Thursday, July 5, 2012

Towers of Midnight Read-Through #27: Chapter 20 - A Choice

By Linda


And so we come to the testing of Nynaeve, when Jordan said he included Moiraine’s test for Aes Sedai in New Spring because he wasn’t going to show any test in the main series books. Many readers thought that it would be unexciting because we had seen one before, but Moiraine’s test was a (mostly) typical one, conducted with fairness and propriety, except for Elaida’s spiteful inclusion of Moiraine’s family at the end. It set the standard of what is acceptable and showed us by comparison how much Nynaeve’s test deviated from the norm. For a full writeup of the Aes Sedai test and the testing ter’angreal see here.

Nynaeve thinks the Tower’s cellars are worth better use than storage. This is foreshadowing that they already are being put to another use – by the Black Ajah.

How pleasant it is to see that the Tower has a Mistress of the Novices who gives approval based on merit and skill and is not frightened of change.

Nynaeve doesn’t explain herself often, but gives acceptable explanations to Rosil for why she is already acting like an Aes Sedai so as to not be rebellious or arrogant to her. Since she was already decreed Aes Sedai by the Amyrlin, she wants to respect that. And later, Egwene goes out of her way in allowing an excessive test to prove her decree. So this was a more important reason than Nynaeve knew. Most Aes Sedai would try to pretend that their unconventional raising never happened, though they would always lose some status for it, like they would if they were a wilder (which Nynaeve also is), but Nynaeve wears it as a badge of honour.

Nynaeve is to be tested by seven Sitters. Even more atypically, the Amyrlin is also present. Nynaeve knew that Egwene would be tough to justify raising her early. Since even three Sitters can judge an Aes Sedai in a legal trial, there is an aura of legal judgment in Nynaeve’s testing, probably lost on Nynaeve, though. This becomes more crucial when Nynaeve weaves balefire, even though she was not in the real world. And shines an even poorer light on the Sitters’ subsequent behaviour.

The deviations from custom start at the preliminaries: with Nynaeve’s declaration that she will depart in knowledge of herself – very true - and would show herself worthy – which she did, though some thought it was the wrong worthiness. Nynaeve means she will prove herself to them.

Nynaeve’s experience with channelling under pressure can be seen in the way she noticed that the weave of Spirit placed on the candidate not only affects memory but is rather like Healing. She already knew too much. As early as the second weave she was disputing her instructions.

The Trollocs were wrong as though the Aes Sedai creating this segment of the test had never seen them and is typical of the Aes Sedai’s ivory tower mentality. In contrast, Nynaeve’s standard of weaves is superb. This is hardly the woman of whom Cadsuane said:

Her ability with Healing was little short of miraculous, her ability with almost anything else dismal.

- Winter’s Heart, The Hummingbird’s Secret

Even while in the test she knows someone is to blame for her suffering and that they want her to fail. If Nynaeve wasn’t so stubborn, she might have.

The cruel test involving ill children that Nynaeve recognises as a situation she had been in before was during her testing for Accepted, where a malevolent Wisdom was making kids sick.

At the 81st weave she rebelled against keeping calm, because the test involved the Two Rivers, and in her emotional state she was able to overcome the restriction against channelling before she reached the star.

Nynaeve completely woke up to what was going on during the last weave. She remembered her test for Accepted when she left Lan, a test made from her mind, not created by others, and for the sake of her own self-respect, refuses to leave him this time. She is not going to play their game. In order not to leave Lan behind, she wove balefire, which disrupted the ter’angreal function. The Aes Sedai should have stopped their stupid game right then, but kept sending Darkhounds.

What if Nynaeve had, say gone back into the shed on the last weave, and slept? She would not have come out of the ter’angreal; the Aes Sedai would have destroyed their best and second strongest (Sharina is stronger, see Saidar Strength Ranking). For spite. What would Rand, Lan, etc, have said? The Aes Sedai showed incredibly poor judgement here. A fair portion of this is jealousy of her strength and skill.

I don’t blame Nynaeve for hating the Aes Sedai conducting this test. They behaved despicably. It serves them right that they had to exhaust themselves keeping the ter’angreal under control.

What happens in the ter’angreal, like in Tel’aran’rhiod, is real for the person’s body. They remember what happened, too. Nynaeve’s braid was burnt off in the ter’angreal and is gone in reality. It is a sign she can’t control her anger by gripping it anymore, but will have to express it another way.

