Yesterday I started out researching the Fire Elemental, and stumbled onto the funniest looking critter, called the Axolotl.
Now, I ask you, doesn't this look like some kind of critter Pixar might have invented? But it's a real creature, complete with feathery external gills and that little mouth. Unfortunately, it's endangered these days, as clean fresh water around Mexico City is harder and harder to find.
I learned about this guy while I was researching the Aztec god known as Xolotl, who was said to have transformed himself into an Axolotl from time to time. Xolotl was the "dog-faced" god of the underworld, of fire, and of misfortune and bad luck; he also escorted the dead to the underworld. He was the twin brother of the more famous and revered "feathered serpent" known as Quetzalcoatl.
Nice article on the link between the Xolotl and the Axolotl, here: http://ferrebeekeeper.wordpress.com/2010/05/28/xolotl-god-of-sickness-deformity-and-misfortune/
Anyway...this is how my mind works. From the Fire Elemental, represented by the salamander, to the Aztec/Mexican salamander known as Xolotl...you *know* this is making its way into a book.
By the way, every wonder why the Fire Elemental is a salamander, of all things? Apparently when people threw logs into fires there were often salamanders hiding within. Upon landing on the fire they would emerge and run to safety, leading people to believe that they had risen from the fire, wet and sleek and impervious to the heat.
Mythology is so much wilder than anything my imagination could ever cook up!