Elements in fiction  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Elements, a common theme in fiction – particularly fantasy – are properties of various objects, living things, and the environment. Founded upon philosophical concepts in the Greek, Chinese, and Japanese traditions amongst others, elements are often expanded in fiction to include more than the traditional four or five properties associated with antiquity.

Shakespeare's plays abound in elemental beings including Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Ariel in The Tempest. Alexander Pope was influenced by the Comte de Gabalis in his Rosicrucian poem "Rape of the Lock." Sylphs have been the favorites of the bards. The "Mahābhārata" is full of stories about beings of the elements and their heroic offspring with their human partners. Similar themes and references are found in Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey in which the elemental beings appear as gods and goddesses such as the mighty Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, Athena, Apollo, and Achilles, son of a mortal man and the goddess Nymph Thetis (see The Iliad by Robert Fagles, Penguin Classics, 1990). German writer Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué wrote about a beautiful water-nymph, "Undine," and Sir Walter Scott endowed the White Lady of Avenel with many of the attributes of the nymphs. Other works or characters influenced include Lord Lytton's Zanoni, James Barrie's Tinker Bell; and the bowlers Rip Van Winkle encountered in the Catskill Mountains. The story of Melusina is based on the historical marriage of a gentleman and a water nymph. Charles Mackay, father of Marie Corelli, wrote "Salamandrine," a poem about a great love between a human and a female salamander. Cabalism, in general, influenced many Mediaeval poems as well as the writings of Dante.

Contents

Classical

Nearly all conceptualizations of the elements include fire, water, earth, and air, in addition to a fifth element, which varies by tradition. In fiction, as in philosophy, the elements are also affiliated with more abstract concepts such as personality and temperament.

Fire

Fire is most commonly depicted as a destructive but a life-giving element and wielded by characters with an aggressive disposition and a warm and passionate personality. Environments with an affinity to fire tend to be hot, hostile and dangerous. Fire is invariably opposed by water.

Water

Water is often depicted as a restorative element, due to its real-life importance in sustaining life. Characters with an affinity to water are often peaceful, although many have shown a propensity for violence when provoked. Water environments tend to be serene and abundant with life. Water is opposed by fire.

Earth

Earth is depicted as an element of stability, and is often wielded by characters who are physically strong or imposing. Characters aligned with this element can have tendencies toward either passive or aggressive behavior. Its environment can be either barren with soil or with abundance in life. Earth is naturally opposed to air.

Air

Air (also referred to as wind) is depicted as an element of freedom and caprice, and is often wielded by carefree or whimsical characters. Characters aligned with this element tend to emphasize speed over strength. Where environments have an affinity to air tend to be at high elevations or actually suspended in the air. Air exists in opposition to earth.

Aether/Spirit

The fifth element - often called "Aether" or "Ether" - tends to be more abstract than the other four elements in that it has no clear physical manifestation. It can be depicted simply as pure energy with no properties, or as the power underlying the other four elements. Where characters in fiction wield the fifth element, they most often play a significant role in the plot, if they are not the main character.

Non-Classical

Creators of fiction have developed the elements concept in many ways, some going as far as to disavow the classical elements and replace them with an entirely new array, while others have used the classical as a foundation and expanded upon it. The following are non-classical elements that have appeared in various media. As this list can quickly become exhaustive, the entries below are limited to elements that have appeared in at least several works of fiction.

Ice

Most often a derivation of water, ice is sometimes treated as its own element. Characters aligned with ice are more likely to bear a cruel disposition, and exhibit more aggressive behaviors. Environments with an affinity to ice also tend to be more hostile and treacherous to navigate, not unlike icy environments in the real world.

Light/Holy

Light in fiction is depicted as the element of goodness or truth, such that is often coterminous with "Holy", as in the Final Fantasy series of video games. Light/Holy can have either restorative or destructive tendencies, most often a threat to those aligned with "evil" or "darkness". It is also commonly associated with life and the living. Characters with an affinity to light are often portrayed as physically appealing and/or non-threatening, and are looked upon with favor by the rest of the world.

Shadow/Darkness

Shadow or Darkness as an element in fiction tends to be associated with the forces of evil, or at least with those maligned by most of the world. It is also commonly associated with death and the dead (or undead). Characters with an affinity to shadow or darkness are often physically unappealing or intimidating, all the more reason for them to be detached from society. Wielders of this element are almost always powerful and present some kind of threat to the world.

