Mystery of the Lost Woods

DjinnJanuary 18th, 2013 by Djinn

The Lost Woods is one of the more well-known recurring overworld regions in the Zelda series. First appearing in the original Legend of Zelda, the Lost Woods have become a mainstay in the landscape of Hyrule, alongside Death Mountain and Lake Hylia. In most appearances the player is required to journey through the Woods in a very specific pattern to make it to the other side safely. If this pattern is not completed correctly, the Woods will often repeat or simply send the player back to the start, thus causing the player to become lost or disoriented.

Appearing at first as little more than another forest for Link to wander through on his journey, the Lost Woods often take on the shape of a maze or labyrinth of trees. Later depictions had it as a dark and very heavily overgrown forest complete with hollow log tunnels and secrets and dangers scattered about. The woods sometimes function as a puzzle or mini-dungeon to complete as a part of the greater journey. Often the Woods hide the road towards the Forest Temple, or contain the long forgotten Master Sword. Along the way there have been various creatures or people found within the Woods. Skull Kids and Deku Scrubs are commonly encountered within them in many games, as are human thieves. In a couple of cases, the Lost Woods feature in the lore of the setting itself, adding to the already abundant mythology of Hyrule.

There have been multiple changes to not only the design but the overall purpose of the Woods throughout the years. The Lost Woods might only appear as a small location on the map that only serves as a brief stop, or it could be much more important to the storyline, guarding a more important location or obscuring the path to another region.

In the original Legend of Zelda, the Lost Woods were nothing more than a puzzle; a single screen with four possible paths just west of the starting point in the brown trees that would endlessly repeat in three directions until the player discovered the formula of north, east, south, east, to move through them. Often players would avoid it completely by going around or using a warp. No explanation was given for the occurrence or why this region was placed in Hyrule. It was just another enchanted section in an already magical world.

In A Link to the Past, the Lost Woods took on the appearance of a much larger and denser forest in the far northwest corner of the map. It no longer had any directional puzzle attributed to it, but it maintained the same enchanted feel by having a magical fog hovering over it that kept the visibility low in the early parts of the game. Many inhabitants were added to it, such as thieves and lumberjacks, as well as many animals living deep within the forest. A thieves’ hideout was added with an extra minigame for Link to take part in. If the player was not careful, the thieves hiding out in the forest would steal his items. An extra level of importance was added to the forest by having it be the resting place of the long-hidden Master Sword, located in an inscribed pedestal within a small sacred grove.

In Ocarina of Time, the Lost Woods were once again moved to a separate corner of the map, and the familiar direction puzzle from the original game also returned, although, like the Lost Woods itself, was greatly expanded upon. This time the Woods was not just a screen, but a lengthy maze of various rooms connected by hollow logs. Much like the first appearance, choosing a wrong path lead Link back to the beginning. Along with its sheer size, there were many more additions to the Woods, like new minigames to play, Business Scrubs to purchase items from, and unique inhabitants not found anywhere else. The Woods connected the Kokiri Forest to the Sacred Forest Meadow, the hiding place of the Forest Temple.

The mythology of the region was also expanded greatly in Ocarina of Time. In this game the Lost Woods take on a much more sinister role as a place where non-fairy beings that wander within its twists and turns mot only find themselves hopelessly lost, but are cursed to transform into Stalfos. The Skull Kids you encounter a few times within the forest are rumored to have been children that entered the forest and were transformed as a result of getting lost themselves.

“Skull Kid – Is this what happens to kids who wander into the forest? It looks like he doesn’t like grownups.” — Navi

“That guy isn’t here anymore. Except for the Kokiri, people who come into the forest end up lost. They all become Stalfos. That’s why he’s not here anymore. Only his saw is left. Hee hee.” — Fado

In Four Swords Adventures, the Lost Woods appear as a stage but without the identical repeating area. The nature of the Woods’ puzzle this time around is that each screen looks very similar and it is very easy for the players to become lost as a result. The Deku Scrubs that inhabit these woods inform the player that they have a similar curse as to that of the Skull Kids and Stalfos of Ocarina of Time; they were Hylians that entered the woods and were transformed through the power of the Lost Woods.

“The Lost Woods is our birthplace! If you wander lost here for too long, you too can become a Deku Scrub!” — Deku Scrub

In later appearances, the importance of Lost Woods lessened somewhat. In The Minish Cap, the Woods are a forest of dead trees that Link must traverse on his way to the Royal Crypt. The puzzle aspect is absent, due to a series of signs showing the player where to go. In Spirit Tracks, the Woods return as a maze that must be traversed by train. In this game, Link immediately fails at finding the way through and must venture to the local village to learn how to travel through the forest. Once completed, the player never again needs to travel through the maze.

The concept of an enchanted forest is not new to storytelling; many myths and fairytales have included mysterious places very similar to the Lost Woods. Often they would be cursed or protected so that anyone found entering them would encounter something supernatural. Forests often represented hidden or unknown places that many rare and dangerous creatures roamed. They were areas that people did not often enter, and could be inhabited by monsters, witches, fairies or ancient beings.

