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Goblins in The Hobbit

Instructor: Ian Matthews

Ian teaches college writing and has a Master's in Writing and Publishing

If Smaug is the big bad guy of J.R.R. Tolkien's novel 'The Hobbit', goblins are the smaller but more pressing threat. Everybody hates them, mostly for good reason. Here's what 'The Hobbit' has to say about these gross guys.

Goblins: Care and Feeding

If you've read Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy or seen the movies (or if you're familiar with the fantasy genre in general), you've almost certainly heard of orcs. Goblins in The Hobbit are the same thing -- Tolkien explains in one version of the preface to The Hobbit that 'goblin' is just the English word for 'orc'.

The goblins/orcs that Bilbo, Thorin, and the rest of their adventuring party encounter are super evil. They first capture the group in the Misty Mountains, and after everybody escapes from the mountain fortress, a goblin army chases them for the rest of the book. The goblins are about human-size (so they're big compared to hobbits and dwarves), and they're beefy and strong enough to carry the dwarves. They're also really ugly, with skin lesions, harelips, and other deformities.

The Misty Mountains

The Misty Mountain goblins capture the group during a thunderstorm. Bilbo and the dwarves take shelter in a cave that turns out to be the goblins' front porch -- a crack opens in the back wall of the cave, and Bilbo wakes up from a terrible nightmare to see some goblins leading the group's ponies into it.

The goblins bring Bilbo and the dwarves into their cave fortress. The fortress is really extensive and complicated -- Tolkien tells us that goblins can mine as well as the best dwarves, though they're pretty messy about it. The goblins have made one of the bigger parts of the cave into a throne room for their chief, The Great Goblin.

The Great Goblin is a huge figure with, according to Tolkien, a big flat head. He sits on a big stone and rules the goblin tribe inside the mountain, and he sentences the dwarven intruders to be tortured in the depths of the cave (in addition to their mining skills, we learn that goblins invented pretty much all of the worst torture devices and weapons in the world). Before the sentence can be carried out, though, the Great Goblin is killed by Gandalf's floating sword.

Who Hates Goblins?

Everybody hates goblins! Even most goblins don't like other goblins -- and we see them fighting over the most trivial items from the dwarves' packs. When Bilbo meets Gollum, deeper into the cave in the Misty Mountain, we find out that even Gollum hates goblins and sometimes even eats them.

Beorn, the huge shape-shifter who can turn into a bear, hates goblins especially. So when Gandalf tells him that the group recently tangled with a gang of them, Beorn is overjoyed. Any enemy of goblins is a friend of his, and he even runs off to the Misty Mountain to check out the group's story and to kill some goblins himself.

This is an ancient grudge for most people. Before Thorin's group goes to the Misty Mountains, they stay with Elrond the half-elf at Rivendell. Elrond has been around since the Goblin Wars, when it was the goblins against everybody -- humans, elves, dwarves, you name it. So while Smaug is the bad guy of this little story in Middle-Earth, goblins (or orcs, depending on who you talk to) are the longstanding baddies of this universe.

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