There's a goblin as green
As a goblin can be
Who is sitting outside
And is waiting for me.
When he knocked on my door
And said softly, "Come play!"
I answered, "No thank you,
Now please, go away!"
But the goblin as green
As a goblin can be
Is still sitting outside
And is waiting for me.
The Goblin, from It’s Halloween by Jack Prelutsky
In folklore, "goblin" is often used to describe a variety of different types of fairies and indeed, sometimes just fairies in general. If we are talking about the specific type of fairy, there is still very little that could be called definitive. There are some common traits, though, that we can use to identify goblins and goblin-like creatures across the world. In general, they are said to be ugly and small. They are often covered in either brown or gray fur or hair. Goblins are said to have the ability to shapeshift and may even turn invisible.
The household spirit type of goblin is also called the hobgoblin, hob, or brownie. If you’ve heard the tale The Elves and the Shoemaker, you are already pretty familiar with brownies. If not, this is how the story goes:
The Elves and the Shoemaker
Once there lived a shoemaker and his wife who worked very hard and were very honest, but still could not earn enough to live upon. One day he found himself with nothing left, save just enough leather to make a single pair of shoes. He cut the leather out, readying it for the next day, and went to bed. When he awoke, he found the shoes ready-made upon his workbench. The stitching was very fine and true and there was not a single mistake in the whole pair. The man did not know what to think of this.
That day a customer came by and bought the shoes for a much higher price than normal. With the extra money, the shoemaker was able to buy enough leather to make two more pairs. Once again, he cut out the leather and left it on his workbench for the next day. Once again, he awoke to the work completed and two perfectly made pairs of shoes. This continued for some time in this way.
One evening, the shoemaker told his wife that he would like to stay awake and watch who comes to do the work for him in the night. And so they did. As soon as it was full night, two naked little elves entered the workshop and they sat themselves upon the shoemaker’s bench and sewed up the cut leather into fine shoes. The next day, the wife expressed how they should be grateful to the little elves and that she would make them each a set of clothes. The cobbler and his wife laid out the clothes once they were ready and set about to watch what the elves would do. About midnight they came and when they found the clothes they seemed delighted, dancing and capering about before leaving. The shoemaker and his wife never saw them again.
Though the brothers Grimm called them elves, the story is very clearly about brownies. Brownies are said to be household spirits that come out at night to perform various household chores. They are usually depicted as small, human-like figures who are usually naked or dressed in rags. The humans of the house would be advised to leave an offering to keep the brownies happy, usually of fresh cream or milk. Unlike the elves in our story, if you were to leave clothes they would be offended. Brownies in general are said to be easily offended and will leave the home forever if insulted. They are often mischievous (as many fairies are) and have been known to pull pranks on lazy servants. They can also become invisible and, in some stories, shapeshift into animals.
Boggarts are brownies that have become angry and will work against a family living in the home. They will make their life difficult by banging pots and pans, knocking on doors and walls, rearranging items in the house, digging up graves and spreading the bones out, and tangling horses' manes and tails. In this way, they are very like the German poltergeist or “noisy spirit”. A poltergeist is often considered a hostile ghost or spirit that is particularly associated with pubescent teens. They are known for physical disturbances such as objects being moved, loud noises, foul smells, and pinching, biting or hitting people.
Sometimes though, a boggart is simply a land spirit. In one story, The Farmer and the Boggart, a boggart approaches a farmer who recently purchased land, claiming to be the true owner. The farmer strikes a deal that the boggart can have the crops that grow above the ground, then plants potatoes. At harvest time, the boggart receives nothing and insists next that he wants the crop from beneath the land. This time the farmer plants wheat. Frustrated, the boggart then insists the farmer plant wheat again, but this time they will harvest together and each take what they reap. The farmer again tricks the boggart by putting thin iron rods amongst the wheat stalks to slow down the threshing. Eventually, the boggart gives up and surrenders the land to the farmer, disappearing and never seen again.
