Poes and woes: The hauntings of Zelda
by on October 30, 2017

The pious Zora had spent her life in prayer and song.

Chosen and compelled by a knowledge beyond her ability her natural desires, she kept the Earth Temple as its guardian and protector, waiting for the Hero they desired to return and again restore the land to the blessing of the gods.

But that hope was not to be realized in her lifetime. A strong love attracts a strong hate. The lifeless are envious of the living, and wish to deprive them of that warmth even if it is not something they can take for themselves.

And so, the Zora was consumed by ghosts which wrested her from her duty, her love, her life.

Tragic Laruto

And yet, even in death she could not rest.  She could not go quietly into the light. She needed to see her promise fulfilled. She had to await the Hero. Even as her race evolved beyond recognition. Even as the land was consumed by the sea.

She waited. Forgotten and alone, trapped between hope and regret. Until he arrived. Until she could pass her burden on to the next in her line. Until her role was complete.

Behind the Veil

There are unspoken tragedies in many Zelda games. We so regularly encounter ghosts and spirits throughout our journey that we can begin to take them for granted. “Oh, another graveyard, another wandering spirit with a side quest…” But within the Zeldaverse, every character has a story to tell, from the star-crossed lovers Kafei and Anju to the Bow-wow who is really just a Chain-chomp. Sometimes to appreciate their journey, we need to take a peek behind the veil. October is “spooky month,” in which we are particularly sensitive to those stories that have tragedy and sorrow behind them, things to tell around the campfire while holding a flashlight under our chin. As such, submitted for your approval, Tales of Poes and Woes…

They enter with an entreaty and vanish with a thank you. But there is a whole life (and afterlife) that goes unnoticed in the spirit characters that greet us in Link’s journey. They have remained in their places, trapped by their need for fulfillment in whatever way that has prevented their passing.  When Link encounters these lost souls, they have been stuck waiting. Long enough, in Laruto’s case, to see her entire race change from fish to birds. When she appears she is serene and unhurried. Yet, behind that countenance, what could such an endless stasis feel like when your hope rests on a promise you never saw fulfilled and the ages march on without change? What relief it must have felt like to meet the Hero and subsequently Medli, who was destined to relieve her of her role as the Earth Sage, at long last to finally enter into her rest.

The Desires that Bind Us

While some of these spirits live on from duty, others live on from desire. In another age, Queen Rutula’s life was snuffed out while her child remained in danger. The sense of fear and powerlessness she must have been feeling is not portrayed in her game-tempered dialogue. Again she speaks as one who has already made peace with her fate, but her attachment to the well-being of her child was enough to keep her weighed to Zora’s Domain, looking, hoping, waiting for someone to appear to do what she is no longer capable of doing. It was not until Link intervened that she could allow herself to pass on, knowing her child would not suffer the same ignominious fate as herself.

Dampé the grave keeper’s tragedy was less desperate but apparently just as weighty to him. Stuck hobbling as he was, it was only after his death he had the freedom to enjoy a race. And so he waits seven years for Link to find him to even have a chance to “stretch his legs.” And all his waiting in restless hope amounts to a couple new items for Link and a good and hearty, if dangerous, race between the living and the dead.

Even former heroes remain bound to their unfulfilled desires. Twilight Princess’ Hero’s Shade, who you would think fulfilled his desires with his heroic actions and in those who honored his memory, still needed a pupil to pass his knowledge onto. And his long ages of restless perseverance end with us learning new sword techniques to keep the spirit, if not the Spirit, of the Hero alive in the world.

The Envy of the Living

With eyes of envy they gaze at thee

Ghosts, we must remember, are stuck. Stuck in a type of purgatorial state until their anchor to this world can be severed. While some can bear the weight of the ages, others cannot, instead lashing out violently against those with better fortune. Any evil ghost we encounter represents a life that ended without hope. Have you ever wondered why Poes and Stalfos attack? Simply being “evil” is only a convenient way of ignoring the lesson they offer with their screams of hatred. They long for what they do not have, and so seek to take it from the living who still do. I think of the Poe Sisters who smothered the Forest Temple. No background is given for them. Nothing beyond the torches they light for themselves, so devoid of warmth of their own that they horde it in some vain hope that it might remain theirs. They remained because there was something they could not gain in life, and yet they spend eternity afterward trying to feed without a stomach and love without a heart. A frustrated effort that only ended in greater anguish when finally and forcefully put to rest by the Hero of Time.

Both the good and the evil share in this regret for not having what they desired or not having their commitments fulfilled. Who can say what the difference is? Some level of hope against despair? A sense of self strong enough to bear not having what they desire? The belief that things will one day work themselves out?

In Our Waking Lives

Us normal round-eared humans fluctuate between all these facets daily, I think. Our human lives are lives of desire – binding ourselves to either our wants or our ideals. Wanting ever more than what we have at this moment, whether that be in possession or purpose or connection. We want things for ourselves and we want things for others. Both for their good, and for their detriment. What regrets would we possess now if our mortality caught up with us? How long would our perseverance last if we were tasked to wait for the Hero’s arrival in order to pass along our message? How long does it last now, with the struggles for our wants and hopes in our waking lives? What would keep us bound and determined to take from others? In our sensitivity to how thin the veil between worlds can be during this time of the year, it is not without merit to consider what these Poes and woes can teach us lest we too end up stuck waiting for the Hero to put us to our final rest.


Matthew Krankall
Hailing from New England, I'm a man that enjoys the deep questions that allow us to seek our better selves. I'm also left-handed.