A hobgoblin is a spirit of the hearth, typically appearing in folklore, once considered helpful but since the spread of Christianity has often been considered mischievous.[1] Shakespeare identifies the character of Puck in his A Midsummer Night's Dream as a hobgoblin.[2]

Myths & Legends

Myths and legends about hobgoblins vary widely, with many folklore traditions having their own distinct versions, which can sometimes be a bit confusing. For example, in some legends, hobgoblins are viewed as harmful, while in other traditions, they are supposed to be friendly guides.

In general, however, they are often found within human dwellings, doing odd jobs around the house while the family is lost in sleep. Such chores are typically small deeds, like dusting and ironing. Oftentimes, the only compensation necessary in return for these was food. Attempts to give them clothing would often banish them forever, though whether they take offense to such gifts or are simply too proud to work in new clothes differs from teller to teller.

They are nimble creatures, and seem to be able to shape-shift, but most do not.

Appearance

Hobgoblin.jpg

Hobgoblins seem to be small, hairy little men who wear brown, ragged clothes or nothing at all. In most stories, these creatures are depicted as small or even tiny, but like most original legends of fairies, they were not much smaller than humans.

Behavior

Hobgoblins are fond of practical jokes and are slightly mischevious but not necessarily antagonizing. They are usually good-humored and very helpful beings around the house, though they distrust large congregations of humans and any machines or electrical gadgets.

However, like all of the fairy folk, hobgoblins are easily annoyed. When teased or misused excessively, hobgoblins become boggarts—creatures whose sole existence is to play tricks and cause trouble for people. They can be troublesome, frightening, and even dangerous, and they are very difficult to get rid of.

Habitat

A “hob” is a shelf on the side or back of a fireplace where food or utensils are stored or kept warm. This is a favorite spot of the Hobgoblins who live in houses.

Most Hobgoblins tend to prefer human households as their dwellings and homes. But there are those that live out in the forests. They are known as solitary fairy who live in trees. This neutral Hobgoblin is generally a peaceful fellow and is not aggressive unless provoked. His temper can flare easily so it is wise to try and stay on his good side. They can get especially nasty if their tree is threatened.

Variations by Region

In English folklore, hobgoblins are generally harmless, but they can make a nuisance of themselves, since they enjoy practical jokes and pranks. These Hobgoblins are typically applied in folktales to describe a friendly but troublesome creature of the Seelie Court.

In German legends, the hobgoblin is a more malevolent sprite, who may harass people, lead them down the wrong path, or try to terrorize them. However, German hobgoblins retain the generally diminutive stature of their English counterparts, which is supposed to make them easier to defeat. This is not always the case, though, with some fairy tales describing hobgoblins which literally harry people to death, despite the small size of these legendary creatures.

Origins

The most commonly known Hobgoblin is the character Puck (sometimes known as Robin Goodfellow) in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, which is one potential origin for the name "Hobgoblin" referring to troublemaking sprites. However, the origins of this name can be controversial.

In puritan times the people used the term "hobgoblin" for wicked local spirits, while friendly sprites were considered "brownies." This was because Hobgoblin was considered an ill omened word.

The term “hobgoblin” comes from the English “Hob,” or "Lob" (a household spirit) with the addition of “goblin.” The latter may be meant to suggest that this nature spirit is outstandingly ugly, as goblins are usually associated with twisted, ugly facial features. They are generally considered to have a better temperament than goblins.

Modern Depictions

Many modern depictions of this creature focus more on the "Goblin" aspect (in its own more modern adaptations), making them a slightly bigger and more intelligent Goblin, but still malevolent creature, similar to Orcs.

Literature

  • The most commonly known hobgoblin is the character Puck in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien's "Hobbits" were said to have been based off of hobgoblins, although later Tolkien also said that "Hobgoblins are a larger and more vicious species of goblin" in his lore (though this later claim was recanted.
  • The term "hobgoblin" has grown to mean a superficial object that is a source of (often imagined) fear or trouble. Probably the most well-known example of this usage is Ralph Waldo Emerson's line, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," from the essay Self-Reliance.

Sources

References

  1. Briggs (1976) "Origins of fairies" p. 320.
  2. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Hob
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