The PhD-packing conglomerates have a lot to say about existentialism, but can they prove they’ve gotten their doctorates in Zelda theorizing?
The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy is an odd book to write about, because although I see theories and predictions in the form of forum posts and lengthy articles, it’s not often that such theories are amalgamated into one work and published en masse. It’s actually a real treat for someone like me to see that there is a real application for Zelda; I always wonder if the work and ideas we share on Zelda Universe have any real merit or meaning, or if we just sound like a bunch of rambling fanboys.
If anything, at least we know we’ve got some philosophers on our side, although they might be fanboys as well. But before I continue, I should take a moment to explain what The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy is.
Chapter by Chapter
At first, I actually thought I’d be diving into a single large work by a man named Luke Cuddy, but I was quite wrong. Each chapter is written by a different philosopher, some at different levels of education than others, with the exception of Luke Cuddy who has two chapters to his name. This creates an extreme sense of disconnect between the chapters; you’ll wonder why you bothered reading it in any order, because the chapters are completely unrelated to one another.
A good strategy I can see for reading The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy is to pick and choose the chapters that seem interesting to you. A good portion of them focus solely on the philosophies of prominent men such as Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, philosophies of death and infinite resurrection. Although these chapters are, without a doubt, very interesting, they might not be the flavor of philosophy you enjoy most. Luckily, The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy has laid out a sample palette of philosophy; the book, in itself, is an entrance point that any Zelda theorist (or simply Zelda enthusiast) can use to gain a better understanding of the points they wish to make. The book makes this known – a full two chapters are dedicated to learning proper form of argument; one of these is about timeline theory construction.
Of course, a downside to the disconnected chapters is their obvious disconnectedness – there are some surprising lapses in Zelda nomenclature. Is the title of the game “The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker” or “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker”? (I think we all know the answer to this one.) Is it a tektike or a tektite? Let’s not forget the classic Zelda-series spinoff, “Zeldac”. At first, I was quite sure these lapses would be a one or two-time ordeal, but as I read further I was consistently proven wrong.
A Problem With Editing
The philosophies within this book are, without a doubt, excellent – many of them are simple explanations of prominent philosophies with a slight Zelda twist to them. But at some point the editing process failed this book; with regard to the lapses in nomenclature, I also ran into various typos. I’m not about to gripe over a single typo – every book most likely has one – but at some point the number of misspelled words became so great that they were actually distracting to my reading. “Zeldac” was clearly a typo; small words such at “that” became “the” by accident. Sprinkle these mistakes over a 250-page work, and reading can become tedious.
Although the research within The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy appears to have been gathered as early as 2007, the editing process might not have been so rigorous and lengthy. Sources and citation seem disjointed; some authors use footnotes with strict MLA formatting, while others use their footnotes to add useful commentary to their philosophies. Although there is nothing wrong with either of these formats, a standardized footnotes system would have made the book seem more unified. Open Court Books graciously provided me, along with a physical copy of the book, a print-ready PDF file so that I could read on my Amazon Kindle (which was a rousing success). However, every program I opened the PDF with recognized the title of the book as “HIP HOP and Philosophy”.
Again, this is not to say that the ideas presented in the book are moot or invalidated as a result of a shoddy editing process. But be prepared for some moments that will make you want to bring your palm ever closer to your face, especially when the particular mistakes pertain to Zelda.
Death and The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy
Despite those mistakes, there are several philosophies presented bound to get the gears inside your head turning. Reading along, I noticed some very “familiar” ideas, thoughts that had formed in my head as I played the various Zelda titles, but that I was never able to properly articulate due to my complete lack of knowledge of philosophy. To see those ideas represented on a page is refreshing, and it’s probably more rewarding to read a chapter out of The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy than it is to read the latest article from The Bombers or the latest thread on ZU’s Zelda Theorizing boards.
The end result of a professional’s opinion on the matter is a feeling of validation. We, as Zelda fans and philosophers, have in a sense been validated by this work. Yes, we trust our own theories and we probably don’t need a bound book to prove that our ideas have real significance, but solid proof never hurt. The book is a good indication that our time spent finessing the specifics of Zelda is also time spent engaging ourselves in an activity that ultimately broadens our knowledge of subjects completely unrelated to gaming.
