Friday, January 28, 2022

The Scrap Goblin

Goblin by Eoghan Kerrigan

After the last frantic bustle of Narblesnard and other end-of-year holidays gives way to the slow, cold quiet of winter, goblin whelps are taught to attune their prodigious ears to the sounds of nature. They listen to the lilting wind, the crackling frost, and the dripping water of icicles and tree boughs soaked black. They listen for warning of any squirrels stirring early. But above all, they listen in rapt anticipation for any hint of the Scrap Goblin swooping down on the wind or creeping over the mud.

I won't dress the topic up in layers of mystery this time. The Scrap Goblin delivers gifts to children– specifically the gifts that they cobbled together out of what most people would consider junk. From figurines whittled out of a splintered 2x4, to musical instruments made of tin cans and spare change, to stuffed animals reborn from an old pillowcase, the Scrap Goblin's presents are as varied and clever as they are outwardly "quaint".

The Scrap Goblin is not any single, clear-cut figure in folklore. Rather, they are a nebulous concept with no set age, appearance, gender, or canon of stories. And while they are generally celebrated at around the same time every year, not even their holiday has a set date. We all grow up knowing a different Scrap Goblin. We are all left waiting and wondering at what they'll bring for us this winter, while our parents quietly stitch sackcloth together in the backroom.

But this isn't an anthropological deep-dive into mythology, and I wouldn't get very far by trying to make it one. I'm not going to share everything that the Scrap Goblin can be.

Instead, I'm going to share what they are to me.

My Scrap Goblin was always the sweetly sardonic sort. He was aware of the evil of the world, and tired beyond his years for it. But he shared it in a gentle, nurturing way through jokes and little lessons that helped prepare you for it. He loved to carve wood, and favorite among my gifts from him were a toy sword, and a hobbyhorse that I could barely drag across the floor when I was younger. He was also left-handed, giving me a much-needed role model at a time when I couldn't even operate scissors without hurting myself, and when my only other hero to look to was the blond not-elf on a friend's Nintendo 64.

He had a sad and bare childhood that he didn't want others to experience.

And in retrospect, he had a bit of a horrifying apotheosis. But we'll get to that.

The Scrap Goblin was once a fairly ordinary goblin. He came from a big family in a bigger community where most of what you did, you did with a dozen other people involved or milling around close by. They were poor, but compassionate; hardworking, but not stupid. The stories didn't push some blas̩ narrative about the indomitable spirit of the idyllic poorРthey knew the how and the why behind their position in the world. But that's a struggle for another story.

The Scrap Goblin enjoyed being around others, and often looked after his gaggle of little niblings. But he also liked to go out on his own and scavenge around the edges of the woods and the big folk towns. He liked to tinker and toil, and create new valuables out of old refuse. And over time, he realized that other goblins liked his creations too.

So he started to give them away. At first it was a random and haphazard thing– a child's toy here, a one-of-a-kind tool there. They were appreciated gifts, but nothing special. But as winter set in, hardship found the town. Sickness and hunger came, followed soon after by the specters of more immediate danger.

The Scrap Goblin's gifts became much-needed distractions, and so his mere hobby became a full-time commitment. As parcels left his little workroom weekly, the scrapheaps shrank and shrank.

But while his trinkets offered momentary respite, they did little to fix the real problems his friends and family were facing. He turned to larger and more ambitious projects to alleviate their suffering, clothing and warming them and propping up the sick. He tore down what little he had in the way of a home and turned it into material. All but the rags on his back became scrap.

He gave, and he gave. Still, it wasn't enough.

And though he had so much giving left to do, he ran out of a medium through which to give.

So he did the only thing he could do, and gave of himself.

His hair kept a balding head warm. His nose went to a little girl who'd gotten hers bitten off by a dog. His vocal cords gave new life to the nurse who sang to his patients, albeit a weak and quavering one. His fingers went to the forest foragers who ran afoul of the squirrels. His feet were fine replacements for the frostbitten, and his legbones a fine crutch made. His eyes he gave to an old couple blinded by cataracts, so they could see their youngest child one last time at his funeral. His skin made swaddling for a newborn.

Bit by bit, he gave everything of himself, until there was no self left to give– just a leftover heart, which mourned that it had never been given to anyone as it laid there on the cold, hard ground.

As the cold deepened and the second, true snow of winter fell upon the heart, his ghost rose up in the steam that billowed off of it.

The cold spoke to him, observing that he had given his heart away a long time ago. On this, the Scrap Goblin reflected, and then hesitantly agreed. It still didn't feel like he had done enough.

It never did, the cold replied. It never would. Not in a hundred lifetimes would he feel that gnawing void filled.

The Scrap Goblin asked the cold if it was willing to bet on that.

Coolly, curiously, veiling its amusement, the cold extended him an offer. Very well– it would sweep him up in its icy winds and take him far away. But when it returned next winter, it would bring him back along with it, so he could toil and make gifts anew. But he would only have until the last of the second snow melted before being taken away to wait and to rue again.

The Scrap Goblin agreed.

His steam was whisked away by the wind then, to be buffeted and torn at until the next year when he was reformed in shape, though not in flesh– while he has new fingers to work with, he will always know the absence of the real ones. With those cold little hands he worked again, turning trash into treasure for those who had so little else.

Every year since, every generation since, he has done this.

Today he serves as an inspiration for us– and as a cautionary tale against going quite as far as he did.

I think about the Scrap Goblin a lot, even when he isn't stalking the junkheaps with cardboard and masking tape in hand. I think about what his stories mean to me, and how often I fail to listen to them.

I think about all the people who have flocked to the aesthetic subculture that bears our name. I don't begrudge them one bit for the creativity and community it provides them, but I'm always a little bemused at their raw enthusiasm for it. We don't love junk and rocks and moss because we're innately funky, chaotic, or anti-capitalist– good praxis though that last one may be. We love them because they give many of us a jolt of nostalgia for our childhoods.

For some of us, we love the Scrap Goblin because scraps are all we ever got.

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes I don't know if this is just one story or there is also more in it that it seems.

    But if anything, I am happy for Scrap Goblin who could continue his (calling?); in some other stories the heart might have been stomped into blue dust as a sign of dangerous passion. Goblins and wintercolds are kinder than humans.