The picture is entitled The Fairies’ Banquet, 1859 by John Anster Fitzgerald. The elements of the grotesque in it make the beings represented here much closer to Elementals, and to my Fae, than to the traditional gossamer-winged human butterflies of later Victorian folklore.

On the Other Side of the Sky

A novel combining history, adventure, and more than a little touch of the arcane

Elementals play an important role in On the Other Side of the Sky. They were believed (or at least described) by the Rosicrucians and alchemists to be personifications of the four Aristotelian elements: Fire, Water, Earth, and Air. Exact descriptions of them vary, as do various attributes and powers that they are said to possess.

In my book, three out of the four types of Elemental are featured in some detail. Elementals have no souls – though practically immortal, when they die, they cease to exist, unlike humans, or the Fae, who have souls. The Fae have enslaved our world’s Elementals, who are bound by threats to obey their new masters. Many Fae have the powers of some, or even all, of the different types of Elemental.

Elementals seem to play an important role in vasious anime series, as well as in role-playing games, where they often appear to have slightly different characteristics to those described by the alchemists and Rosicrucians, and to my interpretations of these ideas.

Given the differences in the details of their descriptions, I felt it was permissible for me to pick and choose the characteristics that fitted the story and my mood best. Given that these beings may be regarded as Jungian archetypes, with deep psychic resonances, I feel this is a legitimate tactic. Descriptions here are for the Elementals as featured in my story.

Note that these illustrations I have selected do not always correspond to my imagined Elementals. From Victorian times onwards, there seems to have been a tendency to prettify and to make more acceptable these personifications of the primal forces and building blocks of our world, as perceived in pre-Enlightenment days.

Salamanders (Fire)

Salamanders are often female, and though they may sometimes appear in fire in the shape of lizards, as the result of being summoned by music and the desire of the humans summoning them, they may also be summoned from the fire to take the shape of a beautiful woman.

The result of a union between a human male and a female Salamander is a hero, and for that reason, as well as for their beauty, men have wished for a Salamander as a mate. Salamanders are jealous – and potentially dangerous. They may feed on fire, though they are rarely arsonists.

The picture is obviously a modern representation of a fire Elemental, but it begins to capture my impression of the fundamental qualities of a Salamander.

Undines (water)

Undines chiefly live in fresh water (lakes, rivers, etc.). They are often seen as female.

The painting is by John William Waterhouse, and is a rather sickly (to my mind) sentimental representation of a water Elemental.

Gnomes (Earth)

Surprisingly, perhaps, almost all sources refer to these as female, and surprisingly attractive, though mine are mainly male. These are not the cute little plaster or plastic garden gnomes figures in suburban gardens.

The picture here shows the Disney-fied version of these creatures, together with a detail from Fuseli’s The Nightmare, which comes much closer in my mind to what Gnomes should be (though this does go against the idea of the attractive female Gnomes.

They are miners, living underground, and they have the power to pass through solid objects (walls, etc.) at will.

The name “gnome” appears to have been an invention of Paracelsus, though the concept of these beings precedes him by several centuries.

Sylphs (Air)

Despite the usual modern association of the word with slim female forms, these air Elementals are often male. Taller than the average human, Sylphs have the power of flight, and can also aid non-flyers to travel.

Perhaps a little more independent and outspoken than other Elementals, though essentially good-natured.

They play an important role in On the Other Side of the Sky, and are perhaps the most likable of all the Elementals in the story. I certainly enjoyed creating their characters (and they definitely do have characters, even though they are unnamed).

This picture conveys some of what the power that I feel a Sylph would possess.

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