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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Mythological Species # 30 – Goblins and #31 - Brownies

The nights are coming earlier and the dark loving creatures are more and more on my mind. The elves and fairies, creatures of twilight, came stealing along the hedgerows and at forest edges, but now there are the creatures of darkness. Creature of the pitch black mines and the midnight hours. Among the most famous denizens of the night are the more treacherous counterparts to elves, the goblins and their ilk.

There are many names for goblins and goblin-like creatures: Hobs, hobgoblins, orcs, bogie men, boggarts (boggles, bogles), bodach (Highlands), brownies, spriggans, Fenoderee (Isle of Man), redcaps (Scottish) – said to redye the caps in human blood - brags, gremlins, Puck, phookas (Irish), Pwca (Welsh), bwca (Welsh) Trows (Shetland Islands), trous (Scandinavia), knolls, knockers (Cornish and Devon), Coblynau/Koblernigh (Welsh), Kobolds (German), wichtlein (Southern Germany), dwarfs/duergar (Scandinavia, Germany, North England), Pixie/Pisgie/piskie/pigsey/puggie/(Cornwall), Will o' the Wisps.


One of the things I noticed when I first compiled a list of these creatures was the similarity of many of the names, frequently with an “oo” sound in the them, spelled: “or”, “od”, “og”, “ol”, “ob” [hobgoblin getting a double treatment of the syllable] “ock”, “ook”, “uck”, “wc”, “ow”, “ug”, “ig”, “isk”, “ix”, “uerg”, or just plain “o”. My curiosity was peaked, so I broke out my trusty dictionary to find the meaning of the syllable. The Latin root of "ob-" means toward, against and down, among other things. And I found words like obscure and occult (to hide), obstetrics (childbirth), ogling and occular (eyes), occlusion, oracle and oral (mouth), the Latin root for many of these syllables seems to be related to orifices, or openings to the body, especially the mouth. I immediately connected this to the idea that these monsters might eat you or gobble you up, or at least love to eat. [Can anyone say hobbit?]

My suspicions were confirmed when I found the book The Hobbit Companion, David Day. His searches turned up similar interpretations and he went even farther. If you like pseudo- linguistics, like what I have above, I recommend this book.

Goblins are often used in fantasy literature as the racial foes of elves and dwarfs, but that's a Tolkienism. Goblins are not from Norse Mythology, the primary source material for Tolkien's elves and dwarves, [his dwarf names coming primarily lock, stock and barrel straight out of the Prose Edda.] But Tolkien's elves are also based on Celtic elves. Instead of goblins here we find the primary foes to be the Fomariianns and the Fir Darrig, who seem goblinesque, due to deformities and baleful eyes. In Celtic mythology the goblin-like beings were even related to the fairy/elves, sometimes called the Tuath de Dannan, occasionally intermarrying [a trait Tolkien definitely chose not to incorporate into his elves and goblins, per say, but in the Silmarillion, he did say goblins were formed from twisting and torturing captured elves.]


Unlike Tolkein's goblins/orcs, in the legends goblin-like creatures were sometimes helpful, though always mischievous. They were often associated with dark mines, where they would sometimes show the way to rich veins of ore or even warn of impending disasters. But far more often, especially in some traditions if they weren't placated with food offers, they would throw rocks, undo work done by miners or steal tools, mislead miners to get them lost, cut ropes or cause cave-ins. Often they are the thieves and villeins of the faery world, tempting and mocking, stealing horses, knotting hair, leading travelers astray.

Have you or anyone you know used stories of the bogie man or similar creatures to scare children into behaving?

If you have an affinity toward goblins, what is about them that you find appealing?

There are stories where goblins, similar to trolls would turn to stone if they were struck by daylight. In fact there are many similarities between goblins and the Scandinavian trolls or trows. But I'll go over the differences between them next post.

There are also some similarities between goblins and brownies. Other names for goblin/brownies include hobgoblins, hobs, Puck and Robin Goodfellow (Scottish and English), Bwca (Welsh), Pixies (West Country), house elves (J.K. Rowling), hobbits (Tolkien's Treebeard), bodach (Highlands), Fenoderee (Isle of Man).

