he following article is a Bombers guest article, written by James Hurvid. Please remember that this article reflects the personal opinions and beliefs of the author, which are not necessarily representative of ZeldaInformer as a whole. With that said, enjoy the read.
As a fantasy series, The Legend of Zelda is quick to borrow the
conventions of myths and legends to build its universe. But a lot of
players can’t distinguish the mythology from the real world, and so
they discuss a lot of ideas that really don’t apply to the Zelda universe, such as genetics and tectonic plates. What separates mythology from science is symbolism, a concept the Zelda universe is grounded upon.
of all, there must be an explanation what symbolism is. Symbolism is
the process of explaining the world through meaning and purpose, as
opposed to physical causality. For example, water has always been
recognized for its apparent purpose to nourish life, but not the actual
process of nourishment. This is because we can only symbolize what we
can physically and emotionally sense. The feeling of thirst, and the
emotional satisfaction of drinking water when thirsty, defines the
symbolism of water having purpose for nourishment. But we cannot see or
feel the intake of water into the cells of our body; that is something
we know exists only through scientific analysis, and so that aspect of
nourishment holds no symbolic meaning to us. The Zelda universe
functions on this basis, with the creation of the elements of earth,
air, fire and water, and the Triforce possessing the human traits of
power, wisdom and courage. Genetics and tectonic plates do not exist in
a symbolic universe.
One argument to support the application of modern science into the Zelda
mythology is that the authors are contemporary, and thus contemporary
scientific knowledge is expected to be carried across in their writing.
However, contemporary writers are aware that symbolism is more
emotionally powerful to audiences than science is, and symbolism is
actually responsible for why we enjoy these stories so much. The
writers for Disney’s The Lion King make that case in the
commentaries, establishing the film’s success as an emotional response
to the symbolism present in the story. In particular, the scene in
which Simba discovered the spiritual connection with his father was
cited as the most emotional part of the film. And so if symbolism is
important to the audience, then it is not surprising that the Zelda
series has built such an emotional reaction from the general public.
It’s not a large step to take from “natural king of the Pridelands” to
“natural hero of Hyrule”, after all. It would be truer to the writers
if we start looking at the symbolism inherent in the Zelda mythology, as opposed to discussing the inclusion of scientific facts.
with the example of water, look at the symbols present within the
elements of nature. Like water, the elements of earth, fire and wind
are all connected to the preservation of life. Earth makes the plants
grow (and thus, plants are symbolically related to the earth element),
fire provides warmth, and wind allows seeds to scatter and birds to
fly. And with the understanding that all the elements work for the
common cause of life preservation, we have an explanation for why we
never see signs of conflict between the elements (as depicted by the
elemental deities). All the elemental deities are generally benevolent
because of their symbolic purpose to preserve life, which puts them at
odds with the forces of Darkness who want to destroy life.
and Darkness are connected through different symbolism to the elements
of nature because the two forces are in direct conflict with each
other; existing as exact opposites. Light is the representation of
benevolence, likely due to the symbolic relationship between light and
existence; the ability to see something is the most immediate sense to
tell us that it exists. This leads to a symbolic relationship between
the sky and heaven; if heaven is up above, then the sun shines from a
benevolent source. Darkness is the representation of evil, likely due
to the symbolic relationship between darkness and oblivion. If the
destruction of all things leads to oblivion, then the reasons for
destruction are observed as “dark” and thus evil.
In Twilight Princess,
Princess Zelda referred to Light and Darkness as in a state of balance,
but funnily enough, a fan translation revealed that to be an invention
by the Nintendo of America translators. It suggests that Darkness has a
divine purpose alongside Light, and is a necessity to maintaining order
in the world. But while we have seen evidence of Light coming from a
divine source (the Light Spirits and the Master Sword being the
strongest examples), Darkness has always set itself against the divine,
just as Ganondorf did in The Wind Waker. Apart from coinciding
with the idea that evil is a product of free will (in the Zelda
mythology, human greed), this causes doubt about whether the forces of
Light and Darkness really are equal in the Zelda universe. It would
certainly explain why Hyrule spends most of its time at peace if Light
was the dominant force in Hyrule, with the skeletons sometimes emerging
at night in Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess.
Another piece of symbolism that would be worth looking at is the manipulation of magic. The Zelda
mythology conforms perfectly to the symbolism of magic in general
mythology; namely control over the things which are outside our control
in real-life. The wind cannot be controlled in real-life, so
controlling the wind thus becomes an act of magic. When the King of Red
Lions gave Link the Wind Waker, he said that Link could “borrow the power of the gods”.
