I first played Majora’s Mask in a fairly dark and complicated time in my life — that transcendent moment of strife and self-seeking known as high school. It was right around the time of my first breakup that I unlocked and encountered the Stone Tower, that particularly eerie enemy stronghold in the land of the dead any player of Majora’s Mask knows well. To this day, whenever I hear that familiar theme play, it dredges up the echoes of those long-forgotten feelings of being forsaken and forgotten. And that particular intersection of personal and Terminan history is what I would like to present for your consideration today.
Violations of the inviolable
When I was struggling with the many difficulties of my teenage years, there was so much that felt not right. I’m sure you can relate: how the world felt alien and hostile. How it seemed to move by unknown rules that felt impossible to learn. To me going through a breakup at the time, I was struggling through a personal tragedy that seemed unreal. What happened? How could it be over? What was this new and empty world where my girlfriend didn’t love me anymore? It was strange and abnormal, and to my young mind it “simply shouldn’t exist.” It couldn’t exist.
The Stone Tower and its Temple represent so many similar elements. It is a place where the world can flip upside down. You summon grotesque fakes of yourself to hold down switches. Balls roll out of empty windows eternally and giant worms roam a different dimension of sands – any sane person would be thrown to their wit’s end with the many strange and bizarre spectacles that that are within the Stone Tower. Simply put, the entirety of the Stone Tower is blasphemous.
While we may regularly associate the word with some cardboard cliché preacher shouting at people he doesn’t like, the Merriam-Webster dictionary lists the secondary definition of blasphemy as “irreverence toward something considered sacred or inviolable.” In this context, we are focusing on that sense of the inviolable: the laws of nature, our sense of self, worldviews, or any of the concepts we build the foundation of our lives and world upon.
H. P. Lovecraft always made liberal use of the word “blasphemous” in talking about his old gods and those things that would drive a sane human being to madness to behold; it wasn’t because they weren’t real or true but because they represented such a shock to the world that the characters knew that their very presence violated something “sacred” (read: inviolable) in the universe.
Flipping the bird
The Stone Tower itself seems like it was an irregularity even to the original inhabitants of Ikana Valley. In describing the tower, the former king of the deadlands Igos du Ikana declares, “Stone Tower is an impregnable stronghold! Not a hundred of my warriors could topple it!” How could such a large and formidable structure exist right in his backyard? Did it exist before their arrival and only remained because they could not conquer it? Was it empty even then, set in an endless automated loop of falling boulders like when Link first encounters it? Or was it built during the time of Ikana, somehow growing up within their view like a stubborn weed of contention? Regardless of its timing, its imagery remains. For unlike most of Termina, the Stone Tower holds references to the Triforce, and yet it does so in a generally irreverent — or more traditionally blasphemous — way.
Hearkening back to an older Zelda Universe article (The Message of Majora’s Mask) there are several respects in which the Stone Tower is trying to “flip the bird” (please tell me you see what I did there) at what could be considered the true religion of Hyrule –— worship of the goddesses and the Triforce. The icons of masculine strength fly in the face of a world that usually gives femininity the greatest reverence (both Zelda and the Golden Goddesses holding the highest place). The stone blocks in the shape of compressed stone gargoyles sit upon or lick small icons of the Triforce, and the center image enshrined within the temple appears to be a broken form of Majora’s Mask itself.
If the Stone Tower does represent this supposedly “heretical” or “apostate” point of view, it would make the common residents of Hyrule as uncomfortable with the place as a common American might be with setting foot in a cult’s meeting room. The unfamiliarity of the symbols, the intrinsic rebuttal of a personal worldview, and the alien attitudes of the practitioners can cause just as much dissonance for a person as having gravity flipped upside down. If Link had any sort of inner monologue, I wonder what his thoughts would have been at seeing such a world where everything he knew and loved was absent or twisted in so many different ways. Not only were the physical laws of nature that he was generally used to (the Forest Temple may have acclimated him to weirder things), but also the world was so very different from what he knew and loved.
Facing your own emptiness
As every experienced Zelda player knows, most new dungeons have a tool that is associated with it that’s needed to complete it. The tool of the Stone Tower comes in the form of the Elegy of Emptiness, a song that is learned from Igos du Ikana with the preface: “I grant to you a soldier who has no heart. One who will not falter in the darkness. This soldier who has no heart is your twin image. A shell of yourself that you will shed when your song commands it.” I imagine that is what makes these empty shells so eerie to gaze upon; they represent Link himself, but without his “heart.”
While the undead king’s promise of unfaltering soldiers sound reassuring, the reality is that it pulls something out of Link that was never meant to have corporeal form. Link’s base “soldier,” widely popularized in the Creepypasta “BEN DROWNED,” is supposedly a mirror of his heartless self. Lifeless eyes, lips pulled back as in a failed attempt at a smile, standing at attention. Might it be fair to say this image is the very thing Link fears about himself without ever giving it a name? The boy who stands tall, but is nothing outside of the caricature boy scout?
The other “statues” are similar. The Deku sprout mirrors Link’s human form in its attempts to appear steadfast and relevant. It is perhaps the most normal looking of them, yet could easily represent the unfulfilled wishes of the twisted and tormented Deku Tree that we meet in the first moments of the game — a normality of life he will never have again. Darmani has his scarred chest (Want to know how he got that scar? Because he so wants to tell you), puffed out with arms strained as if to prove that he is the strong hero he desires to be and died trying to become. Mikau’s semblance also has an accessory: the guitar that was his life’s purpose grasped before him as if trying to hide behind it with an expression of abject terror. Would he be anything without that guitar?
These stalwart statues correspond to each character’s personal blasphemies laid bare in those grotesque shapes.
I posit that these stalwart statues correspond to each character’s personal blasphemies, those elements they couldn’t stand to be without laid bare in those grotesque shapes to show how empty they really appear to be. Often unspoken, they give form to the insecurities of each character and consequently what they overtly or otherwise refuse to accept as possible. Staring in the face of these heartless caricatures would be coming face to face with what they each refuse to acknowledge as true as it contradicts the inviolate sense of self each has created for their own well-being.
Unlike H. P. Lovecraft’s sense of blasphemy, while these things might boggle the mind and make one shrink away in repulsion, they are not unconquerable. The bearer of the Triforce of Courage has faced worse — and will continue to face worse — yet has triumphed because that is what he must do. It is what he has decided he will do. He will scale the Stone Tower and its temple, even if he has to climb it bottom to top. He will stare down his shadow selves like every other adversary and conquer himself. After all, Link is a hero, blessed from within and from without.
How about you, dear reader, and what about me? I learned something as I clambered above the loss of that early relationship and that tower for the first time. I was able to look into my own emptiness and realize I can use it to help myself and not just be put down by it. I look at myself in the mirror daily to see what I see looking back. Sometimes it is more like that stalwart guardian who will stand with me against the darkness and sometimes it’s more like the creepypasta, heartless statue. Either way, the challenge is to accept it as mine and to not look away from that simple truth in front of me.
When has a Zelda moment filled you with repulsion when you encountered something that “should not be”? When have you encountered something blasphemous in this world or yourself and persevered through it? And when have you sung your elegies of emptiness to shed the layers of emptiness to hold down switches so we each can proceed on our quests? Courage, friends, because, sometimes, the only way up is down.