Fantastical literature has given us many different versions of the roguish goblin, from Christina Rossetti's seductive fruit mongers to J.R.R. Tolkien's violent and villainous fighters, from the bankers of Gringotts to the glass-toothed critters chronicled by Spiderwick.
The following Inkies have all written books about goblins, and this is what they have to say:
What a fun thing to be able to compare my goblins with those of other Inkies! The goblins in my books are from The Underworld Chronicles and are primarily in Book 1, Elliot and the Goblin War. This book tells the story of how 11-year-old Elliot Penster becomes king of the brownies and accidentally launches an interspecies war with the goblins.
One of the wonderful things about using goblins as characters is that there is a lot of latitude in the “classic definition” of what a goblin should be. Generally speaking, a goblin is a twisted sort of fairy: smaller in size and grotesque in appearance. They’re not necessarily evil, but they are lazy, disorderly, and mean. They also tend to be troublemakers to humans, but can be appeased if the family leaves food out for them.
These were exactly the qualities I wanted as antagonists for Elliot and the Goblin War, but I did make some changes so that these goblins would be unique to this series.
Primarily, I wanted to give the goblins some magical abilities that would make them even more threatening to Elliot. In particular, they have two abilities. The first is they can scare other creatures to death. If Elliot is lucky, he’ll get away from a goblin attack only having been scared half to death.
The second goblin ability is in blowing things up. This is a definite departure from traditional mythology, but I added it because…well, it was funny.
As the series progresses, the goblins definitely evolve as characters and eventually learn to get along with Elliot. To be sure, they were some of the most fun mythological characters I got to play with throughout the stories.
Cover art by Gideon Kendall
I have to confess, I’m not really sure what a “classic” goblin is. My vague, personal definition is a small, not particularly pretty humanoid, with some form of magic. And more important than any of the above; not particularly good, either. If not outright evil, goblins should at least be mischievous. So when I wanted small, mischievous, neither good nor evil creatures to torment my heroine, befriend her, and ultimately be championed by her—well, goblins sounded like a good fit.
Of course, then I had to evolve my goblins to suit my story, with differing magical powers that defined what types of goblin they were, and a social order built on equal trades, with a horror of being indebted to anyone because that left you unequal, always owing the person you were indebted to. Though they soften this rule for friends and family, so that when favors were done for those close to you only a token needed to be paid in exchange. And that token could be anything—a pinecone, a pretty pebble, a button. Which is why, after my heroine became the general of the goblin’s army, she always wore a vest covered with loosely stitched buttons.
Cover art by Cliff Neilsen
The idea that goblins used to be human, and that they used to be children, has always stuck with me. I'm pretty sure that I first absorbed this piece of goblin lore from George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin, and David Bowie later reinforced it when he kidnapped a potential new goblin babe in Labyrinth. Wherever I got it, I still find it haunting. Goblins are the vampires and werewolves of childhood. They are the monsters that you might become.
My own goblins are likewise small humans transformed. Everyone knows that they steal children, but not everyone realizes that they are the children that they steal. They are also traveling actors, which fits the mischievous temperament that goblins always seem to have. My hero runs off with this theatrical goblin troupe, and he has to decide whether or not he can possibly trust them.
Cover art by Alexander Jansson