Hobgoblin nor foul fiend

We were singing quite a lot of music either written or influenced by Vaughan Williams yesterday, and so we sang Bunyan’s hymn with some gusto.

Indeed, one was belting it out from the altar table thus:

Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt her spirit,
She knows she at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away,
She’ll fear not what men say,
But labour night and day
To be a pilgrim.

This leads straight to this morning’s question.

What is the difference between a hobgoblin and a plain ordinary goblin?

I know that this takes us straight into the realms of how many Evangelicals can dance on the head of a theological pin. Or like asking for the anatomical difference between cherubim and seraphim. However, the truth is, I don’t know the answer and I have not time to look it up.

Your answers please.


  1. Elizabeth says

    My (brief) searches on the all-knowing internets have led to the following:
    in terms of folklore, a hobgoblin is a smaller, friendlier goblin. Like brownies, they tend to the domestic environment and are generally helpful creatures, though they can be malicious and troublesome when crossed. Nothing about female hobgoblins, (in England anyway, apparently the French version is a lutin and the female of the species is lutine), I expect they manage their generational longevity more or less like the rest of us
    in terms of literature (i.e. Tolkein), hobgoblins are more or less like regular goblins, except bigger and fiercer.

    In the larger scheme of things – I am emboldened by your happy disregard for the printed word and will perhaps have the nerve to engage in gender-swapping (pronouns) next time around. Although I can’t help thinking that perhaps the hymn is about a particular person – didn’t Sir Gawain fight a giant?

  2. Ah, memories. I associate this hymn with two years of teaching at a school that wasn’t the right place for me. Therefore, my answer as a reflective practitioner is:

    Hobgoblins are divided into houses, wear tell-tell scarves & ties, and are particularly grumpy before 9 am and on Sundays.

    Foul fiends, in contrast, are the ones who perpetuate systems of bullying while claiming that it did them no harm.

  3. ryanakin says

    this reminds me of The Office :-).

    I think hobgoblins are indeed basically harder/scarier than ordinary goblins. The Hobgoblin was (iirc) thus named in Spider-Man comics to make him a potential superior/rival to the merely Green Goblin.

  4. “Shakespeare conflated Puck with Robin Goodfellow, a hobgoblin, an earthy spirit who did household tasks in return for a saucer of milk, but also played impish tricks, such as leading travellers astray” (http://www.answers.com/topic/british-and-irish-fairy-tales)

    In line with current concerns for non-discriminatory employment opportunities, we could offer the combined role of home-help and rail station announcer for which hobgoblins are ideally suited.

    Minor note: according to Mirriam-Webster’s Dictionary the prefix ‘hob’ derives from ‘Hobbe’ a 15th century nickname for Robert. So perhaps better updated to ‘bobgolbin’.

  5. Gordon says

    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 bugbears.

  6. What a rich comment stream. You all do me proud. All parties do seem to reveal much about themselves in so few words too.

    Elizabeth – thank you. However, you choose not to come down on one or other side of the argument. Bigger and more aggressive or smaller and cuddlier? It can’t be both. However, your postmodern feminist response does rather set the tone of what others have posted.

    The phrase: “I expect they manage their generational longevity more or less like the rest of us” is rather problematic to me. Can I presume safely that you are not ruling out apriori the possiblity of gay hobgoblins?

    Kimberly – thank you. You revise the reflective practitioner model in such a way as to turn it into barely concealed theology of liberation. Did ever that school know they had a Marxist hidden away in their chapel?

    Ryan – thank you for bringing a contemporary view. Reading Spiderman comics is never in vain, is it?

    Eric – thank you – how lovely to hear from you. Time for an afternoon of tea drinking, I think. You seem to be pointing us on a solid academic route. I read your comment on the train and imagined the station announcer being paid in saucers of milk. I also enlivened a few minutes of my journey by imagining a group of neopagans singing, “Puck’s not dead, no he is alive, he is alive, he is alive, he is alive (x 2) … he is alive in me.” Your home-help (hob)goblin just does not fit with the tales of bigger, feistier golins that are being spun elsewhere though, does it?

    Gordon, many thanks. However I fear that I already know more about bugbears than I want to know.

    I was informed by a member of the General Synod Staff that a hobgoblin was a goblin with a limp. This seems to raise issues under the new disability legislation and also points towards questions of appropriate nomenclature. Would a hobgoblin self-describe using the term hobgoblin at all?

    I note without comment that no-one has mentioned GAFCON at all.

  7. A&MR starts the verse “No goblin nor foul fiend”

    Now what was in the minds of the editors of this publication?

  8. More here Stewart

  9. Isn’t GAFcon more the stuff of trolls as opposed to hobgoblins ;-)?

    Incidently, someone once tried to convince me that there is far more evidence that orcs existed than the historical Jesus.

    Spider-Man comics are indeed great. I read an article on the religious affiliation of superheroes once. Batman is apparently either RC or (hurrah!) episcopalian.

  10. Elizabeth says

    By ‘more or less like the rest of us’, I mean that I rule out NOTHING. Genetics, technology, asexuality (anyone for budding?), multisexuality, stork intervention, etc. etc. I suspect that hobgoblin reproduction is a vast realm of mystery and miracle, like ours.

    Being traditional in some ways, tho less so in others, I’m inclined to side with the folklore. Mostly because it sounds more fun. And because of Shakespeare.

  11. The thing I find even more interesting is where Vaughan Williams nicked the tune from – a traditional folk song about (as always) an inconstant lover, by the name of ‘A Blacksmith Courted Me’:


  12. Kelvin says, ‘Your home-help (hob)goblin just does not fit with the tales of bigger, feistier goblins that are being spun elsewhere though, does it?’

    We clearly haven’t met the same home-helps.

  13. I was unaware of the connection between A Blacksmith Courted Me and Monksgate. I know the tune that our Maddy sings, which is different to the one that VW collected, I think.

    I’ve been to Monks Gate. I used to take students to http://www.micklepage.org.uk/ which is very close to it.

    The lovely thing that I remember about Micklepage is that the altar in the chapel was made from a manger.

  14. Melissa Holloway says

    From a Norwegian Folktale, ‘Tatterhood and the Hobgoblins’, we have small Rumplestiltkin-esque hobgoblins with whom a rather dim queen bargins her own life in return for the life of one of her twin daughters upon the yet to be born princess’ twelfth birthday. They are grimy and angry and at their worst when steal the princess’ head and use it to decorate their mantle.

    But the story goes with several of your threads from Sunday- there is a contrast between the ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ sister, (the one both odd and wild rules the kingdom in the end) and it is indeed a ‘she’ that clobbers the hobgoblins.

    The bonus on top of all that – there is a wedding in the end.

  15. Rosemary says

    Well, Pilgrim is on a journey, isn’t he? And hobgoblins have another well publicised role. They lead travellers astray – which is just what Puck does in ‘the Dream’. Which is why a traveller would be keen NOT to meet a hobgoblin. Christian is of course guarded form being led astray by ill spirits, just as the ‘lions’ which might ‘him fright’ are the chained lions of the story….

    (Sorry, sorry, boring down to earth instruction…)

  16. Hob is also a term for a (or the) devil, so perhaps hobgoblins are more wicked (whether larger or smaller) than your garden variety goblin?

    Or perhaps they specialize in the use of hob nails and are thus the cobblers of the goblin world.

    Whatever the prefix’s meaning, I wonder if “hob” is a qualifier that translates to other nouns…hobpriest, hoblibrarian, hobsecretary, hobactor, hobcat, etc.

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