When I was around seven years old, I remember visiting my grandmother, Ethel Cook Eliot, at her home in western Massachusetts. One night she sat on the edge of my bed and told me about some rain goblins she’d seen. She described them to me as about eight inches high, skinny, wrinkled, brown-skinned, and rather leaping in spirit.
Her description was so detailed and vivid that I knew without a doubt she actually had seen these creatures.
My grandmother saw other elemental creatures as well, and wrote about them in her extraordinary and wise children’s books: The House Above the Trees, The Wind Boy, The Little House in the Fairy Wood, and others. One of the most interesting qualities I find in her books is her ability to describe our world from the point of view of an elemental being. Here’s an example from The House Above the Trees, when lonely Hepatica is being teased, and turns away, and encounters a gorgeous Wind Creature.
“Now Hepatica had sometimes, though rarely, seen Wind Creatures before, but always from the factory window and then only in the rush of their passing. Never had she seen one so close.
This Wind Creature looked to be about twelve or fourteen years old. He was walking along the edge of the road, his purple wings folded down his back. He was dressed in a purple tunic just to his knees, a garment not unlike the sky-blue slip Hepatica was wearing, except that his was the color of early morning. His head was tilted back as he walked, his joyous eyes scanning the treetops.
He noticed the children, however, as he drew near, and lowered his gaze to them. They were all up on the stone wall now, jeering at Hepatica. She stood down by the dusty road, her back to them, her eyes clear as the day.
The Wind Creature noticed the children, but only as you might notice flowers, in the same impersonal way. He looked them directly in their faces without expectation, for he knew very well that they could not see him, that he was not so much as a shadow to them. For never had this Wind Creature known a human child who could see the Forest People. So his glance passed over the daintily-frocked little girls with their butterfly bows and the boys with their cropped curls, and was just about to pass over clear-eyed Hepatica, when it stopped short; for, wonder upon wonders, she was looking directly at him and smiling in a friendly fashion.
He could hardly believe his eyes. But he smiled back. No one could have helped it, so welcoming and expectant was Hepatica’s face. But in his amazement he did not speak to her. Instead, he backed out of the road, and still looking and smiling at Hepatica, moved backward into the green forest that came down to the other side of the road.
The evening sunlight struck level through the trees and almost at once Hepatica lost him in the golden glare it made.”
Imagine if you looked at a flower and it smiled directly back at you!
Write a short story from the point of view of an elemental being. Try to get into the spirit of this being. A dryad, or tree nymph, will have a tree-like spirit, rooted in the ground and swaying in a breeze. Water creatures tend towards travel and adventure. Fire spirits move quickly and exude sparkle and light – what kind of picture would they have of our world? What are earth creatures, like elves and goblins, really like?
For this exercise bring an elemental being to life. Imagine that flowers have fairies living on them and each tree has a tree spirit within it. Elemental beings surround us, even if you aren’t able to see or hear them because you are limited by the five senses of your physical body.
Choose an elemental that intrigues you. Each elemental being is connected to a particular element—thus the name. Fairies, elves, gnomes, dryads or wood nymphs, and crystal beings are connected with earth.
Sprites, mermaids and mermen, and undines are associated with water (my grandmother also wrote about the blue water babies who traveled bubbling streams all over the world).
Sylphs and imps are air beings.
Salamanders are associated with fire. We also think of dragons as a fire elemental, but they are linked to all the elements.
And all these creatures work and play together to keep our mother earth in harmony and balance.
You can imagine each creature’s nature by delving into the nature of its element. Try to get into the spirit of this being. A dryad, or tree nymph, will have a tree-like spirit, rooted in the ground and swaying in a breeze. Water creatures tend towards travel and adventure. Fire spirits move quickly and exude sparkle and light—what kind of picture would they have of our world? What are earth creatures, like elves and goblins, really like?
Here are some prompts for your story:
Elementals love communication with humans—so bring conversation into your story.
They tend to mirror back to us how we are—so if you’re kind and generous, they will be as well.
Ask how you can help them (if you don’t see or hear them, watch for other ways that they’re letting you know what they’d like from you).
You can also ask a favor from them. In return leave a gift to show your gratitude. Anything sparkly, sweet, or lovely is welcome.
Elemental beings care deeply about our environment, all animals, plants and flowers, as well as humans.
Sing and dance—they love playfulness, fun, and laughter. Have this creature encounter a human, and write the story around that encounter.
Bring in all the wisdom you can imagine such an elemental creature has garnered through millennia.
Give them personality, characteristics, motive.
Give them feeling. A heart is not just a place where blood is pumped—a heart is where the spirit resides. Give your elemental being a real heart that only a human can truly understand.
The iron tongue of midnight hath told twelve; lovers to bed; ’tis almost fairy time. –William Shakespeare
- going for a walk before dawn
- sitting on a chair and watching ants go in and out of their hole
- figuring it out
- walking through falling blossoms
- a storm over Tintagel Castle
- weeding for an hour at twilight until it’s too dark to see