8 Stories About Goblins and Tricksters

What lurks in the shadows of the forest?

Illustration via Wikimedia Commons

What lies in the shadows, just out of view, as we drift through the chilly pits of winter with bare trees casting their creeping silhouettes at night? As long as storytelling has existed, these same long dark nights have inspired stories to explain what ran past the corner of one’s eye, or the rustling of twigs down a long wooded path. It’s where we get our cautionary fairy tales, like The Goblin Pony and the original Goblin Market poem, to warn the youths away from the unknown creatures that prey upon them. Goblins have a long history of whisking unsuspecting victims into the forest to enact their evil intentions. Their methods of carrying out chaos are always compelling feats of trickery or cruel strikes of callousness which make great tales for huddling around a midnight fire. So, let us lean into our human tendency to gaze into the dark of the woods imagining the claws and teeth of what might lurk there.

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

Written in 1872, The Princess and the Goblin is the fairy tale that inspired the next couple hundred years of fantasy literature. Eight-year-old Princess Irene lives mostly alone in a castle secluded in a mountainous forest. She wanders the halls of the large castle one day, and finds her great-great-grandmother and namesake, who shows her how to use magical threads. On an excursion outside the castle with her nursemaid, the princess is attacked by goblins. Curdie, a young miner, saves them and befriends the princess. Curdie later finds out that the goblins, vengeful of humans, plan to flood the mines where he works, and decides to do something about it before disaster strikes.

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

A tried and true goblin-y classic, The Hobbit follows a small, hole-dwelling hobbit called Bilbo Baggins who is summoned to leave the comfort of his home by a wizard. Gandalf the wizard and his band of dwarves need Bilbo to be their “burglar” on their quest to reclaim their treasure, which was stolen by an evil dragon called Smaug. Even if the dwarves and Bilbo himself don’t quite believe he is adventuring material, Gandalf assures them that there is more to Bilbo than meets the eye. Throughout their adventure, Bilbo and his new party meet a number of fantastical creatures, even some troublesome goblins.

Goblin Market by Diane Zahler 

Christina Georgina Rossetti’s 1862 poem by the same name, Goblin Market was a caution to young ladies against pretty and mysterious men who bear gifts. Zahler’s modern retelling follows a similar vein, with two sisters, Lizzie and Minka, caught in a shapeshifting goblin’s snare. Minka is outgoing and cheerful, while Lizzie is quiet and pensive. Minka returns from the market savoring a plum she received from a handsome boy, and announcing she is in love. Lizzie is immediately suspicious, plums are not in season. Lizzie is too shy to go to the market herself to investigate, so she keeps her peace. But Minka soon falls ill from eating another of this mysterious boy’s fruit—a pomegranate. Lizzie is forced out of her shell to save her sister, and must keep her wits sharp so she doesn’t fall into the goblin’s snare herself.

The Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle

Also inspired by Goblin Market, Molly Ringle’s contemporary romance revolves around another two sisters, Skye and Livy, who are tormented by a goblin’s curse. Kit is the local mechanic, who also happens to be the goblin liaison for the small town of Bellwater, Washington. Because of a family tradition, he has to visit the goblins in the forest to appease them with gold, but this time Kit does not bring enough. This irritates the goblins who start tormenting townsfolk. Skye—a young artist and barista, who has always been attracted to the mystery of the forest— was lured into a dangerous trap, which leaves her silent and depressed. It is up to her older sister Livy to undo the curse in this cautionary tale about why one should never accept fruit from a goblin.

“Goblin Fruit” by Laini Taylor

Goblin Fruit is one of three short stories in the award-winning collection Lips Touch: Three Times by the author of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor. While goblins of medieval fairy tales have been able to whisk young women away into the forest by luring them with a tasty fruit, the goblins of the present day must be a little more creative and adapt to the tastes of modern women. Kizzy, a young woman from a superstitious family, has plenty of strong desires for a guileful and sinister goblin to take advantage of. She wishes she were prettier, that her relatives weren’t so strange, and that a certain boy at school would notice her.

The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle

In 19th-century England, sisters Kate and Emily move to a countryside residence that they soon discover is terrorized by goblins. A powerful sorcerer and king of the goblins chooses Kate to become his bride and queen. Kate refuses, but she is eventually forced to acquiesce when her sister is kidnapped. On the condition that Emily is released, Kate marries the goblin king and is taken underground to live forever. In a somewhat darker retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Kate must now survive her relationship with her new husband.

Snuff by Terry Pratchett

Ankh-Morpork police commander Sam Vimes is convinced by his wife, Lady Sybil, to take a family vacation to the countryside. When they arrive, he notices that the town’s people have a collective distaste for the goblins that live in the woods. Before too long a dead body is discovered and Vimes learns that the goblins are being enslaved and abused as laborers on tobacco plantations. Vimes, ever on duty, decides to investigate and bring justice to the forest of goblins.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

After spending his life in exile, the youngest son of the goblin emperor returns to his kingdom. He is the last living son of the crown, meaning it is his responsibility to take over the kingdom. But the young half-goblin has no experience holding his own in a cutthroat royal court, where his father and three brothers were murdered in an “accident.” The new emperor must navigate plots to murder or depose him, while having no friends or advisors whom he can trust to guide him. Worse so, as a half-goblin he will constantly struggle with being seen as a worthy being, and as a worthy ruler.

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