I was raised on Tolkien. Every year around Christmas, in addition to reading Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, my family would also read a few of the Letters from Father Christmas that Tolkien wrote for his own children. For those who aren’t aware, Tolkien wrote a series of letters to his children claiming to be from Father Christmas. The letters contain all sorts of stories and illustrations about the goings-on at the North Pole, the antics of the North Polar Bear (the official one), what the elves that worked for him were up to, and so on.
It was these letters, more than The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, that formed my view of goblins. The ones that Father Christmas dealt with were similar to the goblins of The Hobbit, but smaller, and in my opinion a bit stranger. I couldn’t make myself watch more than one of the new Hobbit movies, but the goblins shown in the first one were one of my favorite parts of all of Peter Jackson’s interpretations of Middle Earth. The creatures shown were all goblins, but they ranged in size from the massive king, to the little cackling messenger on a zipline. They were spooky and menacing and above all, they were downright weird!
For me, goblins are like aliens that come from below, rather than above. They’re as much a part of our world as we are, but just as we are at home in the light of day, they are at home in the darkest places of the Earth. Maybe that’s why I see them as embodying strangeness. To be a goblin is to be at home in a world that fills humans with the terror of the unknown. They come from that parallel Earth that gave birth to bats, goblin sharks, and glowworms.
All of these things have familiar elements. Bats are rather like ordinary furry creatures in many ways, but they’re also radically different. The elongated fingers, strange faces and ears might be similar to those of our relatives the aye-aye or the tarsier (both good examples of goblins), but the skin webbing and ability to fly set them apart. They’re at home in a world that is pretty alien to us, and they look like it:
Goblin sharks seem like normal sharks until they bite, and become something utterly different. They simultaneously seem more human, with a more defined chin and mouth under that long nose, and less like anything we’re used to :
And then there are cave glow worms – in the light of day, they’re fairly normal insect larvae. Not pleasant to look at (for most of us), but not terribly interesting either. At home in the darkness, however, they form a glowing constellation across the ceilings of their caves, beautiful, but deadly for any insects that wander too close to the slimy strands hanging down below the lights. If they get caught, they’re reeled in by the worm, and devoured.
In the world of goblins, light is dangerous. It lures you to death, or reveals you to predators. Autumn is the time when our world begins to be more like their world, for a little while.
As Halloween arrives, the trees are losing their leaves, and the birds are flying south, and the light that we value so much is fading day by day. October 31st has come and gone, and America will now be obsessed with Christmas for the next couple months (with a passing nod to Thanksgiving), but that is just a distraction from the truth.
As the last glow of the sunset fades, night is only just beginning. Halloween has passed, and now night is really coming. The long darkness and cold has driven the goblins with which we have become familiar into hiding. Now is the time for the goblins that we don’t know about – the ones that revel in the cold darkness beyond the edge of our fire light.
Halloween was just the beginning.