAbodes and structures
Attested fairies
Fairy-like beings worldwide
  • v
  • t
  • e
Film and television
Magic system
Fantasy races
Places and events
Authority control databases: National Edit this at Wikidata
  • Israel
  • United States