The Encyclopedia of Arda - an interactive guide to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien
Dates and Origins
Uncertain1
Race
Orcs
Meaning
A combination of hob and goblin, two old names for impish sprites

Indexes:

About this entry:

  • Updated 16 August 2014
  • This entry is complete

Hobgoblins

Greater Goblins

"Orc is not an English word. It occurs in one or two places but is usually translated goblin (or hobgoblin for the larger kinds)2"
Preface to The Hobbit

A name for the certain kinds of Orc found in Middle-earth, at least in the Third Age and possibly earlier. The only definite distinction was that hobgoblins were larger3 than ordinary goblins, and so the term perhaps, though doubtfully, refers to the large soldier-orcs known as Uruks.

The term appears so rarely that there is little clear basis for a definition. Its only other occurrence is later in The Hobbit (7, Queer Lodgings) where Gandalf warns Bilbo that the Grey Mountains are 'simply stiff with goblins, hobgoblins, and orcs of the worst description'.


Notes

1

If 'hobgoblin' is just a general term for a large Orc, then their race is old indeed, predating the First Age. If, much less certainly, it refers to the Uruk-hai, then their appearance is more recent: about III 2475. This is recent in terms of the history of Middle-earth, but still five centuries earlier than Bilbo's adventures in The Hobbit.

2

In fact, 'orcs' appears exactly twice in The Hobbit: once in Gandalf's warning, given above, and once in Chapter 5, Riddles in the Dark: '...even the big ones, orcs of the mountains, go along at great speed...'

3

The idea that a hobgoblin would be a larger, more dangerous kind of goblin seems to have originated with Tolkien's comments in The Hobbit. In folklore, the 'hob-' prefix was actually a diminutive, so a 'hobgoblin' would be a 'little-goblin', smaller than ordinary kinds. Tolkien himself discovered this in his later researches, commenting that his statement in The Hobbit was 'the reverse of the original truth' (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien No 319, dated 1971).

See also...

Goblins

For acknowledgements and references, see the Disclaimer & Bibliography page.

Website services kindly sponsored by Axiom Software Ltd.

Original content © copyright Mark Fisher 1997-2000, 2014. All rights reserved. For conditions of reuse, see the Site FAQ.