Category Archives: Invisible Helper

Nothing to Fear


The word Goblin is nowadays almost inseparable from the word “horde”. We imagine these short, ugly, ravening creatures of evil hanging out in great gangs in the wastelands of old forests and abandoned mines waiting to feast on the flesh of unwary travellers. Tolkien is largely responsible for the modern concept of misshapen malevolence in insect like legions. Folklore rarely sees goblins in such numbers, in fact, it rarely sees them at all and they would only appear to have been with us for about six hundred years under the name in question. So what are they and where did they come from?

The earliest appearance in British literature tells of a hillock in the midst of a dense wood where a tired knight might call out “I thirst!”

A pointy nosed and pointy eared goblin amuses himself dropping leaves from a cliff

“Leaf Goblin” A sympathetic rendition of a goblin by fantasy artist Marc Potts. More of whose excellent work can be seen at http://www.marcpotts.co.uk/

and immediately find himself in the presence of “a Goblin with a cheerful countenance, clad in a crimson robe, and bearing in his outstretched hand a large drinking-horn richly ornamented with gold and precious jewels, full of the most delicious, refreshing and unknown beverage. After the drinker had emptied the horn, the Goblin offered a silken napkin to wipe the mouth. Then, without waiting to be thanked, the strange creature vanished as suddenly as he had come.” Hardly terrifying. Typically an arrogant knight nicked the generous forest dweller’s horn and he withdrew his services.

With little to go on the folklorist generally turns to etymology to trace the origins of supernatural beings. It appears the word goblin may have been derived from the German “Kobold”. Now, the Kobold is a house spirit, famed for their domestic usefulness and their ability to remain unseen. They were sufficiently common that most houses had one who was looked after with great care, having food left out for them on a daily basis. As with any invisible helper, it was a bad idea to try to see them and one story tells of a persistent burgher throwing ashes around the room to make the kobold, King Goldemar’s footprints apparent, resulting in the householder being dismembered, roasted on a spit and eaten.

As the religious fervour of the middle ages took hold, these pagan house spirits fell out of favour and were, along with witches and the like, demonised. Stories of their helpfulness were told less often than the tales of them turning nasty on overly inquisitive humans; whilst the original message of such narratives, treat all beings with respect, was replaced with the implication that we should fear the unknown and the supernatural.

They say there is nothing to fear but fear itself and the goblin is a fine example of that truism, fear having turned the commonplace in to something fearful. The goblin as we know him now is a horror of our own making. Their willingness to assist mankind for the price of a meal, a roof over their head and a little privacy as to their appearance has been rejected, leaving thousands homeless and desperate roaming the wastes of our imagination… and they’re hungry.

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Filed under Folk Tale, Goblins, Invisible Helper, stories

Good Elf and Prosperity


Folk Tales Corner started life as a column in the Morchard Messenger in May last year. I normally re-edit the content slightly for the online version, which is not bound by the constraints of print or locality, but this one is so specific it would have needed a complete re-write (I wouldn’t mind doing a re-write for you, good people, but I need the time to work on my forthcoming CD’s cover design) so I hope my net readers can enjoy it just as well now I’ve pointed that out.

Well, fair Morchardians, it’s been a year (and a day, obviously) since I first set finger to keyboard for Folk Tales Corner. I must confess, I wasn’t at all sure how it was going to turn out, or if anyone would even read it, but several of you have been very complimentary and encouraging, So I thank you all for your indulgence.

Previously my thoughts on folk tales were used to ranging widely across the plains of possibility or galloping unchecked into a conversation, over the last year I have had to corral them in to a coherent commentary and a limited word count. It is a very different experience to telling stories. I know where the story starts and ends and I can use as many or as few words as I like; an adventure in Folk Tales Corner has neither of these advantages and I sometimes go to bed the day before the deadline hoping that, like the shoemaker, I will come down in the morning and elves will have done the job for me.

I’m sure you all know this story: the German cobbler struggles to get by until one morning he wakes to find the last of his leather, which he had cut out the day before, has magically become completed shoes and very fine ones at that. Their high quality and early completion facilitates the purchase of enough leather for two pairs which he duly cuts out and leaves overnight, only to find four completed shoes in the morning. This continues, rejuvenating his business, so he and his kindly wife sneak down in the night to find out how they are being helped and observe a couple of naked elves happily sewing away. Mrs. Shoemaker makes some miniature fancy clothes, leaves them out instead of the leather one night and creeps down to see the elves delighting in their new splendour before they promptly leave, never to return.

Although it all turns out well for the Grimm Brother’s footwear specialist, his curiosity having been stayed until the business was back on it’s feet, this tale type often features the magical helpers leaving their well meaning benefactors in the lurch and stands oddly against the corpus of fairy material that calls for respect and fair dealings. It would appear to be a warning not to overpay your servants lest they get ideas above their station and toddle off. I wonder, as ever, how far back this story goes, if it recalls a specific movement of people, migrant workers or refugees who arrived poorly dressed and consequently unable to get proper employment, being marked out as outsiders. Prepared to work hard just for food and a roof, with skills that belied their primitive appearance, they slaved on until a gift or purchase of local style clothes allowed them to present themselves as ‘normal’ and compete on an even basis.
I was very pleased to see the essence of the unseen workers given a thorough re-examination by J.K. Rowling through the character of Dobbie the house elf, and I defy anyone not to be uplifted when Harry Potter, in a clever subversion of the clothes giving motif, tricks Dobbie’s evil master in to setting him free.

Well, the word count is nearing it’s permissible maximum so I will take the risk of thanking my own magical helper and partner, Jo Coffey (who many of you know as the belly dance teacher) without whose help and encouragement Folk Tales Corner would never have started. Hopefully she will let me buy her clothes occasionally without feeling the need to leave and will still be here to help me write FTC for another year.

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Filed under Fairytale, Folk Tale, Invisible Helper, stories, Storytelling