This language relates to the symbolic perception that the elements are
powers that only the gods (and the divine deities) are allowed to
control, and the Wind Waker is an item that the goddesses blessed with
their power to allow humans this ability as well. According to
Christianity, it is believed that the manipulation of nature is sacred
to God alone, and thus its movement by humans is perceived to be black
magic or witchcraft. But in other mythologies, if communication with
the gods (or deities who are designed to wield the elements) can be
established by a human (like a priest or witch doctor), then that
person could be allowed that sacred power to wield. Sometimes the
elements themselves are suggested to be alive and obey the sorcerer, as
if the magic creates a pact between them. Anyway, the Wind Waker was
said to be possessed by the King of Hyrule, so it perhaps signifies
that the king had some form of magical communication with the gods (as
the leader of the Hylians, the chosen people of the gods).
we come to the nature of the goddesses; Din, Nayru and Farore. Given
that they are responsible for a peaceful state of order for the world,
as well as consistently associated with the power of Light throughout
the series, it’s quite clear that they are benevolent deities. Even
when the goddesses were presumed to have given Ganondorf the power to
conquer Hyrule, Zelda believed that some good had come from the
following events. We just have to accept that, for the purposes of the
story, the goddesses allow suffering to send a moral message.
the Triforce is made from the essences of the three goddesses, the
Triforce is a symbolic reflection of the goddesses. Each of the three
Triforce pieces represents a goddess, and they work in unison to
maintain the natural state of order in Hyrule, just as the three
goddesses are also unified in their endeavors. Just as the power of the
gods created the world, that same power maintains the world. The
Triforce also symbolizes government. A Link to the Past’s
original manual established that the Triforce governs the world from
the Sacred Realm, and whoever possesses it shall themselves govern the
world according to their own desires. For the wielder, this has been
phrased as both the granting of a wish and a reflection of the heart.
The Sacred Realm is a visual reflection of the Triforce’s power and
thus it transformed into the Dark World in accordance with Ganondorf’s
evil heart. The Triforce also represents Order, in that it keeps the
nature of the world constant. It is up to people to create a new state
of Order, and the Triforce is said to hold a particular character type
as “worthy” of governing with its power. This character must have a
heart free of evil, a resolute character and a mastery of the three
virtues of Power, Wisdom and Courage. Essentially, it must represent
the hearts of the people and keep them in peace.
Ocarina of Time
introduced a new mechanic; the Triforce would split at the touch of a
heart that does not balance the virtues of Power, Wisdom and Courage.
This has raised questions about the nature of a balanced heart, and in
order to understand it, we need to understand why people believe that
power, wisdom and courage are important in life.
Power we see that a powerful character commands both fear and respect
from weaker characters, and can protect the weak. So a character can
believe in power to be used for benevolent purposes. However, power is
said to be a corruptive force in the Zelda series. With power
comes the ability to force others against their will, and thus the
tendency to do evil outweighs the tendency to do good. A man corrupted,
like Ganondorf, would believe in power solely to have his own selfish
desires made real.
Examining Wisdom shows us that understanding
how the world works gives a character the ability to solve the problems
that they encounter and improve upon existing magic and technology.
Understanding how people work can allow a character to bring people
together and end feuds. So the belief in wisdom is essentially about
bettering one’s position in the world and, as an extension of that, the
positions of those around them. However, since wisdom is a means to
attain power, wise men can also be corrupted, thus using their
knowledge to better their own positions at the expense of others.
the belief in Courage means it is important to fight for one’s ideals.
In Eastern philosophy, courage is defined by one character recognizing
the authority of the wider world and contesting it. In Western
philosophy, courage is more simply defined as facing one’s fears.
Ganondorf was not a courageous character because he did not recognize
and fear the authority of others as a counter to his own ideals for
world domination. Heroism, on the other hand, derives from Courage
because a character must be able to recognize threats from the wider
world in order to protect others.
In light of all
this, it is clear that the Zelda universe relies heavily on the concept
of symbolism. While the land of Hyrule has characteristics similar to
the events of our world, the symbolic will always trump the scientific
and the physical. The nature of the elements, the clash between light
and dark, or existence and oblivion, the manipulation of magic as “the
power of the gods”, and even the balance of the characteristics of the
Triforce are all prime examples of symbolism in the Zelda universe.1
1- This concluding paragraph was edited into the article by the Bombers and was not part of the original article.
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