Creatures like gnomes, pixies, gremlins, elves and leprechauns hate to be confused with goblins. Fairies become extremely angry when goblins are portrayed as their companions. They are all spirits of the earth but they have no more than a slight family connection with goblins.

Goblins originated in France, which they entered through a cleft in the Pyrenees. Once they had a foothold they spread rapidly over Europe and they entered Britain as stowaways aboard the first dragon-ship of the Vikings. In Britain the Druids called them 'Robin Goblin', later abbreviated to 'hobglobin'.

Like other earth spirits they have human form, but no human ever wore expressions of such malicious mischief and depraved cunning. A goblin smile curdles the blood; a goblin laugh causes milk to sour and fruit to fall from the trees. Even a witch will not allow a goblin at her fireside. She has no fear of it but it is always such a meddling nuisance.

Fortunately, a goblin's capacity for mischief is limited. Unlike their distant cousins the gremlins they cannot be bothered to learn about tools and machinery. Their only real abilities are luck-spoiling, and weaving nightmares to be inserted into to ear of a sleeper. They do like, however, to torment humans in such ways as tipping over pails of milk, hiding hen's eggs, blowing soot down chimneys, puffing out candles in haunted houses, and altering signposts.

Goblin, Artist: Peter Frisck, 2003

Goblins have some facility with design, but it is limited to gargoyles and depictions of serpents, dragons and basilisks. They can communicate with flies, wasps, mosquitoes and hornets, and their favourite summer pastime is to direct these insects towards warm-blooded creatures such as humans and horses and watch the results.

They pester horses in the stable or the field, and a sure sign of goblin presence is the sound of a horse blowing or stamping in an effort to get rid of them, or rolling in the sand to scratch them off his back.

Goblins have no homes. They infest mossy clefts in rocks and the surface roots of ancient trees but they are too capricious to settle down for long. The squeals and titters of a goblin gang as they plot some fresh mischief should serve as a warning to any human to keep well clear of them.