Saerin is outraged at the excessive nature of the test. It was not a proper test in her judgement. The other Sitters say that it is unimportant that the test was unfair, unimportant that they behaved unethically, because Nynaeve didn’t pass due to lack of decorum. Hmmm…I think they pre-judged her as unworthy and tried to make her fail to prove it. She nearly died.

"This test," Barasine said, "is meant to ensure that a woman is capable of dedicating herself to a greater task. To see that she can ignore the distractions of the moment and seek a higher good."

- Towers of Midnight,A Choice

There is no higher good than saving people:

"My goal in this test was to prove that I deserve to be Aes Sedai. Well, then, I could argue that the lives of the people I saw were more important than gaining that title. If losing my title is what would be required to save someone's life—and if there were no other consequences—I'd do it. Every time. Not saving them wouldn't be serving a higher good; it would just be selfish."

- Towers of Midnight,A Choice

Too bad the Servants of all have forgotten this.

Egwene let Nynaeve put the Sitters in their place. As leader, she should have reinforced it though. But Sanderson tends to let one character at a time shine at climaxes, and builds them up in the scene by making others look weak or foolish.

Egwene warned the Sitters before the test that Nynaeve might be able to break it due to her high level of experience. This was true, but it may have increased their resolve to make the test excessive. Egwene herself made some of the worst trials – notably the ones with the Two Rivers and Lan. So she not only condoned its vengeful nature, but contributed to it to justify her own judgement. She put that ahead of Nynaeve’s life and career. And the Last Battle too. It is probably the worst thing she has ever done. I wonder if this was wholly what Sanderson intended here. I suppose it was ‘obvious’ that Nynaeve would survive, and therefore it was OK for Egwene, a character built up so greatly as the font of wise leadership in The Gathering Storm, to behave this way here. I disagree.

Nynaeve definitely would choose Lan over the Tower and after this example of the Tower’s leadership, who would blame her? And for good reasons:

"I wonder if," Nynaeve said, "we sometimes put the White Tower—as an institution—before the people we serve. I wonder if we let it become a goal in itself, instead of a means to help us achieve greater goals."

- Towers of Midnight,A Choice

Very tactful for Nynaeve, especially considering the circumstances. Egwene believes:

"Devotion is important, Nynaeve. The White Tower protects and guides the world."

- Towers of Midnight,A Choice

But the White Tower isn’t doing so! It just tried to kill the one of them who has been doing that, and succeeding best at helping Rand. Except for Cadsuane’s faction, the Aes Sedai are otherwise not contributing at all.

And again Nynaeve makes a tactful but so accurate reply:

"And yet, so many of us do it without families," Nynaeve said. "Without love, without passion beyond our own particular interests. So even while we try to guide the world, we separate ourselves from it. We risk arrogance, Egwene. We always assume we know best, but risk making ourselves unable to fathom the people we claim to serve."

- Towers of Midnight,A Choice

The Aes Sedai need reform. They are no longer exclusive, and are found wanting compared to other groups of female channellers who live amongst their society. Egwene apologises for her poor leadership, as well she should:

I'm sorry. I couldn't be seen favoring you, but perhaps I should have put a stop to it. You did what you weren't supposed to, and that drove the others to be increasingly severe…Many seemed to consider your victories a personal affront, a contest of wills. That drove them to be harsh. Cruel, even."

- Towers of Midnight,A Choice

No perhaps about it: Egwene should have held them to the proper limits of testing. They were outraged Nynaeve was able to best them, but they nearly killed her.

"I survived," Nynaeve said, eyes closed. "And I learned a great deal. About me. And about us."

- Towers of Midnight,A Choice

We all learned a great deal about Aes Sedai.

Nynaeve wants to be accepted by the Aes Sedai, but no longer does she depend on it. She used to be quite approval-seeking, something that stemmed from insecurity at her early promotion to Wisdom, but she truly grew up in this chapter. It’s not the first chapter in which she grew, but the one where the final polish was made.

The Sitters try to get Nynaeve to swear never to use balefire, because it is illegal to even use it. With seven Sitters, one from each Ajah, there is a legal aspect to this. She ignores it all; she is ever the breaker of arbitrary rules. Aes Sedai are all bound by rules – laws and customs, a plethora of them, as you can see here and here – so they all behave similarly, but don’t do so of own judgment or desire. They are made to behave a certain way, rather than voluntarily behaving ethically. As with the Three Oaths, they follow the letter of rules rather than the spirit. Warned by Rand not to change, Nynaeve insists on continuing to follow the spirit of laws. She points out that balefire is needed against the Shadow, something the Sitters can’t judge on, never having been up close to the Forsaken, or Darkhounds.

