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Classical elements have been frequently used in pop culture in genres such as fantasy, literature, film, humor, television, video games, comic books, toys and even music. Typically a character or characters are linked to one or more of the four classical elements (fire, air, water and earth) common to most ancient philosophies (particularly the Greek, Hindu, Buddhist and Japanese traditions), either through special powers granted, ability to mimic the element, or other means. In some cases a fifth element is included, such as aether (also known as quintessence), void, or flora -- or, as was the case in the movie The Fifth Element, something else altogether.
The classical elements and their use in literary history have served as the subject of various published books. In The Elements: Earth Air Fire Water (How Artists See), Colleen Carroll examines "how the four elements have been depicted in works of art from different time periods and places." In Legends of Earth, Air, Fire and Water, Eric Hadley and Tessa Hadley provide a "collection of myths and legends from different parts of the world about the four basic elements without which life would not be possible." According to Publisher's Weekly, in Earth, Fire, Water, Air, Mary Hoffman and Jane Ray collect "snippets of factual information, myths, stories, poems and musings in this fascinating volume about the four classic elements."
The reception of the classical elements by scholars and mainstream critics varies considerably, largely depending on the medium and/or use of the classical elements. For example, the classical elements have served as significant plot elements in the various Mortal Kombat fictional universes. Blaze, a fire elemental, appears in multiple Mortal Kombat games, including as the end boss in the most recent game. The film Mortal Kombat: Annihilation features Elder Gods based on the four elements, which are mentioned chastisingly in Christian reviews.
In the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, there are four mystical martial arts which allows the control of the elements through real-life martial arts tradition: Airbending, Earthbending, Firebending, and Waterbending. These are more based on the elemental structure of the Western and/or the Japanese elements, without a style based around Aether/Void. However, there is some overlap of elements as Ice, Lightning and Metal are all sub-aspect of the other four main elements.
Airbending is a martial arts based magic which controls the element of Air. It is primarily based around the real martial arts of Ba Gua. Airbending focuses on evading and avoiding attacks.
Earthbending is a martial arts based magic which controls the element of Earth. It is primarily based around the real martial arts of Hung Ga, however there are exceptions like Toph who uses the Southern Praying Mantis Kung Fu. However, it is likely different due to the fact Toph has learned her bending from the Badger-moles (Natural animal benders, and mentioned in the show as the first earthbenders). Unlike Airbending, Earthbending is based around withstanding attacks and holding one's ground. At least one character, Toph, can use Earthbending to control metal by focusing on its Earthen impurities.
Firebending is a martial arts based magic control of fire based on Northern Shaolin, in this case primarily the Northern Shaolin Style. A specialized form of Firebending can be used to control lightning. This is done by dividing the yin from the yang of the electricity, like splitting positive and negative charges. The charge tries to merge together again, much like a lightning bolt moves from one charged object to another (Like a positively charged cloud to the negatively charged ground or vice-versa).
Waterbending is a martial arts based on primarily Tai Chi. Firebending opposes Waterbending, as the former prefers to attack first and hard until a weakness is found while the latter waits for the opponent to attack first and then redirects his strike. Whereas the other styles appear incapable of controlling the phase of their element, Waterbenders can alter the phase of water, controlling water in its solid (ice), liquid (water) and gaseous forms (mist, steam and water vapor), or even take water from the air, plants or animals. Some are even capable of controlling others (by way of the rare ability of Bloodbending) under the light of a full moon, when Waterbenders are at their strongest.
- the Black Lion - Metal
- the Red Lion - Fire
- the Green Lion - Wood
- the Blue Lion - Water
- the Yellow Lion - Earth.
"Bionicle", a toy line from LEGO with a story, has as main elements, controlled by the Toa, the main warriors and protectors of the Bionicle universe, Fire, represented with red, Water, represented in blue, Air represented in green, Ice represented in white, Stone represented in brown, tan and yellow, and Earth represented in black. More recently, though, Air has been replaced with jungle, Earth with rock and Stone with sand, due for a big story change.
Captain Planet and the Planeteers, an animated series from the early 1990s, is about five teenagers, each with a magic ring that controls an element. When their powers combine, they create a superhero named Captain Planet, who uses the power of all of the elements.
