Obelisks, Stone Eaters, and Lorists: The Many Faces of the Archive (Part Two of Two)

I’ve studied what I could of the Niess and their culture. There isn’t much left, and I have to sift the truth from all the lies. But there was a…a practice among them. A vocation. People whose job it was to see that the truth got told. (The Stone Sky 213)

When we join the story, though the Sanzed Equatorial Affiliation has technically been abolished in favor of local control, “most comms still follow Imperial systems of governance, finance, education, and more” (The Fifth Season 412). This largely centralized power structure leaves Stillness society vulnerable to self-serving historical and scientific revisions and biases, such as the defunding of research which demonstrated the key role of orogenes in preventing seasons (sorry about that Yaetr). As discussed in our group blog post, “The Deeper Inspiration of Catastrophe,” archives can have a mediating effect, serving to “steady institutions against the sway of politics,” and helping to prevent the same mistakes from being repeated. Far older than the Old Sanze Empire are stone-eaters and lorists. While they can indeed be “folly made flesh” (end-of-chapter excerpt somewhere in The Fifth Season) stone-eaters such as Hoa, alive before Seasons began, are walking history books. When he tells us at the end of The Fifth Season, “This is how it began. Listen. Learn. This is how the world changed” (443), we then understand that the series itself is an archive.

Long after we find out the “what” of Hoa’s story, we find out the “why.” After Essun becomes a stone-eater, Hoa explains, “I have told you this story, primed what remains of you, to retain as much as possible of who you were” (The Stone Sky 397). Antimony, we eventually find out, was Gaewha, and Steel, Remwha (The Stone Sky 391). While some of them may have represented different factions, without the stone-eaters who were so committed to finding and informing (or manipulating) powerful orogenes such as Essun, ‘Baster, and Nassun, the moon would never have been returned, and the Seasons would have raged on in perpetuity. They are the immortal gatekeepers of knowledge the flesh-and-blood have lost.

Listen, listen, listen well. There was an age before the Seasons, when life and Earth, its father, thrived alike…Then we turned on Him, and He has burned with hatred for us ever since. (The Fifth Season 115)

If people had actually listened, listened, listened well, however, there may not have been a story. Humanity would have long since committed itself to finding a way to pacify Father Earth and putting an end to the Seasons. Instead, they forgot the Earth’s sentience altogether (except the Guardians, in whose ears he whispered). The lorists represent a somewhat failed archive, as their practive no longer commands the respect it once did. Lorists are an ancient part of the Stillness–in Syl Anagist, Kelenli told Hoa that they “were warriors, storytellers, nobility. They told their truth in books and song and through their art engines” (The Stone Sky 214). However, Hoa explains that “Twenty-five thousand years ago…their role became distorted into near-uselessness” (The Obelisk Gate 2). In Essun’s time, with their work deemed “apocryphal and probably innaccurate” (2), they get comms to take them in by “train[ing] in the arts–music and comedy and such,” because “even the most stoic community wants entertainment during the long cold nights” (3). The arts do not keep a comm alive–they are pursued for their own sake–yet they are considered as important to a comm as food and water. This concept of doing things for their own sake is something I will discuss in my final self-reflective essay.

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