The nisse is a Scandinavian goblin very similar to brownies and boggarts that resembles our modern garden gnomes. That is a small elderly man with a beard and a tall pointed hat. However, they were able to become invisible and thought to be skilled in illusions, so no one ever catches more than a glimpse. They are guardians of houses and barns, protecting the people and animals from harm. If treated well, they may also aid in chores. However, the nisse is known to be short-tempered and will play pranks, steal items, or even kill livestock if insulted. Like the brownie, the nisse could be appeased by an offering like a bowl of porridge. Typically, this offering would be made on Christmas Eve.
In Korea, a goblin, or dokkaebi, is a spirit formed from household objects, such as brooms, pokers, pestles, and baskets, or from objects stained with human blood, especially menstrual blood. Dokkaebi are mischievous in nature, possessing extraordinary powers to help them tease and taunt humans. Their tricks might include daring men to wrestle all night or appearing as beautiful ladies to seduce them. In normal appearance, dokkaebi are considered fearful and awe-inspiring. They may have horns, bulging eyes, a big mouth, long, sharp teeth, a hairy body, and long claws. Dokkaebi are foolish though, as shown in one tale where one borrows money from a human and pays it back over and over.
Redcaps are a type of goblin found along the border between England and Scotland, especially in some of the castles there. They are considered murderous and malevolent. The color of his cap, and their name, comes from their habit of soaking their hat in the blood of their victims. The Redcap is described as “an emaciated man with leathery skin and with little or no hair atop its head. Its eyes are ﬁre red, its hands are tipped in razor-sharp claws, its mouth is full of sharp teeth, and it has a long pointed nose.” He dons iron boots (interesting in that iron is usually anathema to fairies) and of course, he wears his trademark red cap. It is said that the Redcap is remarkably strong and quick and the only way to survive an attack is to drive it away by quoting the Bible.
Abbey-lubbers are another type of goblin that dwell in residences, but this time in abbeys or monasteries instead of private homes. They are said to be attracted to religious houses that have become overly indulgent or wanton. Abbey-lubbers are described as wearing a red cap, leather apron, and long light-blue stockings. These wicked fairies are known for tempting the monks into drunkenness, gluttony, and many other excesses in order to damn their souls to Hell.
In the United States, the Native American Pukwudgie might be considered analogous to a goblin. Originating with the Wampanoag people in Massachusetts and surrounding areas, these little creatures are nature spirits with a mischievous and malicious streak. Standing around 2 to 3 foot tall, these creatures are said to resemble humans but have enlarged noses, fingers, and ears with smooth gray skin. Other stories say they appear to be part porcupine. They are shapeshifters as well, so they may appear as anything at all. While once friendly, Pukwudgies are now said to be malevolent to humans and are best left alone. If you annoy a Pukwudgie, you might be kidnapped, pushed off a cliff, attacked with knives or spears, or even blinded by sand.
Another goblin-like creature is a gremlin. Not to be confused with the movie creatures. Gremlins can be traced back to World War II and the Royal Air Force of the United Kingdom. It was said these creatures harassed pilots and sabotaged planes. Flight crews often blamed gremlins for otherwise inexplicable accidents which sometimes occurred during their flights.
When you're seven miles up in the heavens,
And that's a heck of a lonely spot,
And it's fifty degrees below zero,
Which isn't exactly hot,
When you're frozen blue like your Spitfire,
And you're scared a Mosquito pink,
When you're thousands of miles from nowhere,
And there's nothing below but the drink -
It's then you will see the gremlins,
Green and gamboge and gold,
Male and female and neuter,
Gremlins both young and old.
White ones'll wiggle your wingtips,
Male ones'll muddle your maps,
Green ones'll guzzle your glycol,
Females will flutter your flaps,
Pink ones will perch on your perspex,
And dance pirouettes on your prop,
There's one spherical middle-aged gremlin
Who spins on your stick like a top.
They'll freeze up your camera shutters,
They'll bite through your aileron wires,
They'll cause your whole tail to flutter,
They'll insert toasting forks in your tyres.
This is the song of the gremlins
As sung by the P R U,
Pretty Ruddy Unlikely to many,
But fact nonetheless to the few.
Song of the Gremlins, as sung by RAF Photographic Reconnaissance Unit during World War II
The creatures who held a farmhouse hostage one August night in 1955 have been called goblins, but are more commonly considered to be aliens. They may even be the original “little green men,” even if they weren’t green.
