Here’s the part where my stubborn determination to carry through with a particular worldbuilding conceit backed me into a corner where I found gold. Goblins: Next on Fantasy Kindreds of Saynim!
GOBLIN (Homo neanderthalensis parvus x various)
I had fallen in love with the conceit that dwarves, trolls, and ell folk would be derived species of Neanderthal. This made them sufficiently different from humans and elves (two subspecies of Homo sapiens that developed parallel to each other), but still creatures readers might identify with.
By this theory, humans and elves could freely produce viable offspring, namely half-elves. But that meant that dwarves, trolls, and ell folk could also interbreed and produce viable offspring of a rather surprising variety. At first, it doesn’t look that bad: you can have a dwarf-troll, dwarf-elling, or troll-elling hybrid. But what about the next generation? I had already stumbled upon “ayleck” as a useful term for a dwarf-troll hybrid, and arguably, a dwarf-ayleck hybrid is close enough to count as a dwarf who’s just a bit “off.” The same goes for a troll-ayleck hybrid being effectively the same as a troll.
But what happens when a dwarf-elling hybrid produces children with a troll-elling hybrid? Or what happens when an ayleck produces children with an elling? Before you know it, there are a fair number of elling hybrid types that needed some kind of label to keep them all straight.
And that’s where goblins came in. Early on in my worldbuilding, I thought “goblin” would be a name applied to some ell folk but not all of them, maybe based on culture or origins. It might have even been a racial slur of some sort. The more I thought about it, though, I kind of fell in love with the idea that all of these various hybrids should be called goblins, and that “goblin” would describe a diverse creole culture with connections to ell folk, dwarves, and trolls all at once.
Thus goblins became by basic term for any hybrid faery being with a predominantly ell folk heritage. The vast majority of the time, this means that a goblin is a mixture of elling, dwarf, and troll in various proportions. Though it is possible to have an elling-human or elling-elf hybrid, such beings are very rare and often have physical or mental disadvantages.
The upshot of all this is that I no longer had to come up with specialized terms for, for example, an elling-dwarf hybrid as opposed to an elling-troll hybrid. Rather, a goblin community is a blending of many tribes and cultures in which the strengths and contributions of each individual can shine.
Think of all the communities where distinct cultures have merged. I think especially of New Orleans, with its blending of African, Spanish, French, etc. cultures influencing everything from the food and music to the architecture and overall pace of life. Or New York City, one of America’s oldest melting pots. That’s what goblins are like at their best: eclectic borrowers, taking bits of this and scraps of that and blending it into something all their own. Which also means that goblins can be some of the most hospitable people you’d ever want to meet, especially if you don’t really fit in anywhere else.
This doesn’t mean goblins can’t be mischievous, malicious, or outright evil. I didn’t work out any of these fantasy kindreds with a D&D-type “alignment” system in mind, after all. If goblins are welcoming what is new or different, they can also be opportunistic in figuring out how things—and people!—can be manipulated to suit their own purposes. If they are pragmatic in latching on to whatever works, they can also be dispassionate about the sacrifices that “whatever works” might entail. In short, they can be as good or as bad as any human.