“The End.” You’ve done it all. You’ve acquired all the heart pieces, You’ve probed all the little Easter eggs hidden throughout the game. Now what? You don’t want to abandon Link and our other favorite characters-you want to think about what might happen to them next. And so you-the fans-create art and fiction of your own set within the Zelda world, so that Hyrule can continue in your imagination. And really, Zelda fan sites wouldn’t be fan sites without all the loads of pages filled with the adaptations of Zelda fans everywhere.
The Nature of Adaptations
Books. Movies. Video Games. Board Games. Card Games. Comics. Cartoons. Music. Drawing. Painting. Sculpture. Theme Parks. All of these are obviously very different kinds of entertainment. When a fan writes a short story about Link, or when an “official” Zelda comic is made, what happens to the story as it makes the transition between two widely different formats? It changes. It changes drastically. Why does it change? Because each form of media appeals to the user in a different way. Each form of media has its own rules about how to maintain the attention of its audience. A book or a comic might make great use out of showing the reader what the characters are thinking, but that doesn’t work so well in movies. As a very extreme example, what about theme parks? How does Six Flags adapt originally comic characters as Batman and Superman into thrill rides? The rules for having a reader enjoy a comic are different from having a rider enjoy a roller coaster.
So, the telling of the story must adapt to the rules of the new form. However, when the telling of the story changes, it is inevitable that the story itself must change. In the milder form of story change, there is simply a shift in emphasis. More drastically, new elements to the story may be added or left out, or story elements may outright contradict the original story in the original format.
(Yes, I realize that what I’m saying here is quite basic and should be rather intuitive. If you’re telling me, “Well, duh,” that’s fine. But for one thing, I see so many people that don’t really apply these concepts. And perhaps more importantly, it’s important to lay out the groundwork before I start to look at specific adaptations of the Zelda universe.)
Allow me to use some illustrations of adaptations outside the Zelda universe before I venture into the world of Zelda adaptations in coming weeks . . .
From Book to Movie
One of the more familiar adaptations is the adaptation from a book to a movie. Certainly one of the biggest recent such adaptation is that of Lord of the Rings. Anyone who has read the books and watched the movies could create a rather large list of contradictions between the films and the books. The movie is an example of an “official” adaptation. That is to say, the filmmakers have the rights to create and publicize a movie based on the characters and events found in the Lord of the Rings. If I were to make a movie based on the books, it wouldn’t be official, but rather a fan-created work. Yet my work would be on exactly equal footing with Peter Jackson’s version when it comes to understanding aspects of Middle Earth. For you see, if you wish to learn something about Middle Earth, you would look directly at Tolkien’s work. If you judged the books based on the movie, you might think that Saruman genetically engineered his super orcs and had them actually come out of pods, that Aragorn wasn’t entirely true to Arwen and flirted with Eowyn, that Faramir evily plotted to take the Ring from Frodo, or that Saruman was behind the avalanche at Caradhras. The books would show us that none of these things are true. When you’re converting a book to a film, the first thing that has to happen is streamlining. You can’t linger around to gaze at the countryside (except in older films) or include every scene written in the book. You must also string together the plot in a tighter fashion to make things connect more obviously, so that the audience’s interest is maintained. In the books, Aragorn’s motivation is mostly to win Arwen as a bride, but it is hardly obvious. Most of it is in Appendix A. It is well hidden, and only surfaces every now and then. In the movie, we are constantly reminded of the fact. It is also interesting that Peter Jackson tends to “up” the intensity of a given scene in the book when bringing it to the big screen. For instance, the drama of Gandalf’s transformation of Theoden is heightened by having Theoden “possessed” as it were by a far away Saruman. In any case, it should be clear that stark connections between plot points or characters are emphasized so much more in not only movies but also most other visual forms of communication, including comics. Since movies are so much shorter and rely so heavily on visual storytelling, they cannot afford to have the basic frame of the plot rest on subtleties and seemingly disjointed characters or bits of plot. Movies (and comics!) can certainly be deep and filled with subtle touches, but the overall arc of the flim cannot rely on that, or the audience will become lost and disinterested.
What can we learn about Zelda from the adaptation of Lord of the Rings? First, adaptations-even “official” ones-tell us absolutely nothing about the original source. Second, changes are good and necessary to make the story interesting to the audience in the new format. By way of contrast, the Harry Potter films are more generally regarded as weaker films because they follow the books far more closely (for the record, lest I receive hate mail, I did enjoy the Harry Potter films).
Beyond the Game
The Zelda games maintain the gamers’ interest because you are in control of the gameworld. It is the degree of interactivity that ties together the whole story. You are Link, and you want to save Hyrule by slaying enemies, solving puzzles, and helping other characters. The nature of the game means that bringing Zelda to the world of prose and poetry or even comics is very, very difficult to do. I would assume that most people want their fanfic to be as accurate to the games as possible. Some of you are aware that you need to change the tale to fit the new medium. Most of you have probably done it without really stopping to think about the major contradictions between your work and the original source. If that’s the case, please understand that I’m not condemming your work. Rather, I would argue that these contradications are essential to good adaptations.
However, if I had to make a broad critique of the accuracy of the brunt of fanfic, I would say that they tend to be accurate to the games superficially, but not not very accurate at all on the deeper level. Adapting the pre-Ocarina of Time games is by far the easiest thing to do, but nearly everyone tends to focus on adapting the characters and plots of Ocarina of Time. I may or may not expound on this further at a later point, but for now I leave you with this thought: if you want to make a more accurate adaptation of Ocarina of Time or its successors, try to imitate Samurai Jack. Obviously, the show is superficially very, very different, not the least of which that it occurs in a futuristic world. But I’m talking on the dramatic level, the deeper level. Jack’s personality. Battles. Puzzle-solving in ancient temples. Questing for artifacts. An epic struggle between good and evil. Time and the loss it brings. Of the episodes I’ve seen, a good number of them are perfect examples of what a good Zelda cartoon should look like on the deeper level. And yet ironically, most Zelda adaptations seem to miss nearly all of that. It’s true that fanfic is ideally suited to probe areas of the Zelda world hardly explored by the games, or not explored at all. It’s true that fanfics shouldn’t belabor every dungeon room or every Skulltula. But you’d think that at least the spirit of the games would be preserved in the adaptation. Really, just about the only similarities between the games and most fanfics are the names of the characters, creatures, and items.
There are really two points I’m trying to get across here, and will be focusing on as I analyze specific adaptations of Zelda. First, when you take a look at the “official” adaptations of Zelda, don’t take them into consideration at all when trying to understand the gameworld better. They’re no more valid than a fanfic written by you or I. That doesn’t mean they’re not interesting or fun to read, just that everything they say is either an interpretation or a direct contradiction to the pre-existing story. Second, don’t fret too much about making changes in the adaptation. But if you can, try to capture the feeling of the games in some small way.