Goblins and brownies are similar in size. They tend to be smaller than humans, but not all, The Faeryland Companion, by Beatrice Phillpotts (ISBN 0-7607-1890-3) says that earlier brownies were as tall as humans or taller. And the book Faeries, by Brian Froud [Yes, the one that helped conceptualize the Dark Crystal movie with Jim Henson.] and Alan Lee, [Yes, the one recruited by Peter Jackson to help conceptualize The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies.] tells of a Fenoree from the Isle of Man that courted - dated - a mortal girl, [I aasume this means they were of a similar size] instead of going to the Ferrishyn's - the faerie tribe of Man – Autumn festival for which he was banished and had his good looks stripped from him. Lee pictures him bent over. But goblins and brownies are generally larger than cats, but not always. The Spiderwick Chronicles (Black and DiTerlizzi) puts Thimble Tack at about rat or squirrel size.
There is also the question of hairiness. Brownies (and goblins) are usually bestial in nature, often hairy. Phillpotts describes them with matted brown hair, hence the name and sometimes lacking toes and fingers, but making these up with long curves claws. While Froud and Lee describe brownies as small, shaggy men, “wrinkled and brown in appearance, standing some some 25 in. [approximately 2 ft. or 70 cm] in height and either naked or dressed in tattered brown clothes. Whilst Highland Brownies have no fingers or toes, Lowland Brownies have no nose.” And the killmoulis, a miller's brownie, has a huge nose and no mouth.

Often brownies are connected with the hearth and home. In this aspect there seems to be a relationship to lares (Roman). They will adopt a house, where they are sometimes destructive, but are usually considered helpful if placated [just like goblins in mines] perhaps with fresh milk or cream or little cakes spread with honey [sounds like the pasties goblins in mines prefer.] They use magic to do impressive amounts of work for those who have pleased them: mind animals, reap, thresh, run errands, churn butter, sweep, mow, even amorous favors.

Some goblin/brownies were even reported to shapeshift and prophesy. Froud and Lee say an offended brownie can easily become a boggart, as happened in the Spiderwick Chronicles.

One way to offend a brownie is to give him clothes. The standard Elves and the Shoemaker motif seems to be a traditional belief that if given clothes the brownie leaves. Rowling had fun with this idea in Goblet Of Fire. [FYI, a Dobie is known as a rather stupid variety of Brownie.] In fact, Froud and Lee say any gift beyond the standard food offering is considered offensive and grounds for abandonment. One folktale has the brownie take umbrage at the poor quality of clothes given to them.

But generally brownies, like goblins, are fickle and become destructive if crossed or criticized. Often they will plague idle servants, bang things, throw things or people, pinch sleepers, destroy clothes or property, howl, make dogs howl, tell secrets out loud, beat tormentors or worse. Froud and Lee recommend protecting yourself with iron, holy water or a cross made of Mountain Ash if you have upset a brownie.

How closely related do you consider goblins and brownies to be?

Goblins were often equated to devils and imps. The medieval Church considered all Faeries, even helpful brownies, to be evil and admitting to consorting with any of them to be confession of witchcraft. [FYI, there are also stories of elves and faeries becoming Christians and celebrating mass in Faeryland, so views change.]

Temptations by goblins and their feasts is treated in a beautiful poem by Christina Rossetti, called Gobin Market

Picture of the Week - Dark Forest
I thought this picture I drew in Pastel Studio class in college had a good mood for this week. 

Writing tip of the Week - Write what you know. Even if your plot has nothing to do with what you know to start with, research what you don't know and find a what to incorporate things you do know into the story, like your main characters' hobbies, jobs, relationships, etc. That way you can add believable details and insights into your descriptions to make your characters and story come alive.


Summary of Questions
1 .  Have you or anyone you know used stories of the bogie man or similar creatures to scare children into behaving?

2.  If you have an affinity toward goblins, what is about them that you find appealing?

3.  How closely related do you consider goblins and brownies to be?

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