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Introducing Nynaeve al'Meara. "Eye of the World" vs "The Wheel of Time, Season 1." Cannoli Send a noteboard - 01/01/2022 03:19:52 AM

In Eye of the World, Nynaeve al'Meara is introduced into existence by a character trash-talking her. This character, Wit Congar is introduced thus:

Tam would not have stopped for Wit Congar if the man had not come out into the street so they had to halt... The Congars - and the Coplins; the two families were so intermarried no one really knew where one family left off and the other began - were known from Watch Hill to Devan Ride... as complainers and troublemakers.

... the scrawny man...a sour expression on his face. He ahd been sprawled on his front steps, not up on his roof, though the thatch looked as if it badly needed Master Buie's attention.

This guy is unpleasant and our sympathetically introduced Rand and Tam have not much use for him. But he's not content to live and let live, he's going to interfere with your activities to make himself heard. He also does not take care of his own business, and even his physical description is unpleasant. He could have been described as thin, or with a doleful expression or even pessimistic or some word without such an inherently unpleasant connotation as "sour". So, when this guy starts going off about Nynaeve and her performance as Wisdom, we are inclined to receive his complaints with skepticism.

The gist of his complaint is an assumption of incompetence on Nynaeve's part because her weather predictions have not matched up with the unseasonable weather seen so far. But earlier in the chapter, the al'Thors have already experienced and noted the bad weather, in a context that does not associate the problem with some shortcoming of Nynaeve. What's more, it was presented as something the al'Thors and the Two Rivers folk in general are ready to cope with. So, the “problem” with Nynaeve is undermined before we even meet her.

Furthermore, Tam's response takes it for granted that "doing something" about Nynaeve is going to be more trouble than it's worth, because she has a political structure behind her. The women of the village have real authority, and authority over their own households, as we see when Wit's wife, Daise, comes out to remonstrate with him for suggesting interference in Women's Circle affairs.

Meanwhile, the primary concern Tam & Rand have with Daise is the possibility that she might attempt some matchmaking, rather than any particular dislike of her personally. So the person on Nynaeve’s side is the more benevolent three-quarters half of the Congar couple.

Next we meet the mayor of the village, Bran, who similarly dismisses complaints about the weather as cranks and foolishness. Not a word to his fellow council member about his greatest rival for authority, when, if there was a legit problem with Nynaeve, that should be first thing on Bran's agenda.

Next up is Cenn Buie. He was first mentioned in Rand's stream of consciousness as "Master Buie" - a degree of respect conspicuously absent in his view of Wit Congar - the thatcher whose superior work will be needed in place of the repairs to his roof Wit was noted as neglecting.

And Cenn Buie, whom long-time readers will note as a pessimist and a crank, whose spiel Tam cuts off, asking him to get to the point, is that even though he does not have "much good to say about Nynaeve al"Meara... she's too young..." he goes on to cite her expertise and authority when making his own point of doom and despair over the weather. Whatever Cenn Buie's issues and general cantankerousness, he trusts Nynaeve's judgment and assumes she's simply withholding knowledge that will support his pessimistic fears. (never change, Cenn! You're literally my favorite Emond's Fielder outside of Our Heroes, and moreso than one of them. Ahem)

Next when several boys discuss the visitor, Moiraine, we learn that the Widsom doesn't like her. Why?

"She asked the Wisdom for directions this morning...and called her child." Rand and Mat both react strongly to this news, and Ewin quickly jumps to Moiraine's defense. This reaction tells us that Nynaeve is feared, by the young people, at least, and her anger is not something to be laughed off.

For negative traits, we can infer that Nynaeve is prickly about her stature and dignity, which is not the worst quality in the world. Given that two different people so far have complained about her youth, while the more sensible respect her competence, we see a clear rationale for her displeasure beyond her ego. If she is competent, she deserves to be appreciated for it, but instead, she is questioned due to her youth, so having impressive and popular visitors treating her like a child can't help. That Moiraine anecdotally leaps to attempt to repair the damage, treating her with respect and seeking her knowledge, when her apparent status and stature at the least suggests she has no real need to fear any serious consequences of Nynaeve's disapproval, suggests this issue is not in Nynaeve's head, either. And Rand also notes that however short her temper, she gets over it quickly and does not seem to hold grudges.

