I’m going to start out this new feature with something of a controversial statement because I know Nynaeve al’Meara (or al’Maera a couple times there in Eye of the World; seriously, I have two copies of that book and the typos are in both) left a lot of people wanting to pull out their hair (HA!), BUT: I fucking love Nynaeve. She is a badass, plain and simple, and I will make you love her. (I mean really, if you need someone to hate, may I kindly suggest Elayne?)
Major spoilers ahead… duh!
In the Beginning…
From the very beginning, Nynaeve stands out from the rest of the Emond’s Field Big Five. She is at a totally different place in her life from Egwene, Rand, Perrin, and Mat. It’s a place so often overlooked in the hero’s journey story. Rather than a fresh-faced youth, eager for adventure, Nynaeve has more or less established her place in the world. Therein lies the crux of her character: she has the authority of Wisdom, but is in that hazy transitory phase between being grown-up and true adulthood. It’s why she’s so resistant to change. She not only had a path laid out before her, she was on her way down it. And yet, Nynaeve leaves it behind in a ridiculous show of bravery. Remember how scared Rand was fleeing in the night? Nynaeve did that all on her own, knowing full well what was waiting in the dark. Also, how ballsy was she, challenging Moiraine? It might have come off as obnoxious to some, but umm, hello, what if Moiraine had been Black Ajah?
Much is made of Rand’s dead mother, and of the tragic murder of Perrin’s family, but little reference is made to Nynaeve’s parents, both of whom she lost. We know her mother died first, and her father taught her woodsmanship before he also passed away. So she’s someone who knows loss intimately and it makes perfect sense that she would take the role of protector to the extreme. The other characters might find her too (s)mothering, but I challenge you to find a more loyal character in the entire series.
Nynaeve isn’t the only one to struggle with power (and the Power), but she sure has the most blatant obstacle with her block on saidar. That difficulty she has surrendering to saidar is entirely rooted in her anger and war with herself. She can’t embrace saidar because she can’t embrace herself. (Anyone else notice some serious allegories for homosexuality throughout this series? I mean, my God, those first couple books before Rand declares himself the Dragon Reborn…yeesh.) I think why Nynaeve’s struggle resonates with me so much is because she is such a solitary character. Her relationship with Egwene always carries an imbalance of power, first in her favour and then against, and during her time in the White Tower she lacks the sort of close friendship Egwene and Elayne develop. When she sets off with Elayne, the two never really bond and Elayne soon finds a new friend in Birgitte in any case. Even her relationship with Lan sees her on her own the majority of the time. It’s not like she has Perrin’s connection to the wolves, or Lews Therin in her head either. Plus, since the other four see her as something of an authority figure, she had to deal with those whippersnappers pushing her away. Despite all this, Nynaeve shakes off her prejudices and becomes what she used to hate. Growth!
And can we just talk for a minute about what Nynaeve does with all her amazing power (bonfire to Egwene and Elayne’s candles, remember?). She is literally the second most powerful woman on the side of the Light. And what does she do with all that power? She doesn’t join the vainglorious Green “Battle Ajah”. No, she chooses Yellow and healing. But, girl can also hold her own. Remember how she fucking KIDNAPS ONE OF THE FORSAKEN? Nynaeve manages to ensnare the Spider herself, Moghedien. She helps cleanse saidin. She heals stilling and gentling. She heals Asha’man madness. She’s at the Dragon Reborn’s side during the Last Battle. When every other character is wielding their power, she is sacrificing hers for Rand and stitching up Alanna with her own hands.
Love is in the Air… and Underwater
Let’s just be honest. Romance was not a highlight of WoT. I personally was so happy when Gawyn just died already. And while Nynaeve and Lan’s relationship might have its share of problems, I want it on record that Nynaeve is the only main character to choose a romantic partner who:
a) She seems to genuinely love and respect
b) Is a single person (Looking at you Rand. PS: the answer is always Min. ALWAYS!)
c) Is strong of character rather than good-looking
d) Has a complementary personality
e) Is motherfucking Lan! Seriously, how great is Lan?
And through all the bond-loss madness, and Lan heading north to die as the last King of Malkier, Nynaeve stands by him, and gathers his countrymen so that he has an army at his back and survives to show the world how to sheath a sword (more on that epic moment in a later blog). Also, Lan diving into the water to save her and Nynaeve breaking her block? There’s a reason that made the cover of the new editions.
So after all of Nynaeve’s braid-yanking, her desire for grey hair, her resentment at being treated as a child, where does she end up? Well, out of her, Egwene, and Elayne, Nynaeve is the only one to take the Aes Sedai test (and hers is a doozy). Those hundred weaves? Yeah, whatever, she learned them in her spare time. (Seriously, I love the casual way she just tells Egwene, “Okay, sure, I’ll do the test. I’ve got this shit down. Don’t you, Ms Amyrlin?” – exact quote.) She knows it’s the only way she will truly gain the respect of her peers, but she does it on her terms (like a boss!). Oh, and after learning that strength dictates the pecking order of the Aes Sedai (and knowing that she would be at the top without need of a single grey hair), she says that experience, not raw power, ought to be the determining factor. Nynaeve is also the one to trust Rand enough to support him, standing at his side rather than with the White Tower. (Like I said, she’s big on loyalty. Also, how great is the relationship between her and Rand? So sweet.) And in one of the smallest and yet most meaningful moments of A Memory of Light, she gives Moiraine, her old arch-nemesis, a big ol’ bear hug. There are so many layers in that single action that I could probably write a whole blog about it. (I won’t. I promise.)
Nynaeve is in many ways the heart of the series. Once Egwene died, I knew Nynaeve would make it through because no other character could sell the heartbreak of Egwene’s loss the way she could. Nynaeve left the Two Rivers to bring all of them home safely; her goal was always unity and wholeness, to mend the world by any means necessary. She not only wanted to keep all the Emond’s Fielders safe, but felt it was her responsibility.
It’s the small things, here and there, but Nynaeve’s growth is perhaps the most realistic and the most hopeful. When she loses her braid, the symbol of adulthood and authority in The Two Rivers, it symbolizes her recognition that in the world she inhabits she is in many ways a child. Yet paradoxically, she is more mature for the acknowledgement. It is an ending and a beginning, and we all know that that is exactly what the Wheel of Time is all about.