I’m sure many of you remember the trite and clichéd threats from your parents about what would happen if you kept on misbehaving. “Your face is going to freeze like that,” I remember hearing. “Don’t sit that close to the television; you’ll go blind!” And then, perhaps one of the most famous ones that my mother used to tell me was, “I brought you into this world, and I can take you right back out!” (I mean, your mom threatening to kill you? Someone call Child Protective Serves there!) But in all seriousness, if I were a guy living in Hyrule, and I had a son that was causing all sorts of trouble, I think I’d have my own personal flavor of threat to tell him to whip him back in line:
“You keep that up and I’m going to change your name to Link. You remember all those terrible tales of what happened to him, right?”
I was reminded of Grimm’s Fairy Tales the other day as I was reading some of the summary of the Supreme Court’s decision on Brown v. EMA. (This is the case about California attempting to prohibit children under 17 from buying M-rated games; the Supreme Court ruled this law unconstitutional earlier this week.) Justice Scalia actually mentioned these in his opinion. I was actually taken aback as I read the descriptions of some of the tales again because, as with many of the stories from Grimm, they’ve been whitewashed and Disneyfied in recent years, the more horrific parts of them glossed over so that we’re not kept awake at night fearing the bogeyman. In his opinion, Scalia reminds us that, “As her just deserts for trying to poison Snow White, the wicked queen is made to dance in red hot slippers ‘till she fell dead on the floor, a sad example of envy and jealousy.’ Cinderella’s evil stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by doves. And Hansel and Gretel (children!) kill their captor by baking her in an oven.” And here California was trying to say that videogames were violent! (But here I am, digressing.)
Or perhaps closer to the point I’m really driving at here is a series of novels that I started reading in college called the Sword of Truth series, by Terry Goodkind. It starts with an 890-some page book called Wizard’s First Rule, starring a duo of characters Richard and Kahlan who get wrapped up in an adventure that seems quite too big for two people to tackle. Darken Rahl makes a play to conquer the land, and precious few can possibly stand up to him. (Sound familiar to anyone?) Not to delve too much into the story, they end up defeating and killing the bad guy, sending him into the world of the dead or something (from which he can still mess with their minds in subsequent books; again, familiar?). Subsequent books have additional baddies who are also vying for world domination, and all of them feel that they have to mess with Richard and Kahlan in order to go about those ends.
Now this series is eleven books long with a twelfth on its way. I raved about the first book, but I found myself emotionally incapable of picking up the fifth book after finishing Temple of the Winds. The reason why, well, was the general plot summary of each book went something like this: Things start out bad; then they get worse; then they get worse; then you think things are going to get better, but then they get worse; and then they get really worse; then they get worse some more; and then something REALLY bad happens to the main character; finally, at the end, things get just a tiny bit better. There, I’ve saved you the emotional horror of reading what can only be classified as horror/fantasy. All I could think of at the end of the fourth book was, “Gee whiz, can’t you just leave Richard and Kahlan alone!?”
And so it is with Link and Zelda.
Even if you’re not one of those guys that delve into every last detail of the timeline, there are at least a few very clear indicators of the overall story arc of Hyrule as a land and a people. In one timeline from Ocarina of Time, you’ve got Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass, and Spirit Tracks. In the other, you’ve got Majora’s Mask, Twilight Princess, Minish Cap, and a host of other Zelda titles that have somewhat vague interconnections with the rest of them. And for what it’s worth, Hyrule is Hyrule (despite the fact that it keeps getting a face lift every game), and if you’re going to buy that premise, well, they all take place in the same universe. With Skyward Sword set to become the 16th game in the franchise, you’ve got roughly eight different incarnations of Link and Zelda—with the Zeldas almost all certainly related to one another by blood and time while the Links being a bit less clear on that point—who all have to go through some pretty harsh circumstances.
One Link gets thrown into the world at the tender age of 10 with precious little: a sword, a shield, and a mission to save Hyrule from an evil much older and more experienced than him. Yet after following his accomplice’s instructions, he finds himself grimly losing seven years of his life (and puberty) to become an adolescent who must defeat a dark wizard and his various minions, all of whom have kidnapped someone important to the protection of Hyrule and—even worse—undoubtedly dear to Link’s heart. After he manages to face down the evil, his friend Zelda pushes him away and sends him back in order to “fix his lost time,” meaning that he is banished to a world where none of that ever happened, where virtually no one would ever believe he lived through several weeks’ worth of Hyrule’s darkest days, only to then watch his fairy friend Navi depart without so much as a goodbye. And as he goes searching for her in the Lost Woods, he gets thrown into an alternate world that’s doomed to destruction by a gigantic moon, and after being accosted by a man with masks, he must relive the same three days of his life over and over until he can manage to right all the ills of the world just so that he might be sent home in order to continue the quest to find his friend.