What's more, he cites her striking Cenn Buie in public, which further bolsters his assessment of her. That Cenn does not question her weather sense in spite of this incident strengthens her competence and also provides an ulterior motive to undermine his complaints about her.

The next mention of Nynaeve is an account of her displeasure at Mat listening to stories from a merchant's guard, and that she successfully intimidated the guard so he would not speak further on the subject with Mat.

When Nynaeve puts in an appearance shortly after, she is catching Mat admitting to unacceptable behavior. Immediately all the boys in the conversation are intimidated.

Later one or another of them would almost certainly complain about being scolded by a woman not all that much older than themselves - someone always did after one of Nynaeve's scoldings, if never in her hearing - the gap in ages always seemed more than wide enough when face-to-face with her. Especially when she was angry... The Wisdom so held his attention that at first Rand failed ot see she was not alone.

The overwhelming evidence presented is in favor of Nynaeve's authority and stature within the community, and her personal presence and charisma outshining her institutional position.

What's more, Rand and Tam being wary of the various women's attempts to entangle them domestically, Daise's lecture to Wit on the genders' balance of power, and the grumbles about the Women's Circle versus the Village Council place her as a person wielding very real institutional power, whose political constituency is active and influential.

We learn in subsequent conversations that Wisdoms seldom marry, that it's a job for life, and is of sufficient authority that some places prefer to select an unbiased outsider for the post. Later Thom confirms the outsider perception noted in Moiraine that Nynaeve is very young for the job. The boys are also concerned that if Nynaeve takes issue with Thom's words about her, even the eagerness of the population for Thom's performance might not be enough to prevent Nynaeve from shutting it down. When Nynaeve returns, it seems that she has challenged the Village Council to their faces, and all the Mayor can do is protest. But when Cenn chimes in against her, the Mayor shuts him down sharply, and when Rand raises a concern, his father dismisses the disagreements as inherent in their offices. And it seems the consensus of the Village Council does not agree with Cenn either. Tam goes on to explain public relations and village management techniques to Rand which makes it clear that Emond's Field is well-run, and the same leaders who don't have a problem with Nynaeve's personal management style are not fools who would be blind to a problem brewing.

Later, after the Trollocs attack the farm, Rand's concern with his grievously injured father is to get him "to Nynaeve". Not just another adult or the village or some kind of help, Nynaeve, in particular, more than once. Egwene, who had mentioned she was apprenticing under Nynaeve, is seen by Rand to be not best put together, understandably for the circumstances, but her hands are incongruously clean to his eyes. The blacksmith, a man cited more than once as a figure of respect, mentions that the Mayor proposed using the inn as a hospital, but Nynaeve’s veto on medical grounds is not questioned. Nynaeve shows up and her attention is immediately fixed on Tam, the patient, and Rand observes her clean hands as well. We see from her reaction to Rand's pleading against her terminal diagnosis that she genuinely cares, but she can't spare him any more time given the number of patients she still has. All of these things clearly demonstrate the respect her medical practice is held in by Rand and the village in general, and to a readership that is more knowledgeable about infection, sanitation and triage than a 19-year-old farm boy who has probably read fewer books in his life than Robert Jordan wrote, that this respect and trust is not misplaced.

All of this is how Nynaeve is initially presented by Robert Jordan in Eye of the World. When she shows up in Baerlon, the characters have the same awe of her, and even though Rand stands up for himself and Thom has to exposit the Children of the Light (not least to put into context how dumb Rand's & Mat's immediately prior escapade was), Nynaeve comes across positively, with her loyalties to the young people from her village being revealed by her willingness to challenge Moiraine and Lan, and her keeping Rand's birth circumstances secret, as well as comforting him and giving him reassurance about his relationship with his parents. Even if she can't confirm their (false) bio-parentage, she cites the love they bore him, which is later the resolution Rand accepts when he can no longer deny the fact of his adoption. Most importantly, at a pint when the young people’s experience and encounters since leaving home have all been focused on the hostility or strangeness or untrustworthiness of people, Nynaeve is clearly on their side.