Ironically, a Green Sitter was incredulous that Nynaeve intends to go to Shayol Ghul. She tells them:

”Rand has asked it of me, though I would have gone if he hadn't."

- Towers of Midnight,A Choice

She out-Greens a Green here. And nobly says that if they can’t trust her judgment they shouldn’t raise her.

Nynaeve is way out of their league – far stronger and more skilled than they, far more ethical!, married to a king, trusted advisor to Dragon Reborn, reproacher of the Empress, even, if they but knew. And they were going to reject her. Egwene actually had to point out some of this to head them off:

"I would be careful," Egwene said to the women. "Refusing the shawl to the woman who helped cleanse the taint from saidin—the woman who defeated Moghedien herself in battle, the woman married to the King of Malkier—would set a very dangerous precedent."

- Towers of Midnight,A Choice

They might think being rejected would put her below them, but actually it would make them less relevant. And be extremely bad for recruiting. A very dangerous precedent indeed; more so than Egwene knew.

The three Ajahs concerned with Aes Sedai causes and battles – Green, Blue and Red – vote no. Those concerned with knowledge, consensus and healing vote yes. The latter are less divisive.

Nynaeve even breaks long tradition to get Lan’s bond. It is a dramatic illustration of how she puts him before the Tower. She would also put Rand before Tower. (I certainly don’t disagree with her actions.)

Note that she was able to Travel to the Black Tower. The dreamspike was not yet operating. The rebel embassy there feels exposed, somewhat under siege. They have set many fires around their camp. The guards let Nynaeve straight in because she was wearing a serpent ring, therefore they will let through an Aes Sedai turned to the Shadow (like Tarna). They won’t distinguish. I have a bad feeling about this.

The rebels have been made to wait until the Reds have chosen. (With Reds of questionable allegiance, such as Javindhra, and now Tarna, whose new allegiance is pretty obvious, delaying their choice and departure). There were Black Ajah among the rebel embassy, but Nynaeve unfortunately didn’t ask for more details; she was too focussed on getting Lan’s bond and getting back to Tower. The embassy has been in regular contact with Egwene via messengers.

Nynaeve thanks Myrelle for saving Lan (and it really was a feat and not without potential personal cost) and then threatens her to hand him over. Very Nynaeveish.

The chapter A Choice refers to an important theme in the books: that of fate versus free will, and the role that the exercise of free will, choice, plays in the Pattern. Nynaeve had a whole series of tests of her choice to be Aes Sedai. At the end of her tests, she made the big choice to use balefire so she did not have to choose between Lan and the Tower. (This illustrates so well the Aes Sedai fallacy that sisters must devote themselves wholly to the Tower at the expense of loved ones.) Nynaeve chose to violate tradition and get Lan’s bond straight away. This was a good thing, since the Dreamspike was set up soon after.

Egwene had to choose between justifying her choice to raise Nynaeve, and holding the test to an appropriate level of difficulty. The fact that she chose the former shows she is not as good a leader as she is made out to be in chapters where she is supposed to shine.

The Aes Sedai testing Nynaeve had to make a choice too: on whether to reject the best of them all.

The test itself is gravely flawed because it is too open to misuse by the candidate’s colleagues with scores to settle.


Voscaia Sedai said...

I don't have my books at hand ATM and won't have for a time, but as I interpreted the meeting with Myrelle and other scenes, the rebel embassy's camp was just outside the BT, while the Dreamspike exactly covered it's area. So it shouldn't have had any effect on the rebel embassy.

Fragrant Elephant said...

Yeah, I think the dreamspike was already in use when Nynaeve went to Myrelle. It just covered the BT, not the area outside.

t ball said...

I agree that Egwene acts poorly here, as she did with Rand earlier. But I think that is fine. Like with Rand in Maradon, and at the very end of the book, it shows that this is still going to be very, very hard. They are still going to have to make very tough choices, even with all of the personal growth.

They are still going to make mistakes. In an odd way, it reinforces what Rand learned in the Veins of Gold chapter. They get to try again, learn from their mistakes and do better next time.

I wouldn't be surprised if we see Egwene learn from this in the final book. She will definitely need to learn some things about Rand and the Last Battle soon, and this scene with Nynaeve seems to be an opening to help Egwene see the necessity of letting Rand go to SG and break the seals, with the help of Nynaeve and Moiraine.

