Ruto. She was one of the most memorable characters in Ocarina of Time, and the one thing that tended to stick out most about her in most people’s minds was her crush on Link. No one could deny her of her love. A good many people also happen to think that Link should return that love. Did Nintendo intend for Link to marry Ruto? It is to that question that we will now turn.
Ruto likes Link. That much is obvious, and in fact it functions as comedic relief. But what does Link think of Ruto? As a child, his reaction is not a favorable one. And yet at the same time, he does not entirely understand her meaning, as is clear by the game text upon receiving the Sapphire.
As an adult, nothing indicates that he has changed his attitude. I remind you that we cannot assume feelings between characters when they are in scenes together. The Nintendo 64 may provide subtle touches to the cinematics, but these subtle touches are done through rather distinct, unmistakable animations. When any two characters stand around, think of them as cardboard cutouts. They look no different than when they are standing apart from each other. Any romance between cardboard cutouts must be supplied by the imagination. (This, by the way, is the main error of those who are so obsessed with wanting the Hero of Time and Zelda to have a relationship that they say things like, “Scene XYZ makes Link and Zelda look like they’re in love,” when the two characters are actually doing absolutely nothing that indicates one thing or the other.) We can only tell what one of them is feeling when the game text tells us so, or when the game plays a specific animation, keeping in mind that these animations are often reused. That said, the game data itself gives us little indication of Link’s thoughts about Ruto. Perhaps the most critical point is when Ruto mentions their engagement as an adult, and the game plays Link’s “I’m shocked!” animation. The most basic meaning is probably that Link didn’t quite “get” Ruto’s love for him until she explicitly referred to him as her fiancé. His reaction isn’t favorable, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t change later. In any case, after Morpha’s defeat, Ruto brings up romance again. The general emphasis at that point is that as she realizes her position as a sage, she comes to the sad realization that romance can never be.
So, the basic game evidence itself seems to point away from a Link-Ruto relationship, for at least the duration of the game. Even Link-Ruto shippers will usually admit to that. But if they admit to that, then why do they cling to the idea that Link and Ruto will marry? “Because they are destined for one another.” Essentially, the shippers argue that because Link and Ruto made an oath, they must marry. And that, my friends, is actually a wonderful argument, to which we will now turn.
Never Break an Oath
For most of human history, oaths have been taken very, very seriously. The game portrays a fantastical society, which is at least in appearance based on ancient and medieval culture. A few examples of the importance of oaths in antiquity will do.
Among the Greeks and Romans, we find that they believe that even the gods themselves are unable to break oaths. This can be seen throughout their literature, but one of the most famous examples is from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The sun god has a son named Phaethon. Well, naturally no one believes Phaethon when he tells them that his dad is the sun god. So Phaethon travels to his father and complains about his plight. The father says to Phaethon, “All right, I’ll prove your lineage! Ask me anything, and I’ll do it for you! I swear it by the River Styx!” The River Styx was the river of the underworld, and swearing on it was the highest vow the sun god could have made. Well, Phaethon asks to drive the sun god’s chariot (and thus the sun) through the heavens. The sun god is distraught, for he knows that Phaethon will die as a result. The climb across the sky is treacherous, filled with perils and monsters. Yet since the sun god made that oath, he must let his son have his wish. If you don’t mind reading a relatively archaic translation, you can read the story in Metamorphoses I just referred to here (note that “the Nether Lake” is the River Styx). And I remind you, this is but one simple example of how much the Greeks and Romans valued oaths. If you dishonored the oath, not only would you face the wrath of the gods, but you would also be socially ostracized, a horrible thing in ancient cultures (which generally were not individualistic like ours).
In ancient Judaism and Christianity, we find that oaths were taken very seriously among their societies as well. In recognition of the dangerous nature of oaths, some of the religious leaders in Palestine actually devised rules about when oaths were more or less important. Jesus responded to these rules, again emphasizing the serious nature of oaths. (The relevant passage of the New Testament can be read here.)
Of course, in the case of Ocarina of Time, we’re dealing with a sort of betrothal vow. That is really quite another topic, but suffice it to say that the general sociological principles that apply to oaths in general also apply to specific vows revolving around marriage. Well, I won’t bore you with further details on the history of oaths, but suffice it to say, the integrity of an oath was a very important issue for the ancients, and it was an issue that continued for a long time. The L&R shippers are indeed asking the right question. “Is Link obligated to marry Ruto?” This isn’t to say that they view it as a kind of socially forced marriage. It doesn’t seem as though Link wouldn’t think of her as a friend, and so I suppose it would be fairly easy on his part to marry her. He doesn’t like the idea at first, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t warm up to the idea if he came to the realization that by accepting “her most precious possession” he was obligated to marry her.
However, there are some important counterpoints to consider. The most obvious one is that hyrule is not the ancient world. We have no way of knowing the customs and sociological values of Hyrule. We are left with what Nintendo gives us, and, in fact, based on Ruto’s seeming resignation that she cannot have Link’s love, it seems as though it is not a Hyrulian value to consider engagement to be binding. That isn’t surprising, for the game is the product not of the ancient world but of the modern world. The modern world does not consider betrothals to be legally binding, especially if one of the two has no idea what he is doing. Although the face of the game may imitate a distant past, it is strongly influenced by modern culture, Japanese and Western. For instance, if the game developers were trying to implement full-fledged ancient or medieval culture into the game, they probably would have not have had Ruto, a princess, even have the option of choosing who she will marry, no matter how headstrong she is.
What’s more, Link was not part of mainstream Hyrulian society. He was one of the Kokiri. He grew up in a world very different from that of the Hylians, Gorons, and Zora beyond the borders of the wood. He grew up in a world where everyone remained eternal children. If the Zora people believed that Link could not back out of the marriage, Link would not feel very obligated to conform.
Does Link reciprocate Ruto’s feelings? The game would tell us that he probably doesn’t. But the real question is, as the Z-R shippers like to emphasize, “Is Link socially obligated to marry her?” The answer is “probably not,” mostly since the game is the product of the modern world. I might also add that there are actually other reasons why Link couldn’t marry Ruto, but those reasons have to do with The Wind Waker. But as I like to say, “That’s another article for another day.” And indeed, I’ll write more on the subject in the future. I promise.