Each Planeteer's personality (and, in some cases, appearance) reflects their element. The level headed, brown skinned Kwame (Earth) functions as the leader, and holds the group together. Growing up in an African village, he knows much about the land and plant life. Wheeler (Fire), who has red hair and is more temperamental and impulsive, acts as the team's fighting spirit.
Linka (Wind) has a passion for bird life, while Gi (Water) is a student of marine biology and has skills in water sports. The fifth element is named as "Heart", and Ma-Ti's ring controls it. Ma-Ti, very in tune with wildlife, becomes empathic with both animals and people, and can communicate telepathically with his teammates. Whereas the other Planeteers give Captain Planet his powers, Ma-Ti's ring creates his persona.
In the comic book series Challengers of the Unknown, each of the four original members of the team represent one of the Greek elements. Ace Morgan is a pilot (air), redheaded Red Ryan is a daredevil (fire), Prof Haley is a deep-sea explorer (water), and Rocky Davis is wrestler (earth). While the symbolic relationship between the individuals and elements can be seen, it never really played a strong role in the development of the characters' personalities, which took many twists and turns unrelated to any archetypes.
Chaotic Reign Edit
The Chaotic Reign series deals with not four, but eight elements, derived from classical elements and comic book powers. The elements are Psychic (Psychokinesis and Plant & Animal control.), Air (Wind and Weather), Water (Water and Ice), Light (Electricity and Light), Sound (Sound and Metal), Earth (Sand and Stone), Fire (Flame and Explosive powers), and Dark (Darkness and Poison). The elements are compared by how compatible they are with each other (for example, the powers of Earth and Psychic blend well each other, the former relating to soil and the latter relating to plants, which need it, but Dark and Light are opposites and cancel each other out).
The eponymous creatures in Digimon often have attacks and characteristics that relate to an element. This theme was perhaps most emphasized in the fourth season, when the ten Legendary Warriors were based on elements of flame, light, ice, wind, thunder, earth, water, steel, wood and darkness.
The second and third seasons introduced the Sovereign Digimon, which are based on the Wu Xing animals. For unknown reasons, Qinglongmon's element was water and Xuanwumon's was wood, whereas in Wu Xing tradition, the reverse is true.
In the Dungeons & Dragons family of role-playing games, the idea of the Greek elements are used as the symbolic building blocks of reality; the four Elemental Planes form a metaphorical ring around the "Prime Material Plane" that contains all the "everyday" game settings (Faerun, Greyhawk, et cetera). In all editions of the game there is the addition of a Positive (Creative/Constructive) Energy Plane "above" the Elemental and Prime planes, as well as a Negative (Destructive/Necromantic) Energy Plane "below" them. In the more complex cosmos of the 2nd Edition and beyond there are other planes where the six major elemental planes adjoin each other. The Paraelemental Planes manifested where the elemental planes overlap - Fire and Earth become Magma, Earth and Water form Ooze, Water and Air are joined as Ice, and Air and Fire unite as Smoke (the opposing pairs of Fire/Water and Earth/Air do not touch). The Quasielemental Planes were formed where the Positive or Negative Planes bordered the elemental planes; they express either the abundance or intensification of the element's nature, or its destruction or absence. The positive Quasielemental expressions of Earth, Water, Air and Fire are Minerals, Steam, Lightning and Radiance, respectively; their negative counterparts are Dust, Salt, Vacuum and Ash.
The popular R&B musical group Earth, Wind & Fire is so named because founder Maurice White's sign was Sagittarius, whose primary elemental quality is Fire (hot & dry), but whose north and south seasonal qualities are Earth (cold & dry), and Air (hot & wet); (hence, the omission of water).
In the comic book series Fantastic Four, each of the four characters have powers which relate to the Greek elements. The two most obvious links are the Human Torch (whose fire control power is best expressed through the image of him as a burning man) and the Thing (who resembles a living being of rock and stone). Mister Fantastic, while not having water-based powers, does have a fluid form. The Invisible Woman's powers of invisibility and force fields evoke the unseen forces of wind and air. This is especially true in Neil Gaiman's Marvel 1602, where the Invisible Woman is both permanently invisible and weightless.
