In defense of the Dragon Reborn *potentially* being a woman.
Updated: Jan 16, 2022
This is a hot button issue in the fandom, dividing fans and critics of the show and series. The most heated responses I got about my pilot script centered around this choice.
Spoilers if you haven't seen the Amazon adaptation:
Amazon's adaptation made a choice early on to allow the possibility that Egwene Al'Vere was the Dragon Reborn. I, like many book readers, had a strong initial negative reaction to that choice. I was particularly worried that they were going to change the plot and actually make her the Dragon. (Spoilers: They did not, and made their intentions pretty clear in interviews around the time of the release of the pilot).
Having thought about it more, and having gone through the exercise of attempting an adaptation, I no longer think that it makes a huge difference to the story whether a woman could be the Dragon Reborn or not. It only makes a difference if a woman actually is the Dragon Reborn.
There's a separate question about whether or not this change to the lore - inherently gendered souls - has an impact on the essential qualities of the narrative, and whether it's fine and perhaps even good to change it nonetheless. See here for my thoughts on that.
Without further ado, here's why allowing for the possibility of a female Dragon Reborn does not break the essential plot:
A female Dragon Reborn is similarly terrifying as a male one.
Fear of the Dragon Reborn amongst the people of the world is a big component of the story. A common objection levelled against this change is that there would be no reason to mistrust or feel scared about the Dragon Reborn if they could be a woman. I disagree with that.
A male Dragon Reborn is terrifying because he will go insane from using Saidin, the male half of the One Power, tainted by the Dark One.
A female Dragon Reborn won't go insane by using Saidar, the female half of the One Power. But when she faces the Dark One, it would be a very reasonable assumption that she would do as her previous incarnation did, and accidentally taint Saidar. This would cause every woman who could channel to go insane, leading to another Breaking.
(For those who haven't read the books, the Breaking occurred when the original Dragon tainted Saidin while sealing away the Dark One, causing all male Aes Sedai to go insane, and destroy the world with their power.)
Imagine the same thing happening, except without any female Aes Sedai to stop them. That's a Breaking from which recovery would be almost impossible. From the perspective of a person living in this world, that's a very real and very frightening possibility.
Moreover, regardless of the Dragon Reborn's gender, they're prophesied to conquer the nations and make huge changes, which is threatening whether a man or a woman is doing it.
When does the identity of the Dragon Reborn matter?
I'd add that during Book 1, Moiraine doesn't even know who the Dragon Reborn is. As such, even if there was less reason to fear a female Dragon Reborn, the consequences of that fear don't matter at this point in the story. And by Book 2, the Dragon Reborn 's identity is confirmed to be a man, by which point all the normal plot points and fears about men who can channel still apply.
That's why it's only a fundamental change if the Dragon Reborn is actually female. The mere possibility of the Dragon Reborn being a woman does not have a meaningful impact on the narrative at this point and later on. I would also argue that in this part of the story it adds something important.
Leaving the Village
When Egwene, the major female protagonist of Book 1, in the aftermath of a brutal attack on her village by Trollocs and Myrdraal, decides to run off for the sole reason of wanting an adventure, it feels a bit shallow. Not even Mat Cauthon, the most personally irresponsible member of the cast, has that shallow of a reason for departing. He actually chastises Egwene for being irresponsible in a moment that in hindsight feels dissonant with both of their series character arcs.
I think adventure can and should be part of her motivation. The tension between Egwene the reckless, bold adventurer and Egwene the mature, responsible leader is a powerful one in her arc.
But adventure can't be her sole motivation in this moment if we want to view her as a realistic character. That's why I allowed the potential of Egwene being the Dragon Reborn. So she can be of real interest to both Moiraine and the Dark One at this point in the story. So her motivations for leaving can be more realistic, and more consistent with her larger character arc.
Some will insist that trying to change the story, even if I think it is for the better, is overstepping my bounds. On that, I will respectfully disagree. See this post for some thoughts on how I determine when and how a change needs to be made from the source material.
For now, I hope it is enough to say that this choice does not ruin the story. It actually enhances it.