Electricity/Lightning

Electricity, also regarded as a derivation of air and/or fire, is sometimes treated as a separate element. Like characters aligned with air, those aligned with electricity or lightning can be whimsical, but, like fire, it has a greater penchant for aggression and is very energetic. Electricity is often the bane of machines and mechanical characters.

Sound/Sonic

Sound is not often depicted as a separate element, as those who control it are more likely to be aligned with air – an example being Deedlit from Record of Lodoss War who had the ability to suppress all sound within a certain radius. When sound is treated as a separate element, it may be for the sake of Thunder, which can be – as in stories about the gods Raijin and Fūjin – a complement to Lightning.

Plants/Flora

Either a derivation of earth or a separate element, it mostly connects and concerns with all life. Its attributed characteristics are various in earth characteristics like an appreciator of nature, philosophical, but a little bit stubborn, often detatches off from the world and sometimes refuses to cooperate or share ideas with others. Also, plant characteristics has the potency to be feral, but can be also tame. In Wuxing, it is a major element, replacing air. Its attributes can be strong and flexible at the same time, like a bamboo, and has a warm and expansive character. It is nourished by water and it ignites fire. It outgrows earth but is shredded off by metal.

Heart/Love

As a separate element, often connected to/replacing spirit, heart draws an ethereal energy of emotions. It has the tendency to communicate and control every creature, understand one's emotion and can bring someone to fall in love. Though some judge it as the least powerful element, its power is immeasurable and unlimited if the wielder searches his/her heart. And as it can relate to flora, heart can have the ability to communicate and to control wildlife. Common characteristics align from emotional to cold, depending on the wielder, open-hearted and open-minded, easily infatuated, empathic to life, and many more. Users of the element of love and empathy range from Ma-ti, the voice of reason of the Planeteers, to Will Vandom, leader of the W.I.T.C.H.

Others

Other elements that appear in fiction include acids, time, death, dust, gemstone, gravitational forces, life energy, magical energy, magma, mana power, metals, mud, nothingness, ooze, plasma, psychic illusions, sand, smoke, space, steam, temporal energy, toxins, weather phenomena and spirit.

Elementals

Elementals are beings either born from or with a strong affinity to one or more elements, and often with a debilitating weakness to opposing elements. Elementals are usually anthropomorphic or humanoid in shape; however, their manifestation is the element they represent, such as an earth elemental having a body of stone, or a fire elemental being a living flame or a dark figure enshrouded by smoke and fire.

Role-playing Games

Elements are a common theme in role-playing games, such as Dungeons & Dragons, the Third Edition of which features the "elemental languages" Auran, Aquan, Ignan, and Terran, which correspond to air, water, fire, and earth, respectively. In Changeling: The Lost, elementals are humans who have been permanently transformed into some other substance, commonly the four classical elements, but often substances such as glass or paper. In Exalted, characters known as the Terrestrials can develop magical abilities related to the elements of air, earth, fire, water, or wood, drawing inspiration from Wu Xing.

Video Games

  • The magic of the Final Fantasy series features the elements of fire, ice, earth, thunder, and holy. Later games in the series feature additional elements such as gravity, darkness, water, poison, and aero (wind). The series also features summoned creatures, many of which have an affinity to a certain element, such as Ifrit (Fire), Ramuh (Thunder), and Shiva (Ice).
  • Elementals are a major part of the Seiken Densetsu series; they are spirits of Mana that enable mortals to cast spells. The original Secret of Mana featured Paracelsus' four elementals as well as Shade (the elemental of Darkness, a one-eyed bat-like creature), Lumina (the elemental of Light, a pale flame with a face, renamed Wisp in later games), Luna (the elemental of the Moon; changed to Aura in Legend of Mana and represented the element of Gold) and Dryad (the elemental of plants and mana, appearing as a traditional Greek dryad.
  • In the game Lost Magic by Ubisoft and Taito for Nintendo DS, the four elementals can be found and captured using the Trap Dark Rune. The only difference is that the Sylph is called a Silfeed. Salamanders and Gnomes have projectile attacks, whereas Silfeeds and Undines do not.
  • The Pokémon universe is based on elementals. Each Pokémon has either one or two types, denoting what attacks can damage it normally, powerfully, weakly, or even none at all. Also, each attack is of a single type. There are 17 types in all, some being standard (fire, water, earth) and others being non-standard (dragon, steel, flying)
  • In the adventure game/RPG hybrid Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire, the desert city of Shapeir is attacked by four elementals - fire, air, earth, and water. Aziza, the enchantress of Shapeir, explains that elementals can never be fully destroyed, but they can be defeated. Only by confronting each elemental with its counter element can the hero of the game weaken and control it.
  • In the massively multiplayer online RPG game World of Warcraft, the Shaman class can choose to specialise in causing damage with the powers of the elements, in particular air (with spells such as "lightning bolt" "chain lightning" and "lava burst"), by specializing their 'talent points' into the elemental talent tree.
  • In the Spyro the Dragon series, Spyro can gain elemental breaths. His token fire element, as well as electricity and ice, are common to all games from Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly onward, but the fourth element he gains is always different: Bubbles in Enter the Dragonfly, water in A Hero's Tail, and earth (as well as time and an extra-dimensional "Convexity Breath") in the Legend of Spyro series. In The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon, Spyro's ally Cynder gains the elements of poison, wind, shadow and fear, a rare find among the entries on this list.
  • In the legend of zelda series, each of the dungeons, or 'temples' corresponds to a particular element. The precise elments vary between games, but it almost always includes Forest, Fire, and water.

