Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Magical personifications of natural forces associated with the Elements of Alchemy: earthquakes and landslides for Earth, gales for Air, floods and tidal waves for Water (also, in collaboration with Air, storms), and Fire in any aspect. Many feature in stories by Algernon Blackwood. Fritz Leiber's "Smoke Ghost" (1941) suggests a City elemental; John Brunner's The Traveller in Black (coll of linked stories 1971) features elementals of qualities like sharpness and oblivion; Fred Saberhagen's Changeling Earth (1973) adds the desert elemental of sandstorms, and the subtler prairie elemental that expands distance and lengthens travellers' paths; Alan Moore reconstructed Swamp Thing from a Golem-like creature of earth and mud to a plant elemental attuned to ecology and the "Green". Generally a true elemental is non-anthropomorphic, as opposed to the personifications which are Gods; thus Robert A Heinlein's Magic, Inc. (1940) has a simple ball of flame as its fire elemental (or salamander), and a watery blob reeking of low tide as the water elemental (here called an Undine); but, yielding to anthropomorphism, Heinlein's earth elementals are gnomes. By this token, those Trolls which are animated stone may be earth elementals; Terry Pratchett's The Colour of Magic (1983) offers a complementary water elemental with its liquid "sea troll" Tethis. The most famous of air/wind elementals is the Wendigo; each wind has its own controlling elemental in Elizabeth A Lynn's The Red Hawk (1983 chap). Notable fire elementals appear in: Poul Anderson's "Operation Salamander" (1956), as a lizard-shape hidden in flame; Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light (1967), as static lightning-bolts; Diane Duane's The Door into Fire (1979) and its sequels, in horse form; and Diana Wynne Jones's Howl's Moving Castle (1986), as a fiery face in the hearth which is a literal fallen Star. Ally, Ally, Aster (1981) by Gwyneth Jones writing as Ann Halam features a Nordic ice or winter elemental. [DRL]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.