Tonight, we’ll read “The Palace Under the Waves” found in the book “Swiss
Tales” published in 1920. We will also read a story called “The Fairy in the Cuckoo Clock.”
The first story features undines, a category of elemental beings associated with water, stemming from the alchemical writings of Paracelsus. Later writers developed the undine into a water nymph in its own right, and it continues to live in modern literature and art through such adaptations as Danish Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid".
Paracelsus believed that each of the four classical elements – earth, water, air and fire – is inhabited by different categories of elemental spirits, liminal creatures that share our world: gnomes, undines, sylphs and salamanders respectively. He describes these elementals as the "invisible, spiritual counterparts of visible Nature ... many resembling human beings in shape, and inhabiting worlds of their own, unknown to man because his undeveloped senses were incapable of functioning beyond the limitations of the grosser elements."