Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hobgoblins of Elthos

I take a traditionalist view of creatures and monsters in my world.  And so I spend a good deal of time combing through old fairytales and folklore trying to discern what our forebears thought the creatures of myth and legend were like.   As it turns out, modern views of creatures like Hobgoblins differ quite a bit from the traditional versions.   As an example I'll take Hobgoblins.

First off, the view that Hobgoblins are larger, fiercer fighting-monsters than Goblins is quite a new conception it seems.   Rather, in the old days, Hobgoblins were thought to be rather small, and in many cases simply another, and somewhat diminutive version of Goblins (which have a very wide range of types themselves, as Goblins appear to be a species with many sub-species associated to it).   Hobgoblins were about one foot, sometimes two feet tall.   They had great heaps of hair, most often brown, gray or black, though sometimes red, with huge mustachios, and large bushy eyebrows.  They wore, mostly, brown or gray rags, and often went barefoot.   They mostly lived in people's houses, and could be rather helpful, doing dishes while their patrons slept, or cobbling shoes, or sweeping or any number of other useful household tasks.   What they expected in return were small gifts of food, such as honey-cakes, to be left on the "hob", which was a rocky protrusion that would be attached to the fire place, from which they derive their names... they were Goblins of the hob, or Hob-Goblins. 

Hobgoblins were fond of pranks, especially if they felt slighted.   Failing to leave a cake on the hob would certainly cause the household to run into troubles.   One famous Hobgoblin by the name of Hob-Robbin, when angry, used to steal all of the keys in the house and hide them until a honey-cake was left on the hob for him.  Then he would throw the keys at the wall and they would all clatter to the ground in a jumble.   Other pranks would include tying the horses manes into knots, throwing pots and pans around at midnight, clogging up the well, and other nuisances.  They could be mischievous, but I have yet to hear of a single case where a hobgoblin actually physically attacked anyone, or caused a death.  The most certainly did not carry weapons or wear armor as far as I've been able to discern.

I like to use traditional folklore as a basis for my world's creatures because they feel more authentic to me, and I feel they add a more interesting and colorful flavor to my world, just as they did for our father's father's fathers.  The Fey, of which Goblins and their ilk are members, can be mischievous, helpful, friendly, rude, hostile, or deadly depending on the type and the circumstances.  One general rule, however, that seems to hold in most cases, is that being polite to the Fey makes a big difference in terms of how they will treat people. 

So, in Elthos, Hobgoblins are not the fearsome fighting-creatures of contemporary fantasy-lore (though there are plenty of other creatures which are, of course).  Hobgoblins are instead rather amusing, sometimes helpful, magical little creatures who in fact often have quite a bit of knowledge that can be coaxed out of them with the right kind of talk and gifts.  That knowledge can be extremely valuable at times.  So if you should meet a Hobgoblin in Elthos, remember that they are fond of honey-cakes, clever riddles, and interesting local gossip... perhaps you will be rewarded with a bit of news, or folklore, or other tidbit, that could be quite helpful.

To find out more about the traditional folklore creatures you might like to read Nancy Arrowsmith's book, Field Guide to the Little People.

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