Folktales of fairies causing travelers to become disoriented or lost in what would otherwise be a familiar area is common in some countries. Certain retellings of the story have led to the use of the term “Pixie-led”, meaning lost or misled off a course by supernatural means. Often this would be the result of a fairy or witch magically confusing the victim into losing their way and aimlessly wandering, often for days. In some occurrences they would drift aimlessly until they died.

Even in modern day we have stories of mysterious locations where travelers become lost, such as the Bermuda Triangle, which has been said to cause sailors and pilots alike to lose their bearings and become lost. There have been rumors of compasses and radios ceasing to function, giving a modern day mythology to the region that it is a cursed or forbidden area. This very same fear of the unknown still gives rise to tales of cursed or haunted locations that people are still afraid to trespass in today.

Mysterious forests that ensnare or bewilder adventurers are also found in modern literature. The well-known Lord of the Rings series had a few such forests. The great forest surrounding Lothlórien, a home of the elves in Middle Earth, was protected from evil by the magic of its rulers. Passage of time was also slowed within it, causing the trees to grow but not die. Evil creatures were incapable of entering the forest or finding their way to the inhabitants due to the protection. But even much more alike to the Lost Woods of Zelda is a forest that appeared in the Silmarillion, titled the Girdle of Melian. This forest was used as a protective barrier surrounding the kingdom of Doriath, enchanted by Queen Melian. Whomever stepped into the forest became hopelessly lost in an endless maze of trees until their food ran out and they died.

With all the in-game mythology attributed to the Lost Woods, there has so far never been an explanation or origin given to the area. This leaves the players to wonder what might be the ultimate purpose for the region’s existence. Where did the enchantment come from, and why can it transform unsuspecting Hylians into monsters?

Many game theorists have suggested it is indeed a protective barrier of some kind, that the lost woods are meant to keep unwanted outsiders away from some specific item or being. This explanation could indicate protection of a variety of things, as many sacred or important things are hidden within the forested locations of Hyrule. A prominent assumption is that it is meant to separate the main countryside of Hyrule from the sacred forest and protect the Great Deku Tree and his Kokiri children. Or that it is used to keep the Forest Temple hidden and safe from outside forces. Another possibility is it’s to protect the Master Sword, which has been kept deep in the forest a number of times in the past. There have been so many extraordinary items and locations hidden within the forest that it might be difficult for one to decide which one is the cause for the protective barrier.

Another speculation is that the Lost Woods are not protective or beneficial in any way, but cursed by some outside source. The fact that all non-fairy folk who enter are doomed to wander until they become Stalfos contribute to this assumption. The words of the Deku Scrubs of Four Swords Adventures — mentioning that they have been transformed by the woods into their current forms — shows that they share a similar fate as the Stalfos and Skull Kids. It has even been conjectured that since the Demon King Demise was once sealed within the forest of Hyrule, that his essence might have tainted the land.

Along with other notable locations commonly found in each new journey through Hyrule, such as Death Mountain and Lake Hylia, the Lost Woods have continually evolved in both size and purpose. Sometimes it gains importance and has a huge impact on the story, and sometimes its importance wanes and it’s only another puzzle to overcome. Nevertheless, the Lost Woods still remain a very interesting element of mystery in the constantly changing land of Hyrule, and as a common concept in not only Zelda but in myth and fiction overall, I have no doubt it will continue to be in future sequels.

Author: DjinnDjinn has been a member of Zelda Dungeon for a little over a year and frequently writes articles for the article staff. He also works as a news correspondent and is an active member of the forums. He has been a fan of the Zelda series for many years now and you can view his creations over on his Deviantart.

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  • Dracomajora

    Great article Djinn.

  • Guy

    Very good and informing!

  • Jam9t3

    The mystery of the lost woods is one of the unique things about Zelda which makes it magical with a feeling of exploration and discovery. Its a very nice idea, very imaginative, they need to bring stuff like that back into the newer Zelda games, along with magic power, I mean- who doesn’t love using magical items? I never complain about magic power running out because you can find it anywhere and it only runs out if you over-excessively use it! Anyways I hope they bring something really amazing into the new Zelda game, similar to the lost woods.

    • Hoff123

      Yes, I would love more mysteries and magic and just weird stuff in Zelda :) . Though, the Sacred Grove in TP was REALLY weird lol.

      • Emma Mix

        I loved the Sacred Grove. I think it was my favorite rendition of the Lost Woods ever.

  • lanceXtreme

    everytime i listen to lost in the forest by spellblast i think of the lost woods

  • Jeshua

    I really want to see the next zelda game :D really!!! they said that the city of Hyrule of OoT is the same of TP :O oh my good I Really want to know what the heck happend, why the loost woods eat part of Hyrule Field :D

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004047914984 Krishna Moorthy

    awesome article! do one like this for death mountain & lake hylia too

    • sombody you don’t know

      yes! do one for death mountain!
      I love death moutain! I remember first going through it in four swords adventures.

