A couple classes ago when Professor McCoy made mention of Jemisin’s interest in Marvel Comics and the influence that this interest might have had in the creation of the Ring system within the Fulcrum—as a Marvel fan—I couldn’t help but do my research. My discoveries about Marvel’s installment of the ten-ring system only fueled my growing need to better understand the world that Jemisin has created, considering the intentional decisions she makes. So to get things going let’s start with some Marvel History!
The ten-ringer of the Marvel Universe is named the Mandarin. He is a villain who came across 10 cylinders while visiting a cave known as the Valley of Spirits. Axonn-Kaur, an alien from a different planet (Maklu-IV), fled to this cave when angry, fear-driven humans perceived him as a monster—rather than the intellectual sentient species he actually was—because of his ‘alien’ appearance. Axonn warned the Mandarin not to use the rings, which he used as a means to fuel his spaceship but was killed for his advice. Over the course of several years, the Mandarin figured out how to use each of the rings for his own benefit, and eventually when he wore them all at once their power became apart of him and linked directly with his mind, so much so that he didn’t even have to wear them to utilize them. It is important to know that each ring is to be worn on a specific finger in order to function and has its own individual purpose that ranges from Ice Blast (left hand pinky finger) to a Disintegration Beam (right hand ring finger). (To find out more click here)
The ten-ringer of Jemisin’s world, Alabaster, differs from the Mandarin but before I delve into what separates the two I think it’s important to notice their similarities. In the Fulcrum, the Ring system is used as a means to measure the level of control that an Imperial Orogene has over their abilities. Having the rings require control that can only be contained by a trained mind, as Syenite mentions in The Fifth Season: “It’s the first lesson of orogeny…Only a trained Fulcrum orogene can deliberately, specifically move a boulder. And only a ten-ringer, apparently, can move the infinitesimal substances floating and darting in the interstices of his blood and nerves” (166). Alabaster continuously demonstrates this degree of control by performing tasks that Syenite didn’t think was possible before she witnessed or (unwillingly) partook in them. Another similarity lies in the power that comes along with having more rings. Using the rings, The Mandarin was able to later have a large—though purposely disastrous—influence over the others in his world, similarly in the world of the Fulcrum having ten rings comes with its perks, with respect and influence being one of them. Syenite notes this when she states: “For the potential value of his favor, and her own goals for advancement within the Fulcrum’s ranks, she should even try to like him” (121).
Each time I’ve revisited the topic of addressing the differences in these separate worlds with their individual ten-ringers my long list always leads back to one word, freedom. In the Marvel Universe, no “earthly science” can understand the power of the rings and as a result of his training and connection with their power, the Mandarin is the only person who can use them for whatever means he deems is worth his attention. At first, this struck me as a similarity to Orogeny — and arguably it would be— if there wasn’t the issue of the rigid structure of the world order that is aimed at forcing orogenes to not use their instincts (powers) without training. The fact that despite his degree of control as a ten-ringer, Alabaster isn’t trusted with his natural ability: “they can kill anyone who crosses them, even though they’re not supposed to. And it’s why ten-ringers get choices: Nobody’s going to force them to do anything, Except the Guardians, of course” (129), is one factor that makes him different than the Mandarin (in terms of how they use their powers). This lack of freedom not only dictates the ways that Alabaster can use his powers but also impacts his life as a part of the Fulcrum, considering that he must continue with the breeding program. Despite this, I have come to admire his constant attempts of resistance that range from making Syenite question the foundations of “truth” that she’s been force-fed since she entered the Fulcrum to quelling shakes to give node maintainers relief.
Jemisin’s decisions on how to form this similar yet different ring system gave me more insight as a reader. Her proposition that the influence of control is not necessarily something measured by the expanse at which the influence reaches considering: “Any infant can move a mountain” (166), but rather the ability to influence something specific, something “infinitesimal” was inspiring. But then, her revelation that even someone like Alabaster, who has attained the highest degree of control created by a high structural power, is still deemed unfit to use his power deeply bothered me and has led me to my next area of interest, the Guardians. Now, much like Syenite, I find myself questioning: “To whom do the Guardians answer?” (255).