Are Goblins Evil?
Games like Dungeons & Dragons tell us that Goblins are evil. It’s also the impression you might get from movies (such as the Lord of the Rings movies). What does it mean to be evil? It is likely to remind us of cartoon villains and malicious sadism. According to Dungeons & Dragons third edition, we can define good and evil in the following way:
Good implies altruism, respect for life, and a concern for the dignity of sentient beings. Good characters make personal sacrifices to help others.
Evil implies harming, oppressing, and killing others. Some evil creatures simply have no compassion for others and kill without qualms if doing so is convenient or if it can be set up. Others actively pursue evil, killing for sport or out of duty to some malevolent deity or master. (Source: Wikipedia)
I find this definition hypocritical based on the reality of how people portray goblins in stories and games. How often do the ‘good humans go around killing evil characters (such as goblins) without qualms or compassion? I have seen it happen quite often. And it happens in Lord of the Rings as well. Goblins might kill humans without compassion, but humans also kill goblins without compassion. The issue is one of us versus them. They are seen as a faceless enemy, but they also see humans as a faceless enemy. Well, that happens in real life to some extent. The enemy is often demonized. They are not given any compassion, and they are often killed or oppressed precisely because they are seen as the “bad guys.” We often see our enemies as evil and they see us as evil.
Fantasy settings have various monsters (such as goblins). They are demonized and dehumanized. In demonizing them we destroy any compassion we can have for them and make them a faceless enemy. In doing that we ourselves can become monsters — we can become those who harm others without compassion (or even feel joy at their suffering).
The concept of evil is becoming archaic, and portraying evil in stories is increasingly becoming bad taste precisely because of how hypocritical we are in using the concept and the actual history of demonization that has caused so many problems. Not only that but villains and enemies we can identify with are a lot more interesting. To identify with them, their actions need to make a certain amount of sense. They need to be able to rationalize their behavior and can’t see themselves as “evil” without having any guilt or shame.
The Hobbit was a bit more sympathetic towards goblins, which were rightfully angered by the dwarves. There was a history of violence with the dwarves, the dwarves were trespassing, and the dwarves had anti-goblin weapons. It was not clear if the goblins were any more unethical than the dwarves.
How should we view goblins? Well, obviously it is a matter of choice based on one’s own creative vision, but I would prefer a more sympathetic view of goblins. The historical aggression goblins have experienced with other types of sentient beings is enough to explain why goblins would often lack compassion for their enemies (as is common for other sentient beings as well). There could be a cycle of violence involved. On top of all that, goblins might be tempted to view other sentient beings as a food source (perhaps depending on the scarcity of easier prey).
I made a card game called Crazier Eights. It is similar to Crazy Eights/Uno, except every card can be played for an effect. Players take turns drawing a card, playing a card for an effect, and discarding a card. The first player with zero cards in hand wins.
There is a Kickstarter campaign to fund the game, which will end in five hours. Go here to take a look.