Novels

  • In Michael Moorcock's novels concerning Elric of Melniboné, elementals, such as Grome (elemental of Earth) and Straasha (elemental of water, and Grome's brother) help (and occasionally hinder) Elric in many of his quests. They are said to be neutral in the struggle between Law and Chaos.
  • In the third Children of the Lamp book (The Cobra King of Kathmandu by P.B. Kerr) a djinn unleashes a water elemental on a fire to put it out. Also, in the second book of the same series, a young djinn tricks two others into setting a water elemental on his stepmother, nothing is clear about the elemental itself as this was merely mentioned but the result seemed to be quite explosive, with a rainstorm inside the stepmother's apartment.
  • Fantasy author Mercedes Lackey wrote a series of books featuring Elemental Masters (those who can command and control elementals). The books include Phoenix and Ashes, The Gates of Sleep and the Fire Rose. Each book is a re-telling of a popular fairy tale.
  • China Meiville's The Iron Council from the Bas-Lag trilogy features a number of elemental creatures.
  • In the Novel and later film adaption Howl's Moving Castle, the story revolves around the protagonist Sophie Hatter's wager with a Fire elemental named Calcifer. If she can break his contract with Howl he will undo Sophie's curse. Calcifer is portrayed as a living flame the eats wood and other cumbustables while residing in a hearth.
  • In the Deverry cycle by fantasy author Katharine Kerr elemental spirits play a major role. The are called Wildfolk and are related to the race of elves. Elemental spirits are often used by sorcerers as messengers and spies. There are five types of elementals in the series - sylphs of aethyr, salamanders of fire, undines of water, sprites of air and gnomes of earth. In addition to the simple spirits called Wildfolk each element is associated with a higher rank of beings called elemental kings. Both Wildfolk and their kings live in the mysterious Wildlands located on a higher plane of existence - probably the astral plane.

In the yet to be published novel,Magecraft,each human,elf,faun and centaur have a spirit coressponding to their element.

Television & Film

  • The animated series Captain Planet and the Planeteers Includes a number of elementals. The villain Duke Nukem is an elemental of nuclear energy. The title hero of the series Captain Planet is a crystalline elemental summoned by the powers of earth, fire, wind, water and heart (empathy towards life). He has power over all the elements and represents the benign forces of nature. A few episodes revolve around his antithesis Captain Pollution who represents disharmony and destructive forces of nature and feeds off pollutants such as industrial waste and harmful radiation.
  • In the television series Avatar: The Last Airbender the plot revolves around four tribes and four nations, each of which corresponds to one of the four elements - fire, water, earth, and air. Out of each nation emerge characters able to manipulate one of the four elements, while the main protagonist - the Avatar - can wield all four.
  • In the television series W.I.T.C.H. The five protagonists are each a guardian of one of the 5 classical elements of earth,fire,wind,water and quintessence (aether) and utilizes it in their individual attacks.
  • In the animated series Ben Ten: Alien Force, the character of Keven Leven can absorb the elemental property of any solid object he touches; turning his body into stone, metal, crystal, etc. He uses this ability to aid the main Protagonist Ben Tennyson
  • In the movie Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, characters called the Elder Gods appear in the form of elementals they are responsible for turning the lightning elemental Raiden into a mortal so he can aid humanity directly, and furthers the movies plot.
  • In the Animated movie FernGully: The Last Rainforest, The main villain of the film is a pollution elemental named Hexxus who feeds off of toxic gases and chemicals and other pollutants and seeks to ruin the worlds ecosystems in order to sustain his being.
  • In the film adaption of the novel The NeverEnding Story , One of the first and last characters that the secondary protagonist Atreyu interacts with is a stone elemental called Rockbiter; who as his name suggests eats rocks and his body is stone-like.
  • In the short lived series by Saban, the Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog, each of the knights was powered by an elemental. The red knight Rohan was the Knight of Fire. The blue knight Prince Ivar was the Knight of Water. The white knight Princess Deirdre was the Knight of Air. The silver knight Angus was the Knight of Earth. Prince Garrett, a fifth knight whose powers are not a traditional elemental, is the Knight of the Forest.
  • In the 2007 animated movie The Invincible Iron Man, there are four statues which are brought to life. The statues are called Elementals, and each has a different elemental power.

