In Search of the Elusive Goblin

Here it is almost Halloween, and my friend Delbert Earle is on his annual quest for the meaning of the word “goblin.”  It has become an important part of our Halloween vocabulary, something we toss around as if we really knew what it meant.  But Delbert Earle says if you try to pin down your average person on exactly what a goblin is, you’re likely to get a lot of hemming and hawing.


The dictionary says a goblin is a “grotesque, elfin creature of folklore, thought to work mischief or evil.”  But Delbert Earle says that sounds a little too much like his mother-in-law.  He’s looking for something a bit more specific, and has been, in fact, since childhood.

Delbert Earle says when he was seven, he announced to his big sister Imogene that he wanted to be a wooly booger for Halloween.  Delbert Earle didn’t know any more about wooly boogers than he did about goblins, but he had it in his mind that anything with a name like “wooly booger” must be a fearsome creature.  And at seven, Delbert Earle wanted more than anything in the world to be fearsome.  So Imogene used her imagination.  She made him a coat out of a burlap sack and a hat out of a gourd.  She covered the whole business with Spanish moss, and then for good measure, spray painted it purple and green.  From all accounts, Delbert Earle looked like something that might emerge at midnight from your local waste treatment plant.

Thusly attired as a fearsome wooly booger, Delbert Earle went trick-or-treating.  He would go up to a house and knock on the door and a lady would come to the door and either scream or laugh.  Then when she recovered, she’d invariably say, “Why here’s a cute little goblin.”

Delbert Earle would get hopping mad.  “Naw lady,” he would snort fearsomely, “I ain’t no goblin, I’m a wooly booger.”  And he would stalk off.  After about an hour of this, Delbert Earle gave up and went home, his trick-or-treat sack empty and his fearsomeness in disarray.  That was the last year he went trick-or-treating on Halloween.  After that, he just stayed home and made faces at himself in the mirror.

Ever since, Delbert Earle has been trying to pin down this business of goblins.  He conducted an informal poll at Cheap Ernie’s Pool Hall and Microbrewery, but none of the guys had a clue.  Sure, they’ve heard the word, but ask for details and you get blank looks.  Now ghosts, they know.  Ghosts wear sheets, moan a lot, and disappear through the wall.  Some of the guys at Cheap Ernie’s would probably qualify as ghosts.  But there’s not a goblin expert in the bunch.

Last Halloween, Delbert Earle hit upon the idea of bringing Old Shep the Wonder Dog into the business.  He found the old burlap sack and gourd from his long-ago wooly booger costume.  His uncle Fitzwaller from Louisiana sent a supply of Spanish moss.  Delbert Earle decked out Old Shep in the get-up, applied purple and green spray paint, and put Old Shep on the front porch with a sign that read, “Goblin Dog.”  He figured he would at least get some opinions from the kids who came by trick-or-treating.  The problem was, Old Shep got it into his mind that he was fearsome.  He’s normally the most gentle and loveable of animals, but wearing that get-up, his personality changed.  He growled and snarled and scared away all the trick-or-treaters.  It took six weeks of watching soap operas for Old Shep to return to normal.

So, Halloween comes and goes and Delbert Earle still doesn’t know what a goblin is.  But he’s undaunted in his quest.  He’s written to Uncle Fitzwaller in Louisiana for more Spanish moss, and he’s mentioned to his mother-in-law that he has an idea about her Halloween costume.  Given the experience with Old Shep, I hate to think what could happen.