During our small group discussion around N.K. Jemisin’s characters, Andrew pointed out how intriguing the stone eaters’ range of mobility is. Although the stone eaters struggle to go down a couple steps, they are also able to move through the earth in mere instances. As Jemisin’s writing does not leave any room for simple coincidence to act as rationale, the constantly overlooked mysteries behind the origin and functions of the stone eaters leave too many puzzles for me to not make my own theories. In order to better understand the stone eaters, I’ve started to speculate a little in the biology of the stone eaters or, as I’ve coined it, petrovorology.
Although Hoa’s unfamiliarity with human habits is cute at first, his behavior becomes strange and alienated once the kirkhusa incident forces him to reveal himself as a non-human. Just as Hoa seems to have a bond with Essun, the reader is shown that this relationship is not uncommon as Alabaster has Antimony and even Ykka has her own stone companion as well. Hoa admits that he timed and chose this child-like appearance on purpose, implying that he has been watching Essun long enough to know which form would appeal to her the most. Although Hoa outwardly appears as a human child, he is still a stone eater internally and demonstrates to the reader the stone eaters’ ability to shape-shift.
The mystery surrounding the stone eaters suggests that they know more than they let on; they’re just not very chatty individuals. In addition to all their strength and power, the stone eaters’ own bodies consist of some pretty hardy stuff. With bodies literally made of stone, the stone eaters do not really face any natural dangers to their lives other than erosion maybe and even that takes a long time. Therefore, they could have been alive way before any of the human characters were born but with their shape-shifting abilities, no one would ever know. If the stone eaters really are immortal, the chemical composition of their bodies would allow time to pass pretty easily.
According to The Guardian and Scientific American, a species’ perception of time is dependent on two things: body mass and metabolic rate. Dr. Andrew Jackson from Trinity College Dublin in the Republic of Ireland conducted a study by testing different species’ critical flicker fusion frequency, which is the speed at which a flickering light becomes a steady, non-flickering light. Small species like flies have small body mass and high metabolic rate so they experienced a higher frequency, which means that time moves much slower for them and they are able to process sensory information much faster than those bigger than them. Thus why it seems that every fly you try to swat seems to easily avoid your attacks; while you think you might be moving with lightning-speed, it’s slowly moving inch-by-inch to the insect. Large species like leatherback turtles, on the other hand, are big creatures (as in, a lot of mass) with slow metabolic rates so each year seems like a slow slideshow to them. The scientists in this field believe that this discovery “suggests that different nervous systems have developed to balance pressures from the natural environment with energy conservation. Rapid perception might be essential for a hawk but would waste a whale’s precious energy.” Stone eaters are essentially at the top of the food chain, with questionable metabolism since they don’t seem to eat, and are incredibly dense and heavy due to their stone composition so they kind of fit the bill for this study as well.
Despite their humanoid appearance and features, the stone eaters are far from sharing any similarities between the stills, the orogenes, and even the Guardians. “A stone eater is a thing that defies reason…that cannot be measured and predicted in a way that makes sense…[and they] do as they please, go where they will…no one tries to stop them” (284). Due to their own chemical composition as stone, the stone eaters are able to travel through the earth all the way to the other side of the world in a blink of an eye. However, no one knows how they do so and whether they stay intact in their humanoid form as they move through the earth or if they break themselves down to the molecular level to become the same type of stone they are traveling through.
Even more intriguing is the stone eaters’ ability to bring other living organisms with them through the earth. In the final battle of The Fifth Season, Antimony attempts to protect Alabaster by “dragging [him] into the ground, against his will…[making] his body pass through solid stone by making him more stonelike” (432-433), revealing that the stone eaters have the ability to “manipulate the infinitesimal structure of matter itself rather than mountains” (82-83). According to Syenite, “Any infant can move a mountain…a trained Fulcrum orogene can…move a boulder. And only a ten-ringer, apparently, can move the infinitesimal substances floating and darting in the interstices of [Alabaster’s] blood and nerves” (166). As Syenite demands Alabaster to teach her how he’s able to have such control, Alabaster refuses because he’s afraid that she “may not be able to stop [herself] from trying” (167), which suggests she might experience some kind of irreversible consequence in which orogeny takes over the user.
Keeping in mind the stone eaters’ alchemical abilities (which seem to essentially be the most advanced form of orogeny) and the mysterious longevity of their kind, I question what the link between the orogenes and the stone eaters are. Just as Damaya, Syenite, and Essun were connected as the same person, I wonder if all the powerful orogenes who gained Alabaster’s level of control are destined to turn into stone eaters and if Hoa, Antimony, and Ykka’s stone eater have already succumbed to this fate long ago.