A popular idea among many Zelda fan sites is that there is not just one hero named Link, but that there are actually multiple heroes named Link, spread throughout the various Zelda games. For many years, I was one of the biggest skeptics of that idea. I always found it to be quite incredibly, well, stupid. I still find most of the arguments supporting the multi-Link theory to be completely flawed, but I am now a convert to the idea. Read on to see why.
A Link of a Thousand Faces
One of the big arguments put forth in support of the idea of multiple Links is that the official art for the characters is different on the different games. This isn’t actually a valid argument. If you want hardcore proof, you need to look no further than The Wind Waker. However, the proof is in the form of a spoiler, so you must highlight the following space to reveal hidden text describing what I’m talking about:
Click here to look at a picture. According to the game, this is the statue of the Link that appears in Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. However, the artistic depiction of the statue is not what Link is depicted as on the N64, but what he is depicted as on most other Zelda games (note the hair style especially).
Even if we did not have that bit of proof from The Wind Waker itself, that the art does not make a difference, I could safely assure you that such an argument is flawed, based on the nature of art history. If Nintendo acts as though there is only one Link and Zelda, then we should not come to the conclusion that there are really several versions of Link and Zelda simply because the art is different. You see, when it comes to actual historical art, we often find that one character in history or in myth is sometimes depicted in a myriad of ways, sometimes even by the same artist! I will not bore you with detailed examples or the reasons why, but suffice it to say, there are well-attested historical figures that have had far more variations in artistic depictions than Link ever has had. However, there are usually certain characteristics (what we call motifs) that remain the same throughout all of these pictures. In the case of Link, the green cap and tunic has not changed to any significant degree. Link’s clothes are his icon and are the most memorable visual aspect of the character. When we see that motif, we know we are looking at Link. The fact that Link himself might be a bit different here and there makes no difference.
What about the Contradictions?
The strongest argument for the multi-Link theory is that if we maintain there is only one Link, there are contradictions in the series. This would be a good reason if it was not for the title of the series. You see, a legend is considered to be a blend of myth and history. Myth typically has a great number of contradictions. Anyone who has studied, say, Norse Mythology, will quickly agree.
Clearly the mythological component of a legend will allow for contradictions in such things as whether Link has a surviving family or not, but what of the historical part of a legend? This is where the second part of the title (“of Zelda”) comes in. “In the land of Hyrule, there echoes a legend. A legend held dearly by the Royal Family that tells of a boy…” And so Majora’s Mask begins. Please notice that although this legend “echoes” (further justifying the idea that the facts about the story are not solidly known) throughout Hyrule, the legend is especially dear to the Royal Family. It is from the Royal Family of Hyrule that we receive this legend. The legend, then, has elements of history in the sense that for the Royal Family and the people of Hyrule, the events really happened. However, the details of what happened are fuzzy, since it is indeed a legend. Contradictions, whether real or imagined, have little to do with whether there is one or many heroes named Link.
At one point, Nintendo did maintain that there was only one Link. One of the big problems, however, was the fact that in Link to the Past, Link is not known to be a major hero. If he was indeed the same hero that vanquished Ganon in the Imprisoning War, wouldn’t everyone treat him as such? The game “acted” as though this was Link’s first adventure, as many of the Zelda games do. The missing link turned out to be a game that some people consider to be far-removed from the main series: Majora’s Mask. If you have ever read The Chronicles of Narnia, an excellent work of children’s fantasy by C.S. Lewis, you will be familiar with the idea of time distortion in parallel worlds. In the first novel in the series, the children walk through a wardrobe, finding themselves in a magical land called Narnia. They live there for many years, and grow up to become kings and queens of that land. One day, however, they decide to return to England. When they go back through the wardrobe, they find themselves children again. For all the long years of Narnia, only a small amount of time passed in England. The opposite time distortion occurs in The Last Battle. So, when Link ventured into Termina, he entered another world in which time flowed differently. When he returned, the world was aged and no one knew him any more. All things considered, Nintendo’s timeline theory made the most sense to me at that time.
Enter The Wind Waker. Not long ago, Nintendo’s position changed, as revealed by the comments of Eiji Aonuma. As reported by ZU, he said, “In our opinions, with the Legend of Zelda, every game has a new Link. A new hero named Link always rises to fight evil.” Obviously he didn’t mean every game literally as some people have taken it (it’s what we call hyperbole), but we do see a shift from promoting the one-Link theory to the multiple-Link theory. The director of The Wind Waker has spoken. However, at first I still found the idea to be incredibly, well, cheesy. I agreed with what IGN said about it: that it’s just a lame way of framing the battle between good and evil that takes place in each game, with Link as the reoccurring hero of good, and Ganon as the symbol of evil. Then I read some more details about how The Wind Waker opens, and I became convinced that the multiple-Link idea is actually a decent one. This game actually takes time to establish the idea of multiple Links, by recounting the events of Ocarina of Time, and then noting that Link “mysteriously vanished” (went to Termina). Now all the children of Hyrule hope to become the new hero of time and to don the green tunic that presumably identifies them as the one chosen by the Triforce of Courage. (I might speculate that since Miyamoto admitted to browsing the Zelda fan sites, this bit of the story was his response to the way the sites analyze the Zelda mythos.) I will still miss the Link that appeared in Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Link, but hopefully I will become attached to this “new” Link. At last, the multiple-Link theory has firm, reasonable roots in the mythos of the series.
Error Correction: Reader “adm0” kindly informed me of an error I had made in my last article. He pointed out that in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the children did not intend to go back to England, but rather they returned by accident. I was aware of that fact, having read the series, but because I wanted to keep the emphasis on Zelda and wanted to avoid unnecessary extraneous details, I carelessly phrased it incorrectly. Also, just to be clear, when I said that the book was the first in the Narnia series, I meant that in the sense that it was the first one that C.S. Lewis wrote, not that it was the first chronologically.