It should also be mentioned the two obvious elemental personalities (the Human Torch and the Thing) tend to have personality traits people tend to associate with their own elements. Johnny the human Torch is impulsive, quick to anger with a brash personality, contrast this to Ben the Thing who is more sullen, dependable and strong.
Perhaps the closest character to embodying Water in the Fantastic Four is their companion (and sometimes rival) Namor the Sub-Mariner, who becomes invincible when underwater, can breathe both above and below the surface, and rules Atlantis.
In the Harry Potter series, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where most of the books' plots are set, is divided into four houses: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin. Each of the four houses corresponds roughly to one of the classical Greek elements. Ravenclaw's high tower and representative symbol of the raven correspond to the element of air. Hufflepuff, whose symbol is the badger, corresponds to earth, and their common room is located under the school. The fluid snake symbol of Slytherin corresponds to water, and their common room is located directly under the lake. The symbol of Gryffindor is the lion, exemplifying bravery, quick temper, and boldness, symbolized by fire.
In Heroes of Might and Magic III, magic spells and skills were divided into schools of magic with each school corresponding to a classical element. Representative spells include
- Implosion, Meteor Shower and Slow from the school of Earth Magic
- Armageddon, Inferno and Curse from the school of Fire Magic
- Frost Ring, Clone and Heal from the school of Water Magic
- Chain Lightning, Counter Strike and Haste from the school of Air Magic
Progression in proficiency (Basic -> Advanced -> Expert) in magic skill increases some aspect of the spells cast in the corresponding school of magic (e.g. higher damage, increased effect, longer duration, lower mana cost etc.).
In the KidsWB series, Jackie Chan Adventures, eight of Jackie's enemies foes were Chinese demons who derived their powers from eight forces of nature: Wind, Water, Moon, Earth, Thunder, Mountain, Sky, and Fire.
In the manga and anime series Naruto, ninjas use the power of Chakra (mixing of mental energy and physical energy to create a supernatural force) to perform jutsu (ninja techniques which allow the use of superpowers or martial arts). As depicted in the series, Chakra has elemental aspects, with the elements' comparative strengths resembling the creative/destructive cycle of the Chinese elements. The cycle goes from Wind to Lightning to Earth to Water to Fire before returning to Wind again, which each element stronger than the one after it.
In the world of Naruto, there are certain people who can mix elemental aspect into new elemental jutsu. So far, expressions of this shown are ice, wood, lava, storm, boil and dust. The ice mixes water and wind, wood mixes water and earth, lava mixes earth and fire, storm mixes water and lightning, boil mixes fire and water, and dust mixes earth and wind. There is one elemental which doesn't this trend, a blaze element. There are also elements unique to the anime and movie medium, among them crystal, darkness, steel and swift. to This is similar to the building block idea of Dungeons and Dragons, which also links with ideas of primitive man that all things are made up of classical element.
Within the series, some countries are named after the elements (like the "Land of Fire" where Naruto lives). There are also five powerful ninja villages who exhibit dominance over the smaller villages, each of which is based on the five elements above. Each holds a leader ninja who is the only one to take the name of shadow (Kage).
In the anime series Ronin Warriors, all of the heroes and villains are representative of different concepts of virtue as well as the classical elements (in the case of the series' heroes) or seasons (in the case of the villains).
Most of the Sailor Senshi characters in the Sailor Moon anime metaseries have elemental powers, some being inspired by Chinese elements (the Wu Xing) and some by Roman mythology. These are derived from the Japanese names given to their planets; even in civilian form, each heroine has a surname which reflects her planet and her powers.
Four of the Sailor Senshi (Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Venus) have elemental powers based directly on their planets: Mercury for water, Mars for fire, Jupiter for plant life, and Venus for metal. They also take inspiration from Greek mythology, especially Jupiter (lightning) and Venus (love). The other set of four (Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, and Saturn) also have powers based on their planet names, but since the first three were not known from antiquity, their names derive from the Western names and therefore from Roman myth (resulting in "sky king," "sea king," and "dark king" respectively). Sailor Uranus uses the forces of air and wind, Sailor Neptune uses the forces of the ocean, and Sailor Pluto is the Guardian of Space-Time and the Underworld. Sailor Saturn's element is given as earth, which corresponds to mythological harvest symbolism and to her powers over destruction and death. The main character, Sailor Moon, along with the younger Sailor Chibi Moon, use elemental powers of light.