And his Zelda? She doesn’t have it much easier. First she had to watch her father, who didn’t place any trust whatsoever in her prophetic visions, get murdered in front of her, only to make a fatal mistake during her daring escape. That mistake would cause Hyrule to fall into ruin by the man she was trying to thwart and consequentially kill several tens or hundreds of people in Castle Town and elsewhere. For seven long years, she’s forced to remain in hiding, posing as a Sheikah boy, evading Ganondorf’s patrols and monsters at every turn as she’s utterly powerless to stop them, waiting… waiting and hoping that the boy she barely knew might one day return to the land to help her restore it, never knowing if that day was ever coming. And then in the end, she herself gets taken prisoner, forced to endure Ganondorf’s company as his prized possession. Ultimately, she ends up incapable of killing him, and instead she is forced to merely seal him away in a lost dimension, dooming some other world, knowing that future generation would have to deal with the same woes. All of this shatters her pride as she does her best to salvage at least Link’s future as she commits herself to endure the suffering and bloodshed caused by her actions in that ravaged world.
And the coup de grâce is that history is going to repeat itself at some point for another Link and another Zelda.
Even Tetra, the proverbial antithesis to Zelda, cannot escape this sinister karmic loop. She flat out denies (and is truthful in such, at least to the best of her knowledge) that she has nothing to do with Ganondorf or his Triforce, only to be proven tragically wrong moments later when Daphnes, with all of the compassion of a blood-sucking Keese, proclaims to her (paraphrased, of course), “NO YOU ARE ZELDA; GET IN YOUR DRESS!” She is transformed instantly, is left behind for “safety’s sake,” and is kidnapped seconds later; the rest is history.
And yet the legend of Link and Zelda’s deeds somehow live on throughout time. In this perspective, I have to feel just a little bad for Wind Waker’s Link when his grandmother forces him into the hero’s clothes. Given that he has the marked name of the hero of yore, on the exact day of the historical Link’s journey beginning, Link has got to be thinking, “Oh goddesses, please don’t make me wear that. Please don’t let anything happen to me. Please don’t make me go fight anything. I’m too young to die!”
And yet Aonuma, Miyamoto, and the rest of the creative team at Nintendo seem to be unable to resist the urge, when announcing a new Zelda game, to proudly proclaim, “Oh yeah, and The Legend of Zelda: The Boomerang of Midnight takes place 300 years after the end of The Emerald Seer.” In essence, Link (and Zelda, should Nintendo actually deign to include her in her own series) get sucker punched in the stomach right from the get go as, yet again, the helpless damsel in distress falls victim to yet another attempt to conquer and pillage Hyrule. Such an attempt is always successful (at least for a few days or years), sending Hyrule into a world of conflict and war. And such an attempt always means that Link will have to go through agony and torment to save the girl and free the land.
This isn’t really the Hyrule that I fantasized about back during the SNES and N64 days, back in the days when it was just a handful of unrelated stories, when the future of Hyrule seemed so bright, when Ganondorf, Vaati, Zant, and Malladus weren’t trying to ruin Hyrule’s shining city on the hill every other week, not to mention every fourth Thursday after tea.
Miyamoto, can’t you just leave Link and Zelda alone?
But could the “Zelda series” (or whatever we’d have to name the series as a result) even survive not having Link, Zelda, Ganondorf, Hyrule, and the Triforce? Would it be the same game without ye olde familiare setting, characters, and MacGuffins? Could Zelda possibly be rebooted from the ground up without any of the familiar devices and hooks we’ve come to know and relate to?
Or have Link and Zelda so entrenched themselves in the series that they have no choice but to keep recurring in game after game, year after year, century after century, doomed to once again see the near-destruction and collapse of Hyrule, fated forever to struggle against powers of evil beyond which we could hope to imagine, and destined to experience some cruel 300-year-long Groundhog’s Day until the end of time?