  • BlackRaven6695

    I hummed the Lost Woods music from Link to the Past while reading this article.

  • Hoff123

    Awesome article. Really interesing.

  • drnedaj

    It is actually north west south west (not east). If you went east you went back to the start.

  • Cmaster

    I love the lost woods in twilight princess, its confusing but it doesn’t make you start over at the beginning every time you walk into a different area.

  • Darkstar

    After experiencing the lost woods in most of the games, I never looked at a real forest the same again. That catchy song always plays in my mind whenever I walk through a forest and my imagination begins.

  • zdog

    Great article, enjoyed it a lot.

  • HeyListen!

    As we are a community of Zelda fans, most of us probably already were aware of the Lost Woods. What would have rather interested me is why this is so. Here are my reasons: First off, the puzzle is not fun. Unlike other puzzles, the Lost Woods maze did not require the players wit. Instead, the player had to find a person that would tell him how to navigate through it, masking a normal wall as a puzzle. Second, in our 3D and HD game era, it becomes more and more unlogical to suddenly land in an area you were in before. Areas beome more detailed and distinct and it just doesnt make much sense. Paper Mario did this right, for example. One had to pay attention to his surroundings to find the right way to advance. That would be the only way I could imagine the Lost Woods puzzle to reoccur effectively in future Zelda games without seeming… tedious. Still, this article isnt bad by any means. Its just, why state the facts to people that already know them?

    • The Mystical Cheese

      Think about this, so if the temple of the goddess is where you put the master sword to rest in SS, what if the ruins you find the Master Sword in the Sacred Grove in TP is just really a decayed and fallen apart temple of the goddess?? I like linking timelines. :D

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003298020387 Alan Da Cruz Nascimento

    Wonderful! Tut forgot the Lost Woods of Majora’s Mask(if not the same of Hyrule conected)theory which opens a connector between worlds, countries, parallel dimensions; and the Oracle of Seasons, , underway of Onox’s Fort and the Woodland of Fairies of Oracle of Ages. ¦D

    • Emma Mix

      That’s what I was thinking. It’s like in the Chronicles of Narnia, when Polly and Digory discovered Narnia and the home of Jadis (the White Witch) through these ponds in a magical wood.

  • Emma Mix

    If, in MM, Link got to Termina through the Lost Woods, perhaps it is a bridge between all worlds. In The Magician’s Nephew, by CS Lewis, Polly and Digory find their way into Narnia through one of the pools in the magical wood. However, they were able to also find their way into the realm of Jadis (the White Witch) as well. Perhaps there is a similar concept with the Lost Woods, that it is a bridge between the worlds. I’m not so sure about the monsters however… Perhaps since there is such a collection of emotions, histories and beings from all the different worlds that such a collective gathering can cause humans to go mad, or in this case, be tainted by the collection of evil from so many worlds such as Termina and Hyrule.

    Egh, it’s just an idea.

    • Alex durben

      I had the same idea actually so yeah also remember in Ocarina of Time you could get to the the goron and Zora cities/villiages through those portals

      • Emma Mix

        Right? I think it would be a really cool concept to use in the new Zelda Wii U. They could use all different types of portals that could only be discovered with the lens of truth or something which you could use as the gamepad looking around the room and stuff… Idk I just really want them to use some of the stuff back from OoT.

  • Neo-octorok

    Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but I love the idea of the Mastersword enshrined deep inside an ancient forest, even more so than behind a great door in an ancient temple. Though I do love the combo in Twilight Princess.

  • Krennthief

    Does anyone think that the final resting place for the Master Sword in Skyward Sword eventually turned into the Lost Woods that we see in A Link to the Past?

    • :D

      Well, the Sealed Temple evolved into the Temple of Time, in ocarina…and the Temple of Time became the Sacred Groove in TP, so it makes sense…

  • Dragon Ball Zelda

    A “Lost Woods” also exists in Holodrum, in Oracle of Seasons, and in a linked game, it holds the Master Sword.

  • HerosShade

    There is definitely mystery surrounding the Lost Woods. Its origins or primary purpose may never be revealed… and that’s what makes this location so fun and memorable. However, here is one thing that is for sure: since it is an enchanted forest, where people turn to monsters and where you can easily get lost, a lot of courage is required to master the puzzle of the woods. Since Link is the courageous hero who, after the Triforce is split, receives the Triforce of Courage, this place always serves as a trial that the hero must conquer as part of his quest to save Hyrule. In other words, finding your way through the Lost Woods is one of the many tests that proves Link to be the hero of legend. Just thought I’d throw this out there…

  • Kat lover

    I’ve always ended up getting lost every time I go into the lost woods

  • Katniss

    You really put some thought into it Djinn! Made me really think about the lost woods. Although it still ticks me off when I get lost in there!

  • link

    AWESOME

  • Draig6

    This is very interesting. And, although it isn’t a wooded area, the egg in Link’s Awakening may be considered as a “Lost Wood” too.