Lan, of course, reinforces her competence with his comments on her woodcraft, in Baerlon, when she approaches his & Moiraine's camp undetected by natural means, and in deploying her to help with his rescue of Perrin and Egwene from the Children of the Light. We see in that incident her brains as she ascertains Egwene's presence in the camp and addresses the issue of providing for her escape. Also helping in this is Moiraine needing her medicine to fill in the gaps where her own powers are unable to help her. And she does all of this without threatening, much less attempting, to stab anyone, and without abusing her medical expertise to get her way.

Then there is the "TV" show. We first see Nynaeve conducting an adulthood ceremony for Egwene. She gives a little speech about the meaning of Egwene's braid while someone else arranges the hairstyle and a number of other women look benevolently. She states her title by saying "As Wisdom of Emond's Field, it is my honor to welcome you to the Women's Circle." Then she tells Egwene to be strong and trust the river, pushes her off a cliff into white water and the camera follows Egwene, who is clearly the focus of the scene.

This is in contrast to the show, where despite the conversationally-mentioned relationship between Rand and Egwene, Nynaeve's presence is such that he initially does not even notice his own love interest in her company. When they arrive in Emond's Field on the show, Nynaeve is barely visible, darting out of the frame to make way for Egwene’s grand entrance to an applauding inn. She gets a moment of a bittersweet smile as Egwene hugs her father, before Daise Congar sweeps Egwene off to drink at her table, with her companions. Congar, it should be noted, is not introduced rebuking Nynaeve’s first and worst critic or asserting the authority of the Women’s Circle or her own in her marriage, but as a sloppy drinker, with Tam derisively speaking of the Coplins’ and Congars’ drinking habits, their primary concern being the alcohol supply and the suggestion they will be too inebriated to remember the festival. And Nynaeve is seen quaffing and toasting with them.

After this, Nynaeve is seen when Lan enters the inn. It was daylight when Nynaeve arrived with Egwene and is now dark and raining. Nynaeve rises from a table to confront Lan with both hands on her knife, demanding to know who he is. Bear in mind, he entered in the front door of an inn, in inclement weather. This is basically what inns are for – a place for strangers to take shelter. We get a reaction shot of Nynaeve when Lan and Moiraine talk past her without paying her any attention, which, if you’re primed by the books, seems to be servicing the bit where Moiraine inadvertently snubs her by treating her as a young woman instead of a person of authority.

This is borne out when Nynaeve quashes Perrin’s and Rand’s more or less private speculation about Moiraine’s destination and intentions, by saying “I don’t care where she’s going to, but we’ll all be happier and safer when she’s there.” She then questions Perrin about his wife, and suggests he go join her at their forge.

This bit does almost nothing to develop Nynaeve as a character. These lines could have been spoken by anyone else, such as the al’Veres or Tam or even Rand or Mat. In hindsight, it seems like the real priority here is subtly setting up Perrin’s crush on Egwene, with the implicit rebuke of him spending time in Egwene’s parents’ inn, instead of with his wife, having asked Rand about Egwene and passed his best wishes for her before departing. Rand and Tam’s entire time in Emond’s Field does more to establish a strange relationship that does not pay off until episode 7, despite Perrin and Egwene traveling together without their friends from home for episodes 3-7, than it does to establish the character of Nynaeve, one of the five main characters for the whole series, the Sam to Rand’s Frodo! Even Nynaeve’s in-show promotion to ta’veren status flies under the radar until the season finale where presence of five ta’veren in Emond’s Field is mentioned (not in her presence) in contradiction to Moiraine’s and Lan’s initial assertion of only four.