In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Thine Own Self", Data is stranded on a pre-industrial planet where the inhabitants are still taught that the elements consist of sky, fire, rock and water.
Several teams of Super Sentai and Power Rangers have used the classical elements thematically, with each Ranger having powers related to one element.
Normally, the Red Ranger represents fire, and the Blue Ranger water. For example, the Red Turbo Ranger and the Red Lightspeed Ranger have had Zords based on fire trucks, while the Blue Aquitian Ranger had a water-based attack. Gosei Sentai Dairanger drew heavily from Chinese mythology, and five of the Mythical Qi Beasts correspond to the Wu Xing. In Seijuu Sentai Gingaman and Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, the five Rangers represented fire (Red), water (Blue), wind (Green), lightning (Yellow) and flora (Pink), with earth (the Black Knight/the Magna Defender) added later.
The elements in Ninpuu Sentai Hurricanger are air (Red), earth (Yellow), water (Blue), shadow (Kabuto) and forest (Kuwaga). The last two became the Thunder Rangers in Power Rangers Ninja Storm, sharing the element thunder, and the Green Ranger was given an element of his own (forest). The elemental theme was here used more extensively than in previous series, and the Rangers’ attacks and fighting styles often reflect it. In Mahou Sentai Magiranger and Power Rangers Mystic Force, MagiRed (the Red Ranger) and Wolzard (the Wolf Warrior) share the element fire. The other Rangers have powers based on thunder (Yellow), water (Blue), air (Pink), earth (Green), ice (White), and light/the sun (MagiShine/the Solaris Knight).
The use of elements is not restricted to the protagonists. In Kyuukyuu Sentai GoGo-V, the demons Zylpheeza, Drop, Cobolda and Demus (Diabolico, Impus, Loki and Vypra in Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue) each represent one of the four elements. In both versions, all monsters are affiliated with one of them, and relate to the same element.
The Disney cartoon series "WITCH" is centered around five girls who receive magical powers in order to fight evil in fantasy worlds parallel to their own, and each power is based on an element, with the corresponding "witch" being able to produce said element from nothing, or communicate with it. The fifth element, in this story, is the "heart of Kandrakar", an amulet that grants the girls their powers, which is worn by Will, the leader of the group.
In the KidsWB series, Xiaolin Showdown, the four main characters were warriors of the four elements: Omi (water), Raimundo (wind), Kimiko (fire), Clay (earth).
- Television Tropes and Idioms--Elemental power page--This page has more details on the idea of elements used in fiction, as well as uses of elements for personality traits of character archetypes in fiction. It has a list of uses of elemental forces in fiction from multiple media. Link: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ElementalPowers
- ↑ Juliet Heslewood, Jane Lydbury, Hugh Marshall, Tamara Capellaro, and Alison McNeill, Earth, Air, Fire, and Water (Oxford University Press, USA, 1989).
- ↑ See the MacBook Earth, Water and Fire
- ↑ Don Dupont and Brian Hiller, Earth, Water, Fire, Air: A Suite for Voices, Narrator and Orff Instruments (Memphis Musicraft Publications, 2005).
- ↑ New Album: Francis M - Earth Wind Fire Water
- ↑ Colleen Carroll, The Elements: Earth Air Fire Water (How Artists See) (Abbeville Press, 1999).
- ↑ Eric Hadley and Tessa Hadley, Legends of Earth, Air, Fire and Water (Cambridge University Press, 1985).
- ↑ Mary Hoffman and Jane Ray, Earth, Fire, Water, Air (Dutton Juvenile; 1st American ed edition, 1995).
- ↑ Tyson Gibson, "Review of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation," Christian Spotlight on Entertainment.
- ↑ Elemental Qualities in Astrology
- ↑ http://books.google.com/books?id=Qey0TqB3hDgC&pg=PA96&dq=%22fantastic+four%22+elements+earth+fire+water+air&sig=kBq8il0603pG0isjxR2NZfmgmFA
- ↑ http://books.google.com/books?id=g9BPAAAAMAAJ&q=%22fantastic+four%22+elements+earth+fire+water+air&dq=%22fantastic+four%22+elements+earth+fire+water+air&pgis=1