Sunday, April 11, 2010

Guest Blogger: Laura Bickle

The winner of Laura's book is: Cherie J! Congrats, Cherie! Send me your contact info and I'll pass it along to Laura. Thanks to everyone who participated.
Elemental Familiars

The ancient Greeks theorized that the world was composed of four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. They developed the idea that each element was tied to a corresponding set of nature spirits called daemons. Socrates himself was said to have been inspired by such a guardian daemon, who he spoke to for much of his adult life. Plato notes:

"For after death, as they say the daemon of each individual, to whom he belonged in life, leads him to a certain place in which the dead are gathered together, whence after judgment has been given they pass into the world below, following the guide, who is appointed to conduct them from this world to the other: and when they have received their due and remained their time, another guide brings them back again after many revolutions of ages." (Phaedo 107d)

Centuries later, the alchemist Paracelsus classified elemental spirits into four categories:

-Undines, corresponding to the element of water. Ancient philosophers believed that every body of water, even every fountain, had its own undine. As water was considered to be the element of the emotions, they were nearly always described as female nymph-like creatures or mermaids.

-Sylphs, avatars of the element of air, were associated with the intellect and ideas. They were often described as what modern storytellers would think of as fairies or angels.

-Gnomes, tied to the element of earth. These were variously described as elf-like beings, dryads, and satyrs. They were concerned with pragmatic matters, with the woods and wealth of the harvest.

-Salamanders, corresponding to the element of fire. Salamanders were considered to be the most unpredictable and destructive of the elementals, tied to the fires of creation. Philosophers suggested that the salamander took the shape of the familiar amphibian…probably because salamanders that dwelled in felled logs came crawling out when the logs were burned. Pliny the Elder described the salamander as: “an animal like a lizard in shape and with a body starred all over” (The Natural History).

In developing EMBERS, I was fascinated by the idea of a salamander familiar. My heroine, Anya, is an arson investigator and a medium searching for a serial arsonist in Detroit. Like the guardian daemons of Plato’s era, Sparky the salamander defends Anya from malicious spirits – when he’s not chewing on her cell phone or shorting out the microwave. I wanted to capture a bit of the wildness of the classical salamander into his behavior.

Overall, I found the idea of a human-elemental partnership intriguing. Since the time of Socrates conversing with his daemon, the idea of an elemental familiar has persisted. I suspect that ancient and modern peoples have all yearned for a bit of the same thing: a connection with nature. It’s no wonder that, in an increasingly urbanized and mechanized society, there’s a visceral desire to bond with something as primal and ancient as the four elements.
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Laura will give away a copy of her book to one commenter. Her winner will be selected and posted on Tuesday evening. Stop back by to see if you won.

20 Comments:

Blogger Katie said...

Sounds like an interesting book. I may have to check it out or at least add it to the tbr pile.

Thanks for the insight!

6:04 PM  
Blogger YzhaBella (aka Kate) said...

I agree with Katie! Sounds like a totally rockin' read! It's most definitely been added to my wish list!

Thanks so much for sharing!
Have a great day every one!
Kate (aka YzhaBella's BookShelf)
mleger0546(@)rogers(.)com
http://yzhabellasbookshelf.blogspot.com/

7:05 PM  
Anonymous Barb P said...

Wow, this book sounds fantastic! I can't wait to read it. Count me in on the contest please.

7:32 PM  
Blogger Candace said...

Oooh, sounds like a fantastic book! I would love to read it, count me in!

7:43 PM  
Blogger Pamk said...

sounds like a great read. will check it out further and to my wish list.

8:23 PM  
Blogger Laura Bickle said...

Thanks, folks! Sparky, Anya's fire salamander, was a blast to write. When he wasn't chewing on cell phones or licking electrical outlets, he tends to be rather possessive of Anya. That tends to put a crimp in her love life.

For folks who'd like to meet Sparky, the first chapter of EMBERS is available here: http://www.juno-books.com/embers-excerpt.html

8:24 PM  
Anonymous Sandy G. said...

Intriguing, definitely something I would read. Added to the Never Ending Pile of Books to Read.

9:31 PM  
Blogger mariska said...

I have been eyeing this book for couple days. I'd love to read it. it's intrigued me !

uniquas at ymail dot com

11:27 PM  
Blogger Laura Bickle said...

Sandy, I think my never-ending pile of books to read has accumulated enough density to create its own black hole. As long as none of the cats disappear down that event horizon, I think I'm good. I think. :-S

7:14 AM  
Blogger Beth Caudill said...

I love the familiar tied to the elements storyline. The first time I read something like that was The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey. I love that book.

Can't wait to read your take on them.

7:33 AM  
Blogger Laura Bickle said...

I haven't read THE FIRE ROSE, but I'll add it to my TBR list. Thanks for the tip, Beth!

8:19 AM  
Blogger CrystalGB said...

Great post. Embers sounds wonderful. I love the cover.

10:13 AM  
Blogger Laura Bickle said...

Thanks, Crystal. The cover artist is Chris McGrath. More of his work is here: http://www.christianmcgrath.com/

11:25 AM  
Blogger tetewa said...

I've been hearing alot about his one, count me in! tWarner419@aol.com

3:45 PM  
Blogger Raven Corinn Carluk said...

I have a parrot for a familiar. I can only imagine the problems with having a salamander.

Though, it would make barbeque season great.

9:23 PM  
Blogger Laura Bickle said...

Raven, I've never heard of a parrot familiar! I imagine that it would be interesting to have a familiar that talks back, no? What kinds of things does your parrot say? :-)

Sparky the fire salamander is actually a composite of many pets I've owned over the years. There's a lot of semi-feral cat in him. I don't think that a familiar is ever completely tamed. ;-)

9:53 AM  
Blogger donnas said...

Thanks so much for sharing. Embers sounds like a great book. I am really looking forward to the chance to read it. I will have to keep an eye out. I love the mythology tie-in as well.

11:46 AM  
Blogger Rosie said...

Thanks for stopping by and for the great contest. This book is definitely going on my TBR pile, massive as it is!

1:14 PM  
Blogger Cherie J said...

Sounds like a great read. I am intrigued by the concept of using a salamander familiar in partnership with a human. What a great idea!

3:21 PM  
Blogger Laura Bickle said...

Thanks so much for the kind encouragement, folks!

As for the reasons why familiars partner with humans...more on that in the sequel, SPARKS. Turns out, Sparky picked Anya to be his human for better reasons than her taste in classic cars. He chose her because she'd be an appropriate protector for the newts he's raising in her bathtub. If one familiar is a handful, imagine the damage that thirty can do!

8:27 PM  

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