We will have a scene in MOL where Egwene meets Moiraine again, surely. Moiraine was another AS who chose as Nynaeve did, using balefire at need, leaving the Tower behind, even sacrificing herself. Perhaps Nyn and Moiraine are the keys to helping Egwene and the WT seeing fit to help Rand instead of blocking his way?

t ball said...

Heh, and by the way, that Moiraine-Nynaeve duo I just mentioned above has really played out in an interesting way. Nynaeve, who resented Moiraine for many reasons, is now quite like her.

The way Nynaeve views being an Aes Sedai -- Moiraine made similar ivory tower-like comments once (back in book 2 or 3, I think), IIRC. Her trusted advisory role with Rand; finally having "all" of Lan and completing the passing of his bond that Moiraine set in motion; the important role the two will play together with Rand.

It's been one of the more interesting relationships in the series to me. Everyone is looking forward to Moiraine meeting up with Rand and the others again in MOL. But it's her first interaction with Nynaeve that I can't wait to see.

t ball said...

...I left out Nynaeve being a close, personal friend of the Amyrlin, but needing to still go her own way. And Nynaeve is now royalty, as well.

Anonymous said...

For some reason I never picked up the jealousy aspect. This might explain why Ellid failed her test for the shawl (NS, Ch14)


Anonymous said...

nothing brings out most peoples hate quite like the double-edged sword of talent and ability. after all Ny never had to serve as an novice. that set many aes sedai against her from the start. even healing stilling and gentling was met with some scorn. i love he comment that lan (and life) are more important than being aes sedai.

Linda said...

Good comments all. :)

Aes Sedai do have tall poppy syndrome for sure.

Landro I considered mentioning Ellid in this post, but there area few possibilities for her sad end. Perhaps she genuinely did fail. She was very beautiful and confident, though, so a likely target for jealousy. She may also have been killed by the Black Ajah. She openly spoke of joining the Green and of having overheard a discussion of a Foretelling that the Last Battle was coming. If an Accepted who is a strong channeller has openly spoken of joining a particular Ajah, then it would be tempting for that Ajah's rivals to make her test particularly harsh...

This test seems to bring out the worst in some of the Aes Sedai operating the ter'angreal, while it brings out the best in the candidates. It should be abandoned.

Anonymous said...

"So she not only condoned its vengeful nature, but contributed to it to justify her own judgement."

I don't think this is true. While Egwene should certainly have put her foot down and ended the test, there was nothing vengeful about her tests. Both the Two Rivers and the final Lan test were tough, but not vengeful. It is not like Egwene had no idea what Nynaeve would go through if she saw Lan in danger. Egwene herself had a conflict of interest between the Tower and the man she loved. It is a reasonable test, especially given the evidence Egwene had that Nynaeve had overcome the barriers of the AS test, and had her memories.

As for not stopping the truly vengeful tests, the ones with the sick children (almost certainly from Barasine, Rubinde and Lelaine), there does seem to be strong tradition or maybe even law that dictates that an AS can't interfere with another's test. Which is why Saerin likely kept quiet, and why Anaiya kept quiet during Moiraine's test.

Mattrickster said...

Linda, thanks for another great post.

Anonymous - "There does seem to be a tradition or even a law that dictates that an Aes Sedai can't interfere with another". That's true. They are not allowed to interfere or even ask about another AS's actions. It is a tradition but it is stated in the series (sorry can't remember exactly which book)that for AS tradition is stronger than the Law.
Until AS start questioning themselves & each other, they will be leaving themselves open to manipulation by BA and distrust by everyone else. The only reason to have the tradition is so that the AS can ignore anything that brings them into disrepute. And they've got alot to ignore.
And Egwene needs to start making the changes rather than silently condoning the mistreatment of one of her "Daughters" by the others, even borderline participation of the bullying herself. She learnt from the WO's that the only discipline is self-discipline and she should be teaching that to the AS rather than the AS teaching her their bad habits.

Manetheren said...

Linda, you put to words the one thing that has bothered me in the last two books. It was nagging me and I couldn't quite figure out what it was until you mentioned when it's one character's time to shine everyone else seem ignorant or idiotic. I remember loving Nynaeve in this chapter and then getting a little annoyed at Egwene at the end. I literally said to myself, "How did Egwene succeed in her efforts as Amyrlin and the unification just to come up so short and ignorant in this chapter in defense of Nynaeve?" Egwene so should have had Nynaeve's back in this one.

There are a few other instances with other characters. None of them were bad, per say, but their sudden clumsiness didn't fit with their personalities. I didn't realize this was an author writing style thing.