The Good Old Classical Elements

Been watching Avatar:  The Last Airbender with Frannie.  I’d never seen any before, but was always a bit wary of it, given it’s an American show adopting a Japanese animation style.  Also, its previews on Nickelodeon never looked all that good to me.  I honestly don’t remember the ads now, but I do remember not being particularly impressed.  But a friend of Frannie’s recently hijacked her mind and got her to watch.  And I’ve been really enjoying it.  Lots of laughing out loud – more like hooting, embarrassingly enough – from me.  Which is nice.  Laughing out loud is nice.  But it’s a lovely little story too, so far.  Only on the second disc of the first season, so we’ll see.

Watching this show has gotten me thinking about the classical elements again.  I used to be really into them when I was thirteen and fourteen.  The two major stories – more sagas, really – that I was working on in those years heavily feature earth, air, fire, and water-related magics.  I’ve started leaning away from them since – after those stories I got more into writing science fiction for a while, then there were vampires and telepathic powers … and so on.  But I am planning on writing these old, more traditional fantasy stories at one point, so I’ll have to get back into working with the classical elements again.  Need to work on making them more unique.  The manner in which they’re used.  The different purposes.  Traditions and taboos.  There are so many possibilities, so many ways to make history and culture and plot out of these classical elements.

When my interest was at its peak, I was doing a lot of research into these elements – and by research, I of course mean perusing a mega crap-tonne of poorly made, slightly shady Wiccan sites.  Trying to remember some of the classic detail about each element:

Fire:  direction is south; object is a wand/staff; a more masculine element.

Water:  direction is west; object is a chalice/cup/bowl; a more feminine element.

Air:  direction is east; object is a knife/sword (or letter opener, if I remember right); a more masculine element.

Earth:  direction is north; object is a pentagram?(I’m not sure about this one); a more feminine element.

Spirit:  can’t remember anything exactly about this one, but it’s a joining force, and referred to as “Heart” in a certain 90s environmentally-aware cartoon.

Followed this detail fairly closely for the most innocent and fantastical of these early stories of mine – had a bunch of spirits, and these were the main five.  All the others deferred to them.  Will have to rethink quite a few things, but it’ll be fun.  Classical elements have always been fun.  That’s probably why they’re used so often.  This first story with the spirits I’ll have to rethink the most, but I still quite like the second.  Elemental dancing.  Hooray.  Expansion still required, though.

And now, off the top of my head and in no particular order, a short list of good/fun TV shows, movies, and books that use the classical elements.  Let me know what must be included in a longer list.

Avatar:  The Last Airbender created and produced by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko

Captain Planet and the Planeteers created by Ted Turner and Barbara Pyle

Sailor Moon created by manga artist Naoko Takeuchi

The Fifth Element directed by Luc Besson

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

The Witches of Eileanan by Kate Forsyth

The Gathering by Isobelle Carmody (this isn’t classical elements per se, but I see some connection to them, and a lot of the same objects pop up –  bowl, torch, sword.  Plus it’s a great read.  Haven’t read it since school … must obtain this book).

(Just out of interest, all of the above pictures were drawn way back when I was thirteen, characters from these unwritten tales – two spirits and one pair of fire dancers)

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2 thoughts on “The Good Old Classical Elements

  1. The Last Airbender is a fascinating thing to me. I don’t know what to do with the show, and the movie wasn’t very good, but I find the concept positively brilliant, so I can’t stay away.

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