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The hobgoblins were trickster figures of European folklore. They were perceived as shape-shifting creatures. They could serve as helpful house spirits, mischievous pranksters, or (when provoked) nightmarish tormentors.

Traditional folklore left unclear the distinction between hobgoblins and goblins, fairies, etc. J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973) had the idea to cast them as a mere variation of goblins, only larger in body size. The idea proved influential in fantasy fiction. They are typically depicted as a larger, stronger, smarter, or more effective type of goblins.

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