Anime/Manga

  • In the anime and manga Naruto, each ninja has an elemental affinity towards either earth, air, water, fire or lightning represented in their combat techniques. Some special people possess a genetic trait that blends 2 natural forms into a 3rd, such as wind and water forming ice, fire and earth forming lava, or earth and water forming wood/plants.
  • In the animated series Voltron The Lion force Voltron is formed from 5 elemental robots in lion form. They reflect the 5 traditional Chinese elements and are immune from damage caused by their respective element and are actually powered by it. They are hidden in dens that represent their element. In battle they are capable of elemental attacks. The Red Lion dens in a volcano and is an elemental of fire. The Blue Lion dens under a lake and is an elemental of water. The Green Lion dens in a forest under some roots and is an elemental of wood. In the Chinese system wood also represents air, as they are similar forces, gentle yet penetrating and capable of infiltrating earth. In battle it uses wind attacks. The Yellow Lion dens in a desert cave and is an elemental of earth. The Black Lion dens upon a pillar and is an elemental of thunder. Its color scheme probably represents the dark clouds of a thunder storm.
  • In the anime and manga series Sailor moon each sailor soldier/scout has one or more elemental affinities that manifest themselves in their various attacks. most noticeably Rei uses fire and Ami uses water.
  • In the anime and manga Shaman King, there are a group of five elemental spirits, known as the Godaiseirei.They are the Spirit of Fire, Spirit of Earth, Spirit of Thunder, Spirit of Rain, and Spirit of Wind.
  • In the anime and manga One Piece various characters in the storyline are transformed into elementals after eating the Logia type devil fruit. They then gain the ability to wield said element and to transform into a full aspect of the element. Examples include Sir Crocodile A major villain and sandman, Portgas D. Ace The brother of the main character and elemental of fire, Commodore Smoker an elemental of smoke who pursues the main characters throughout the story.
  • In the anime and manga InuYasha, evidence indicates that Inuyasa's half-brother Sesshomaru is an elemental of poison, since he can wield and is immune to poison and poisonous vapours. The plot also sometimes relies on use of Inuyasha's robe of the fire rat, The skin of a fire elemental that protects the bearer from intense heat and flame.
  • In the anime and manga Bleach, Captains Hitsugaya and Yammamoto wield Ice and Fire respectively and many fans suggest that Captains Kyouraku and Ukitake wield Wind and Lightning they are not actual elementals but it is implied that their weapons are.
  • In the anime and manga Fullmetal Alchemist, Colonel Roy Mustang wields Fire with great effectiveness in the first anime adaption the Tringham brothers work with plants and in the second anime adaption The Freezing Alchemist controls Ice as his name suggests, however he also is capable of controlling water in all its forms including causing steam explosions

Comics

Music

The Alchemy Index, a concept album by American rock band Thrice, features tracks representing the classical elements of fire, earth, water, and air.

Satire/Parody

  • The 1999 American film by Kevin Smith Dogma featured an "excremental" (or a creature originating in human biological waste), which attacked the protagonists, who defeated it by means of a breath freshener aerosol.
  • In the online webcomic The Order of the Stick Titanium elementals are used to assault a city, a clear parody of the Dungeons & Dragons elementals. Later, a Chlorine elemental also makes its appearance.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Elements in fiction" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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