Okay, admittedly Griphook was spiky, cranky and rather mistrusting. But, in his defence, we do suspect Griphook had his reasons.
A tough profession
The first time we met the goblins in the wizarding world was when Hagrid took Harry to Gringotts to collect his gold to buy his uniform. Harry was astounded. Goblins. Who knew? It was the first time we met Griphook, for it was he who took Harry to his vault and handed Hagrid the Philosopher’s Stone. It was also our first glimpse into his personality.
‘If anyone but a Gringotts goblin tried that, they’d be sucked through the door and trapped in there,’ said Griphook.
‘How often do you check to see if anyone’s inside?’ Harry asked.
‘About once every ten years,’ said Griphook, with a rather nasty grin.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
So you’re thinking, well, that’s hardly defending Griphook is it? But wait for it. It was his job to deter thieves (let’s not forget that Harry ends up as one, later on) and the vaults are secure not only thanks to magic and dragons, but because of their surly reputation. If everybody thinks Gringotts is impossible to break into, then they are less likely to try their luck. Griphook was just doing his job.
Goblins didn’t have it easy
Next up, let’s take a walk through the history books and remember the goblin rebellions. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the goblin rebellions of the 18th century were a hot topic from Professor Binns, who taught the class about the discrimination goblins used to suffer in the wizarding world.
And, from the sounds of things, certain distaste for the creatures still lingers. During the books, goblins are spoken about appallingly throughout. Red Caps are described as ‘nasty little goblin-like creatures’, Winky refers to Dobby’s behaviour as if he is a ‘common goblin’ and goblins are frequently referred to in negative terms. Especially in the case of Ludo Bagman and his shenanigans in the Goblet of Fire – they are dark-eyed and angry, and at the end Ludo makes a run for it and George says the goblins play as dirty as he does. Again, disparaging remarks which really seem unfair.
Now let’s slip back to the goblin rebellions.
‘I’m sure they’d never go over to You-Know-Who,’ said Mr Weasley, shaking his head. ‘They’ve suffered losses too; remember that goblin family he murdered last time, somewhere near Nottingham?’
‘I think it depends what they’re offered,’ said Lupin. ‘And I’m not talking about gold. If they’re offered the freedoms we’ve been denying them for centuries they’re going to be tempted. Have you still not had any luck with Ragnok, Bill?’
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Do you still think Griphook is indefensible? His theft of the sword and abandonment of Harry, Ron and Hermione still utterly reprehensible? Well, it is, but perhaps not as horrible as the way goblins have been treated and their lives lost because of wizard prejudice. How about this for cementing a certain lack of fondness for wizard lives…
Halfway down the hall was a fountain. A group of golden statues, larger than life-size, stood in the middle of a circular pool. Tallest of them all was a noble-looking wizard with his wand pointing straight up in the air. Grouped around him were a beautiful witch, a centaur, a goblin and a house-elf. The last three were all looking adoringly up at the witch and wizard.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
In Deathly Hallows we reconnected with Griphook. He hadn’t teamed up with Voldemort or betrayed anyone - he was on the run and helping Ted, Tonks’s father. The goblins wouldn’t bow to the so-called superiority of the wizards now in charge of Gringotts. And Griphook made sure that their departure did not go unnoticed…
‘Oh, yes. It is a copy – an excellent copy, it is true – but it was wizard-made. The original was forged centuries ago by goblins and had certain properties only goblin-made armour possesses. Wherever the genuine sword of Gryffindor is, it is not in a vault at Gringotts Bank.’
‘I see,’ said Ted. ‘And I take it you didn’t bother telling the Death Eaters this?’
‘I saw no reason to trouble them with the information,’ said Griphook smugly, and now Ted and Dean joined in Gornuk and Dirk’s laughter.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Then, when Harry was captured and Hermione was tortured by Bellatrix, it was Griphook who ended her torture by declaring the sword of Gryffindor a fake. He was rewarded by a cut across the face and indifferent abuse.
As a race, goblins are treated with such casual disdain and dislike that it is hardly surprising that their lines of morality are blurred when it comes to the wizards. Griphook did betray Harry, but let’s face it, Harry was going to betray him. Harry wouldn’t have left Griphook to die, of course, but in the end the goblin paid the ultimate price. He was murdered by Voldemort and the sword was once again taken forcibly by wizards for their gain.
So no, Griphook was no angel, but he was there when he was needed and without him, Harry would never have defeated Voldemort. His actions may have been small, some of his moments quite mean, but as humans and Muggles, who are we to judge? It’s not easy being a goblin, you know.