The strange events of August 21, 1955 take place in Kentucky, in a farmhouse between Kelly and Hopkinsville. On this evening Elmer “Lucky” Sutton was visiting his mother, Glennie Lankford. With Lucky were his wife Vera and family friends Billy Ray Taylor and his wife June Taylor. Also present were another of Glennie Lankford’s adult children, John Charley “J.C.” Sutton and his wife Alene and Alene’s brother, O.P. Baker. Finally, there were three of Glennie Lankford’s other children there as well, all under the age of 18.
The farmhouse had no running water, so Billy Ray Taylor went to the well to fetch some around 7:00 pm, just before sunset. While at the well, Billy Ray Taylor claims to have seen a metallic object streak through the sky and land some short distance away, but out of sight. When Billy Ray returned to the farmhouse to tell the others about his encounter, it was laughed off.
About an hour later, they were alerted to something outside by a pet dog’s incessant barking. Lucky and Billy Ray went to investigate. They were returning to the house when they were stopped in their tracks by a glowing figure coming out of the darkness. Some reports say there was a group–others say an army–of little men. The most reliable and thorough report of the incident claims there was only one.
The Kelly-Hopkinsville goblins, artist rendition
The creature was described as about three feet tall, with an oversized head and big ears, as well as large, luminous eyes. It glowed with silvery light and seemed to float or glide rather than walk. Its long arms ended with big hands and talons and were up as though in surrender.
Lucky and Billy Ray ran back to the farmhouse, slamming the door behind them. At this point, they armed themselves with a shotgun and rifle. Over the next few hours the family was besieged in the home. According to the witnesses, shotgun blasts and rifle shots had no effect on the creatures. Many reports will say the family was besieged by 12 to 15 creatures, but this is incorrect. No reliable count could be made at the time, but only two creatures were ever seen at once. It is also reported that the creatures “did battle” with the occupants of the farmhouse, but more reliable reports claim they only peered in through the windows and from the eaves of the roof.
Around 11:00 pm the family was finally able to make their escape in two separate cars. They drove immediately to the Hopkinsville police station, where they reported the situation to the desk sergeant. Multiple law enforcement agencies sent people to the farm that night, including state troopers and MPs from nearby Fort Campbell. The area was searched, but there was no sign of the little men. It is also important to note there was no sign of the occupants of the farmhouse having been drinking or under the influence of any other substances.
Caption: This is the house near Kelly where little men from out in space were supposed to have been seen last night. With the gun is Lucky Sutton looking up at the porch roof where one of the invaders supposedly sat. In the doorway is Billy Ray Taylor, who says his hair was pulled by the man on the roof.
And that’s where the story may have ended, but after the authorities left, the little men returned. Reportedly this occurred around 3:30 am. Billy Ray and Lucky continued to guard the house with their guns. The creatures left around daybreak never to be seen again. Further investigation in daylight revealed no physical evidence of them having existed at all.
My synopsis of the story certainly doesn’t cover everything that happened on August 21, 1955 on the farmhouse in Kentucky. For an incredibly in-depth analysis and discussion of the Kelly-Hopkinsville Goblins, I suggest listening to the podcast Astonishing Legends episodes on the case.
“Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child you have stolen, for my will is as strong as yours and my kingdom as great. You have no power over me!”
Quote from The Labyrinth (1986)
This week’s recommendation is my favorite film of all time, The Labyrinth. The Labyrinth stars Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie, features puppets by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, and designs by Brian Froud. The film is a cult classic, with many quotable lines and memorable characters. The film can be said to be an allegory for growing up or it might just be escapism. Whatever the case, if you haven’t seen it, you really must.
To summarize the film: Sixteen-year-old Sarah is given thirteen hours to solve a labyrinth and rescue her baby brother Toby when her wish for him to be taken away is granted by the Goblin King Jareth. Along the way she is helped by a variety of unique characters and hindered by others.
Connected to The Labyrinth is the work of Brian Froud. Brian Froud is well-known in fairy circles for his artwork and character design. His art is known for being not-pretty, going against the conventional fairy depictions from the Victorian and Edwardian eras. His art is more than worth taking a look as a fan of fairies.