The authors who participated in The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy may have an affinity for Zelda, at some level, but it is clear that more generalized philosophy takes the center stage. Certain authors make all the effort in the world to tie Zelda into their philosophies, and the result is a chapter that is both rewarding to read and eye-opening about Zelda. One of the more interesting chapters delves into an intricate theory about The Minish Cap‘s Hyrule as a utopian society. George Orwell’s 1984 is, by a wide margin, my favorite novel, and from that one could gather that the utopia and the dystopia might be two topics of discussion I could really get into.
Of course, following with what I mentioned earlier, this chapter was not present until the middle of the book. There was no warm-up, no introduction to philosophy prior to the middle that made this particular chapter one of the most engaging and informative – it just so happened that the subject I was genuinely interested in was located in the middle of the book. It is an astounding discovery that the Hyrule present in The Minish Cap, my favorite handheld Zelda game, follows almost perfectly Plato’s guidelines for the utopian ideal. I hadn’t thought about this at all the first time I played The Minish Cap, but the feeling was there; the society was too happy and too perfect, the social classes were too content with one another, and everybody was in their “proper place.” These are the “familiar” ideas I mentioned earlier – everything was always on the tip of my tongue, and the best chapters in The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy articulated these ideas for me.
And yet, there are other authors who are content to misspell the word “Zelda”, and spend the majority of their precious chapter regurgitating the philosophies of the greats. These people may as well have been talking about Zelda Fitzgerald instead of our fair princess and, although former staff member Rew makes the note that “[the book] isn’t really about Zelda,” I can’t help but feel that wasn’t the intention (not regarding that the title of the book is Zelda and Philosophy). There is a continuous struggle in the authors to successfully combine their philosophies with Zelda.
Very few are successful. Out of the book’s twenty or so chapters, I can only recall about a third of them, including the chapter I referenced earlier, that were about Zelda all the way through; the other chapters began with a good heap of Zelda, and then digressed into their base philosophies. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing; the philosophies on their own are incredibly interesting, and presented in a very easy to understand way. I tip my hat to the authors for creating a book from which anyone could learn the philosophies of Plato and Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. And yet, at the end of the day, Rew is right. The book, taken as a whole, is far more focused on the philosophy than it is on the Zelda (and the tying in thereof), with only a few chapters keeping Zelda in the field of philosophical play for more then half their length.
But will you come out of reading The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy feeling a little more philosophically awakened? You might, but the most powerful message of all is saved for the final chapter.
Spoiler Alert! Games are serious.
The entire book builds up to a point I care to elaborate on: Games can be serious stuff. We spend our days enjoying the frivolity of games – board games, video games, imaginary games we make up with our friends, or while we’re sitting in class waiting for a lecture to end. Little Johnny and his friends pretend to be MLB superstars with nothing but a stick, and our society places little value on these games. But are they really so frivolous? Is little Johnny’s situation all that different from us gamers pretending that we are Link, exploring the world of Hyrule with nothing but a game controller?
The existence of a book such as The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy, at its very heart, says otherwise. By playing these games we engage ourselves in a form of thought at a higher level than we ever imaged. Games, especially the Zelda series, are a worthy topic of study – they have changed the way we view the world, how we view human-character interactions, how we react to simplified economic situations, and even offer a window into our personifications of modern societal archetypes (the chapter on feminism discusses this in depth).
The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy may have its quirks – the editing could have been tighter, and the authors could have worked more closely with one another to create a flowing reading experience. But at the end of the day, it’s philosophy that takes the center stage. Has this book shown, in some way, that the Zelda series – and thereby all games – are a worthy topic of study and extrospection? The answer is a resounding yes.
If you’re a Zelda theorist, chances are you already have this book or plans to run out and buy it. If you’re just dipping your feet into Zelda at a higher level of thought, The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy offers a great starting point with interesting insights into both Zelda and gaming as a whole. If you’re looking for something to pleasure read, though, and only have a small knowledge of the Zelda series, you might be off-put by the disjointedness of the chapters and the glaring semantic errors. But at its current price of $13, it’s worth its weight as a gateway drug into the fascinating realm of philosophy. A true Zelda fan shouldn’t be without it.