Meanwhile, to anyone who might think Nynaeve is one of the highest-ranking officials in the village, and the leader of the body responsible for overseeing domestic and household matters, and the morals and behavior of the village, she is falling down on the job, as we see that Mat’s parents are neglectful of their young daughters, and engaged in alcohol abuse and infidelity, with only Mat attempting to do anything about it. Material in later books suggests young couples interested in premarital sex go about it in fear of Nynaeve’s wrath, and Rand recalls a shotgun wedding prompted by Nynaeve personally catching the couple in flagrante. On the show, Rand’s and Egwene’s parents basically set them up for a sexual encounter, which seems to not be their first time, despite her only this day being acknowledged as an adult.

Nynaeve is so ignorant of or indifferent to the progress of their relationship, she asks Egwene to be her apprentice, which comes up in the context of the position precluding Rand’s and Egwene’s marriage.

Nynaeve is seen the next day scrubbing the stones of a pool she calls sacred. Moiraine says “They call you a leader in this town, Wisdom, and here you are cleaning.” Nynaeve claims the chore is an honor and in an emotional voice demands to know what Moiraine is doing there. After a couple of back-and-forth defensive lines, Moiraine tells us that Nynaeve was not born in the Two Rivers but was brought there as an orphaned baby by the old Wisdom. The old Wisdom, it should be noted, in the book had a name, Mistress Barran, who is mentioned several times in the context of her training Nynaeve. Nynaeve’s actual date of birth, and thus her age, is uncertain as a result. Moiraine goes on to say that a feature of small towns is a failure to keep records. In the book, she asked Nynaeve several questions about people’s ages, because that’s exactly the sort of thing that would fall into the Wisdom’s sphere of authority. Nynaeve appears to find these comments hurtful or distressing. Moiraine then moves to block her exit from the pool, so Nynaeve turns back to resume her honorable scrubbing. She begins to talk about “that old Wisdom, the woman who raised me…” without using her name and relating her rejection from the White Tower on account of her poverty and class. And she and Nynaeve have maintained a grudge against the Tower and Aes Sedai ever since.

Moiraine responds, or fails to, by saying that some people say Nynaeve is too young to be a Wisdom, and Moiraine disagrees, saying she believes Nynaeve is strong even if she has only had her braid a short time. This, for the record, is not actually a response to Nynaeve’s issue with the Tower’s mistreatment of someone important to her, nor is it at all clear how her strength is supposed to be related to the time she has had her braid or her fitness for the job of Wisdom. So far, being a Wisdom seems to entail scrubbing rocks beside a sacred pool and giving welcome speeches before pushing new adults off a cliff.

Moiraine is clearly fishing for Nynaeve’s age, and she does not confirm the Aes Sedai’s guess, saying it doesn’t mean she can’t do her job, which is to protect the town, including from Moiraine.

Nynaeve is next seen approaching Egwene for a lesson in Listening to the Wind. Egwene thinks the wind sounds wrong and when asked Nynaeve does not know what it means.

During the montage of villagers deploying lanterns for the dead as part of the festival ceremonies, Nynaeve does so in private away from the rest of the village, rather than take any ceremonial or apparent official role in the proceedings, and Marin al’Vere initiates the party portion of the festival by addressing the town on the green. Nynaeve is seen present and smiling, but not participating.

When the Trollocs attack, the focus is on Egwene duck-walking through the crowd, as villagers flee randomly, though some are seen fighting back, until Nynaeve almost tackles Egwene and pushes her into shelter. They watch the attack while hiding behind a fruit stand. Later they are shown dragging a wounded man to cover, and applying a tourniquet. Nynaeve happily assures him the bleeding has stopped, only for him to die. After an interlude with the al’Thors, which ends with Rand saying he’ll get his father to Nynaeve, we cut to Nynaeve and Egwene still hiding with the body of the man they did not save, as a Trolloc bounds over to them. Nynaeve draws her knife, and she and Egwene deal several ineffective blows, then cower helplessly before Moriaine kills the Trolloc with the One Power. The Moiraine and Lan show begins, and they commence slaughtering the Trollocs. Drunken Daise Congar leads a group to take down a Trolloc with farm implements, and the Aybarras defend their home from a Trolloc while Mat finds his sisters and takes them to safety. Laila Aybarra is more effective with her knife than Nynaeve was, and Mat has more success protecting two small children than Nynaeve did a (now official) grown woman. Nynaeve and Egwene are shown dragging another wounded man before a passing Trolloc seizes Nynaeve by her braid and she is dragged off, not to be seen again in the pilot episode.

