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Promotional image for the British beer Hobgoblin Ale.

In folklore, a hobgoblin is a very small humanoid creature, smaller than a goblin, which lives inside people's homes. The "hob" part of its name is probably taken from an old word for hearth.[1]

Unlike goblins, which tend to be mischievous at best and often simply evil, hobgoblins are usually friendly towards people and try to help them. While the people of the house are asleep, hobgoblins may perform some simple household tasks for them, such as dusting or sweeping the floor. Hobgoblins are often happy to accept food as payment for their chores but giving them clothes will invariably cause them to stop working for someone forever. Whether this is because they consider the gift of clothes to be an insult or simply because they do not want to make a mess of their new clothes by working in them varies from story to story.

Although they do not generally intend any harm towards humans, some people may find hobgoblins attempts to help them to be a nuisance. In addition to doing housework, hobgoblins may also play pranks on people. Hobgoblins are sometimes said to be capable of turning hostile towards humans if they feel they have been seriously or continuously insulted and may even change into more monstrous creatures.

The third verse of the original 1684 version of John Bunyan's hymn "To Be a Pilgrim" refers to hobgoblins as frightening entities in the lines;

"Hobgoblin, nor foul fiend,
Can daunt his spirit."

In modern English usage, the word "hobgoblin" can also be used to refer to anything that scares or worries people, especially if the fear or concern it causes is unfounded.

In modern fiction

Goya - Duendecitos (Hobgoblins)

Duendecitos, also known in English as Hobgoblins, a 1799 etching by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya.

The word "hobgoblin" appears once in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, in which it is used to refer to a creature which is larger and more dangerous than the goblin to which it is related. In a 1971 letter, Tolkien acknowledged that the reverse was true in folklore.[2]

In the English translation of the 1948 children's novel Finn Family Moomintroll, the third of Tove Jansson's Moomin books, the Hobgoblin is the name of a magical character. He appears in Jansson's illustrations as a tall, bearded man who wears a cape and a top hat. The Hobgoblin's hat itself has magical properties, even when it is in the hands of someone else. Other characters are initially afraid of the mysterious Hobgoblin. However, he is really a harmless and rather lonely character. He is capable of granting wishes for everybody except himself. In the original Swedish, the character is called "Trollkarlen", which would usually be translated as "The Wizard".

A villain called Hobgoblin first appears in The Amazing Spider-Man #238 from March 1983, in which it is the alias of Roderick Kingsley. The name has subsequently been used as the alias of several other characters.

Hobgoblins often appear in works of fantasy, including comic books, role-playing games, video and online games. The nature and abilities of hobgoblins, as well as how they are related to goblins and other creatures, may vary from one work to another.

Footnotes

  1. "Hob" is still used in British English to mean the range on the top of a stove.
  2. The description of hobgoblins in The Hobbit has become the major starting point behind how hobgoblins appear in most modern games, such as Warhammer Fantasy Battle or World of Warcraft (although those in World of Warcraft are actually more docile than regular goblins).

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