Stonelore, the passed-down wisdom about how to survive Fifth Seasons, symbolizes the limitations and mutability of human knowledge and history. In other words, it reflects the idea that history can be literally rewritten to suit those in power.
According to Stillness tradition, ancient people originally inscribed stonelore in stone tablets, and stonelore’s teachings have been passed down for millennia as the wisdom necessary to survive a Fifth Season. That it’s written in stone implies that it’s permanent and unchangeable, and there are many stories told about people who ignore stonelore and suffer for it. Stonelore is taught to all children in the Stillness, and its authority is seemingly never questioned.
Eventually, Syenite and the reader come to question the truth of stonelore’s unchanging nature. Alabaster tells Syenite that ancient tablets have been discovered that completely contradict what is accepted as the current stonelore text, and that the prohibition on changing stonelore might itself be a recent addition to its commandments. Nothing is ever truly written in stone, the novel implies, and history and the law are written by those in power at any given time. This suggests that the ruling classes would feel no compunction about destroying or discrediting stonelore that might go against their current policies, or rewriting history to make ancient laws seem to support the current hierarchy. Only a few fragments of stonelore are directly quoted in The Fifth Season, but many of them deal with orogenes, and the compulsory learning of stonelore is a central reason that people throughout the Stillness hate and fear orogenes so much. If stonelore itself might be misinterpreted or have even been altered, then it is because a group in power wants people to keep hating orogenes, and for orogenes to continue to feel themselves less than human. This then invites the novel’s characters and readers to question everything that might be accepted as universal knowledge, particularly when it benefits those in power and keeps the oppressed at the bottom.
Stonelore Quotes in The Fifth Season
“Tell them they can be great someday, like us. Tell them they belong among us, no matter how we treat them. Tell them they must earn the respect which everyone else receives by default. Tell them there is a standard for acceptance; that standard is simply perfection. Kill those who scoff at these contradictions, and tell the rest that the dead deserved annihilation for their weakness and doubt. Then they’ll break themselves trying for what they’ll never achieve.”
“They kill us because they’ve got stonelore telling them at every turn that we’re born evil—some kind of agents of Father Earth, monsters that barely qualify as human.”
“Yes, but you can’t change stonelore.”
“Stonelore changes all the time, Syenite.” He doesn’t say her name often, either. It gets her attention. “Every civilization adds to it; parts that don’t matter to the people of the time are forgotten. There’s a reason Tablet Two is so damaged: someone, somewhere back in time, decided that it wasn’t important or was wrong, and didn’t bother to take care of it. Or maybe they even deliberately tried to obliterate it, which is why so many of the early copies are damaged in exactly the same way.”