The term "hobgoblin" was at first two words Hob Goblin, with Hob being the first name, and Goblin being a defining surname. One interpretation derives "hob" from the Welsh, signifying "hearth", and therefore, a household fairy. The earliest instance of the word can be traced to around 1530, although it was likely in use for some time prior to that.
Hobgoblins seem to be small, hairy little men who—like their close relative, brownies—are often found within human dwellings, doing odd jobs around the house while the family is lost in sleep. Such chores are typically small deeds, like dusting and ironing. Often, the only compensation necessary in return for these is food.
While brownies are more peaceful creatures, hobgoblins are more fond of practical jokes. They also seem to be able to shape-shift, as seen in one of Puck's monologues in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Robin Goodfellow is perhaps the most mischievous and most infamous of all his kind, but many are less antagonizing. Like all of the fae folk, hobgoblins are easily annoyed. They can be mischievous, frightening, and even dangerous. Attempts to give them clothing will often banish them forever, though whether they take offense to such gifts or are simply too proud to work in new clothes differs from teller to teller.
The term "hobgoblin" has grown to mean a superficial object that is a source of (often imagined) fear or trouble. Probably the best-known example of this usage is Ralph Waldo Emerson's line, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds", from the essay Self-Reliance.
In modern fantasy fiction
The Spiderwick Chronicles
In the English translation of Finn Family Moomintroll, the third book of the Moomin series of children's books by Tove Jansson, The Hobgoblin is a strange magical personage—even his hat, when found by other creatures, can work strange sorts of magic all by itself. While slightly frightening to those who do not know him, he is in fact a rather lonely and sensitive creature, who can grant the wishes of others but not his own: unless somebody specifically asks him for something which he wants, and then gives him what he himself created. In the original Swedish, the character is called "Trollkarlen," which normally would just mean "The Wizard." While "troll" *can* be a supernatural being, it also means a spell or charm and it is likely that the term is his title, not his species: Jansson's illustrations depict him as a cloaked and bearded man.
The 13½ lives of Captain Bluebear
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
While called a house-elf in the book Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and subsequent titles, the parallels between hobgoblin stories and Dobby seem strong. Dobby was freed from service when presented with an article of clothing by his master, in this case a sock of Harry Potter's which Harry had hidden in a book he returned to Lucius Malfoy, who promptly handed it to Dobby. Although the fact that he was a slave and happy to be freed, the parallel to the hobgoblin myth seems direct. J.K. Rowling hasn't said she modelled Dobby or other house-elves after hobgoblins specifically.
The word "hobgoblin" appears occasionally in J.R.R. Tolkien's children's novel The Hobbit, where it refers to larger species of orcs (more commonly referred to as "goblins"). In the much longer sequel The Lord of the Rings the word "goblin" is used only occasionally and "hobgoblin" does not appear at all.
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in a 1971 letter that in folklore hobgoblins were actually particularly small goblins of the traditional (not the Tolkien) kind, which is opposite of the case with the "goblins" (orcs) of The Hobbit.
The creature commonly appears in the bestiaries of fantasy role-playing games, where it is portrayed as a larger, stronger, smarter and more menacing cousin of the goblin, but not as high up on the goblinoid hierarchy as bugbear (Dungeons & Dragons)s.
In Aidyn Chronicles: The First Mage, hobgoblins are large, thorny brutes that infest the desolate mountain passes of Errormon, home of the Mirari folk. Their leader is Kitarak, who must be slain in a certain point of the game.
In Mage: The Ascension, a hobgoblin is a physical manifestation of a hallucination suffered by a Mage's avatar.
In Exalted, hobgoblins are warrior grunts of the fair folk.
In Changeling: the Lost, hobgoblins are strange fae creatures that live within the hedge that divides Arcadia and the mortal world.
Comic books and manga
In Ao no Exorcist (Blue Exorcist) Behemoth is a hobgoblin. He is the familiar of Amaimon. Whenever Amaimon is not fighting, Behemoth is usually seen with him. Behemoth is usually led around by Amaimon using a leash. Behemoth also carries out Amaimon's orders and will participate in fights if Amaimon orders it.
In Wild and Horned Hermit, a manga series that is part of the Touhou Project universe, hobgoblins are introduced to the story's world as foreign youkais who are friendly and helpful with household chores, despite appearing as horrific creatures and feared by children.
"Bobgoblin" (who has an uncle named "Robgoblin") is a star character of the kid's series Wallykazam! and is green and long-eared.
- The name of Icelandic progressive rock group Þursaflokkurinn translates as "The Hobgoblins" in English.
- The Fall released a song called "City Hobgoblins" in 1980.
- The hymn To be a Pilgrim, written by John Bunyan, – which includes a verse in which the first line reads, "Hobgoblin nor foul fiend/Shall daunt his spirit."
- Scott, Charles C.P., "Hob Goblin", Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol.26, American Philological Association, 1895
- Scott, Charles C.P., "Hob", Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol.26, American Philological Association, 1895
- Briggs (1979) p.32 p.100
- "Self-Reliance". Emersoncentral.com. Retrieved 2013-09-09.