Egwene is shown crying for Nynaeve but the rest of the scene focusses on Moiraine’s defeat of the Trollocs. The next morning when Rand arrives with his father, the al’Veres are shown tending the wounded in the ruins of the village. Rand asks for Nynaeve to help his father, only to be told she’s gone, so he asks Egwene, who undertakes his care instead. That’s all we get of her on screen and in dialogue.

What does it mean that Nynaeve is the Wisdom? She does not appear to be in charge of much, other than the womanhood ceremony. Rather than Moiraine and Thom recognizing the importance and general duties of the post of Wisdom, even if they are surprised to find a woman as young as she holding it, or Egwene mentioning other villages’ practices regarding the choice of Wisdom, we have Moiraine questioning the whole institution, with “they tell me you’re a leader” and the implication that her janitorial activities don’t seem to support that. She does not appear to preside over the solemn rituals or celebration like one might expect, and does nothing other than first save her apprentice and make two futile attempts to administer first aid on the spur of the moment. Her duties regarding the sacred pool only come into play when it makes a convenient hiding spot and ambush position when she is being chased by a Trolloc.

She then rejoins the story by holding a knife on Lan while he is trying to care for Moiraine’s injuries. Lan makes a number of statements in defense of himself and Moiraine whose general theme is Nynaeve’s ignorance. He asks for her help healing Moiraine, Nynaeve scoffs and then attempt to stab him, with no success, to Lan’s amusement more than anything else. Nynaeve later dangles her treatment as Moiraine’s sole hope of survival in exchange for getting the answers she wants. Her ability to follow Lan’s trail is not a moment that gains her respect from Lan, but a mystery he seems bent on solving, in a scene where the focus is more on Nynaeve’s petulant semantics in refusing to explain her methods. After she treats Moiraine, the trio are accosted by a group of Aes Sedai whom Nynaeve never notices until Lan stops and rouses Moiraine. So much for that woodcraft of hers.

At the Aes Sedai camp, Nynaeve stubbornly watches from the outside. Lan seems to be rolling his eyes at her position, suggesting he clearly sees her as being foolish. When Liandrin accosts her, she is defensive and hostile, demanding to know about Moiraine. When we cut back to their talk, Liandrin has the reins of the conversation and is using it promote her own group and position at the expense of Moiraine’s. Lan joins them asking only Liandrin’s permission and she promptly leaves, barely acknowledging Nynaeve and not excusing herself from their talk. The actions here are all taken by Lan and Liandrin. Nynaeve is just a passive observer or object for them. Her own questions and challenges are met with soothing answers by Lan, and the picture presented is that they have everything in hand, Nynaeve just doesn’t understand that. At best, she gets to make a presumably accurate character assessment of Liandrin as a snake, but on the other hand, she has been hostile to all Aes Sedai she has met, so it does not say much, really.

The next scene in which she sits around the fire with the Warders is plainly focused on introducing the Warders and explaining their relationships to their Aes Sedai. Nynaeve’s tracking of Lan comes up again, not presented as a skill worth respect, but a humorous datum to tease and belittle him with among his fellow Warders. The implication, of course is “what a dummy, he let this village woman track him.” They are laughing at Lan in the same context where they laugh at him for a failed attempt to tame a horse that ended with him flying through the air into a trough.

Next she has a bonding moment with Lan, where an invented anecdote serves as a point of common interest. Then Nynaeve is more or less a passive observer of the attack by Logain’s followers, until she spontaneously Heals those wounded in the false Dragon’s breakout, which, from the context of the story, is her first ever feat of channeling.

