The  Elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water in Tolkien

By Elwing-(V)
March 25, 1999


Matters of Opinion

First, let me state that these writings are a matter of my opinion, having taken form over time (and still subject to change), influenced by many other opinions, even a few facts.  I like to give credit where due; however, I have a poor memory for exact names, titles, etc., so most of what I attribute to other sources I must do under the generic footnote of "something I once heard or read somewhere".  Sorry J  But to forge ahead nonetheless…

Chapter: the Four (and maybe more) Elements

The four elements are generally listed as: earth, air, water and fire. Each is assigned a particular symbolism, which I believe is accepted as follows:
Earth = the physical self, body; renewal
Air = the spiritual self, soul; energy
Water = the conscious self, mind; thought
Fire = the emotional self, heart; passion

One may see positive and negative aspects of each of these, both in the element itself (being neither good nor evil) and in what it represents (which can be good or evil, depending on an individual’s perception).  Examples:

Fire (heart) – the light of a fire is considered a good thing, whereas the heat can be bad when uncontrolled.  One may find serenity and comfort in a small hearth fire, whereas a consuming wildfire causes all to flee in terror from it.  One should also have a passion for life, and love, else one gets stale, in a rut; yet passion over-ignited can cause envy and jealousy, which in turn can lead to worse.

Water (mind) – to me perhaps the most appropriate of connections; a clear, intelligent, imaginative mind is like clear stream water sparkling in the sun, or gentle cleansing rain quenching nature’s thirst; yet a bitter, paranoid mind is like a stagnant pool that poisons, or a raging flood that can come with little warning and leave only destruction.

Air (soul) – some consider the soul to be a separate "element", but I think it compares well with aspects of air…not the least being both are invisible to most eyes.  Compared to the other elements, this one seems less negative.  I believe souls start good, but may become bad, partly through the impact of bad aspects of other influences. Air can cause damage by strong force; however, more damage seems to occur once another element is involved…from strong waves whipped up by the wind, or by debris in a tornado after it has touched earth.

Earth (body) – the element and aspect that perhaps has the most influence on us.  The sometimes overwhelming senses of a physical body make it unique.  One may appreciate, enjoy, even (to a point) control the other elements through or with it.  A body is unfortunately subject to infirmities of age and ravages of disease, yet even as the body of the earth withstands great disasters and rebounds, so in a measure do we…in the most basic sense, we are renewed in our children.  In a more esoteric sense, we may be reborn in a higher state (which may still involve a physical inhabitation) of  that which makes us unique and individual beings.
For the most part, it seems the adage "Moderation in all things" is a good one.  An occasional lapse into excess (on the "positive" side of course) is generally overlooked.

Within the Tolkien realms, the characteristics of the elements in the worldly sense (in Ea, composed of Arda and her surrounding heavens) seemed somewhat different from the same elements in the Heavenly sense (in Eru’s realms mainly, and in some instances in the presence of the Valar). Examples:

Earth:  of course this is plainest to envision, as the creation of Arda was the creation of it’s own element. Although the Valar were bound to Arda, it was not in the same way as men or elves; their physical appearances were by choice and could change; they were apparently pleased enough with those physical forms that they kept them not only when making their presence known to earthly beings, but also just among themselves.  The Trees of Valinor, grown truly from the earth, yet unlike other trees, were sources of light within themselves and in their dews (sap).  One ultimately was the source of the sun, a thing not only of light but also of fire, which no ordinary tree can withstand, much less contain.

Air:  on Arda, an element without which fire and water could not exist, nor the many creatures inhabiting the world.  The earth itself gives up some of this element through its extensions on the outer surface.  In the Heavenly realm, air would be more properly called space, through which thought and music traveled and was given special form.

Water:  the "life blood" of Arda, its "veins".  This element seems to best connect the heavens (the sky from which it rains) to the earth and its inhabitants.  It is said to be the strongest carrier of the Music, especially where it runs deep; many have heard or heard of the song of the sea or ocean, even the song of the river or stream. The Themes of Eru and the music of the Ainur may be the Heavenly equivalent of earthly water.

Fire: perhaps the most dual-natured  of the elements; used both in creation and destruction.  Several heroes named their weapon a name of fire, it being a weapon (they hoped) to bring justice in the cause of its use, and honor to its bearer.  Fire was not however, a tool only for the side of good…though Nazguls feared fire, Balrogs wielded whips of flame.  To have a "fire in the heart" could inflame a good person to new courage and fortitude in battle, but it could also make an evil person more devious and cruel.  Perhaps the most telling difference in the essence of earthly vs. Heavenly fire: on Arda, a fire would need and use up air and kindling (element of earth); in Eru’s realm, the Flame Imperishable (if it even needs those other elements) must have both within itself to continuously sustain itself as a force of creation.

So, in conclusion:  the world, even marred, is a vastly amazing thing, and with still much left to offer.

I look forward to any readers comments on my subject (and corrections, if any, to my references).
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