As noted, the shows does nothing to affirm Nynaeve’s position. The main focus seems to be on her prickly and defensive personality, and how difficult she is to deal with, and highlights more Lan’s calm and interminable patience in the face of her hostility and how he eventually wins her around. This is not Nynaeve recognizing something to admire in him, just him being endlessly welcoming and soft-spoken around her until her hackles lower and she starts following him around because he’s the closest thing she has to a friend. Her tracking ability is mentioned, but undercut by Aes Sedai approaching the group unnoticed by her and played for laughs rather than the respect or open recognition of a highly competent individual. It’s certainly not a feat she duplicates in the show, as she later sneaks up on Moiraine and Lan unawares after escaping Shadar Logoth or one that Lan counts on for his plan to retrieve Perrin and Egwene from the Children of the Light.

In the show, for some reason, they have Nynaeve tell Lan that she did not track him, but Moiraine through a peculiar characteristic of her tracks. This is strange because she came upon them after they had left Shadar Logoth with Lan carrying Moiraine on horseback, and she was in no position to leave any tracks. She gives Lan this information so he can track her now that she is on foot, and accompanied by Rand who is relatively inexperienced. Either Lan should be able to track Rand or Rand is just as much of a ghost as Lan as just as impossible to track, that the only way either man can be followed is in the company of Moiraine with her “tell” that Lan has somehow failed to detect in years of traveling with her. In any event her tip has no relevance to the plot other than to make sure Lan is clear of the fatal events at Fal Dara.

All in all, aside from her channeling, it could be argued that Nynaeve has very little relevance to the plot or much of a role beyond Lan’s love interest. She constantly has contrarian comments to make, but they don’t have any effect and people don’t seem to do much more than put up with her. When a serious argument happens in her presence, Nynaeve protests in the background while no one pays her any attention. In the climactic episode, she proclaims her mission is to protect the other Two Rivers people, but it doesn’t exactly track with her actions as she and Egwene join Amalisa’s circle and then Nynaeve seemingly sacrifices herself to protect Egwene from the fatal effects, only for Egwene to turn around and Heal her. What Nynaeve’s final words, a recitation of the ritual of braid-awarding, has to do with her sacrifice or Egwene saving her is unclear.

In the books, Nynaeve is a formidable individual, in her own right, and through her position, which is clearly held up as a peer, if not equal of the mayor of the village. Though the series reveals that the title of Wisdom is not universal, the position very nearly is, and even first time visitors to the village, such as Moiraine and Thom instantly recognize the significance of the office, even when they are surprised at the youth of the woman holding it. She is also competent, with even her personal enemies recognizing her abilities, and the discrepancy between her predictions and the actual weather is seen as an ominous portent, rather than a shortcoming on her part. Characters have faith in her medical treatment, and readers with basic layman’s knowledge can objectively recognize she knows what she is talking about. Even when she feels off balance or over her head in her rare PoV chapters, she manages to come through and accomplish things, like sneaking up on the Aes Sedai and Warder and obtain some intelligence about their intentions, or discerning that Egwene is also captive of the Children of the Light and altering plans in order to procure transportation for both young people. People respond to Nynaeve and react to her. Lan is offended by her snarky comments when she is needed to help Moiraine through her exhaustion from channeling, the young people are concerned what her arrival means for their mission with Moiraine. Egwene, despite having traded up for a vastly more powerful and influential mentor is worried about Nynaeve’s reaction. The boys are heartened by Nynaeve according them the title of “men” and when she is endangered trying to help Lan, Mat and Perrin immediately charge to her rescue against two of the Forsaken. When Ba’alzamon tries to psychologically attack Rand he shows him illusions of his mother, Egwene, and Nynaeve, as opposed to Egwene alone in the show. When Rand comes to the realization that he can channel, Nynaeve of the three witnesses, has a negative reaction, saying he is too dangerous. Egwene is his love interest and would look incomparably shitty if she did so, no matter how justified, and Moiraine, for narrative reasons would not make sense to reject him, so Nynaeve has to be the one, but because what Nynaeve says and thinks matters Rand is hurt by the rejection, which is the author’s intention.

But hey. At least with the show’s evolved casting we now have a strong female of color in the pop culture canon of heroines, right? Too bad the one on our screens is introduced so much less impressive fashion than the one on the pages.

“Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.” GK Chesteron
Inde muagdhe Aes Sedai misain ye!
Deus Vult!
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