Posted on March 19 2013 by Colin McIsaac
This is a guest article written by Emilio Burgos with minor edits made by Colin McIsaac. If you’d like to submit your very own guest article, we encourage you to share it with us here.
You turn on your console and insert The Wind Waker’s disc. The title screen appears. You go on for a new game and the first thing you’re told is, “this is but one of the legends of which people speak.” Then you watch strips of what appear to be fragments of an old tapestry, telling the story of the High—but now forgotten—Kingdom of Hyrule.
This sequence, which should be familiar to all of us Zelda fans, contains in a few screenshots the essence of the heroic cycle, as well as a few observations on the anthropological function of myths and tales in daily life. This short article aims to discuss the most important sections of the prologue in order to show The Wind Waker’s connection to the basic pattern of all heroic narratives. In other words, to discuss why it is actually one of the many tales that people talk about.
To begin with, the first thing that should call our attention is the narrative voice’s warning itself. Myths—and we will consider The Legend of Zelda series a work of mythological inspiration from now on—not only share universal significance but also a common structure. This pattern has been mapped by scholars such as Joseph Campbell or Vladimir Propp and would account for the fact that tales from different cultures and civilizations have (no matter how far they are in Space and Time) stories that tell about boy heroes and their struggle against a primeval evil. That is why we shouldn’t be surprised that the core plot of the game—and, perhaps, of the whole series—is by no means original. We have been telling the same story probably since the invention or discovery of language. There are many versions of the same tale. What differs is the medium and those details that add an air of authenticity and novelty. That being said, it’s true. We’re experiencing the classic hero’s journey again. But why?
There are many reasons that would account for our love of these stories. The first—and simpler—is that we like them because they are fun and interesting. G.K. Chesterton once said that children love playing with imaginary swords and killing dragons. In other words, especially when we are young, we feel inclined to these tales for the thrill of them.
On the other hand, these stories offer a variety of compelling readings based on our personal experience and the various interests of our minds. They also attract us because of their emotional value, for the things we learn from them. Although they are not compelled to teach us lessons, we can’t dismiss the fact that after listening, reading or playing any of them we are moved to small yet significant changes in our lives. Who hasn’t tried to let go the past after finishing The Wind Waker? How has our perception of the value of time changed after experiencing the events in Ocarina of Time?
If you have an answer to any of these questions, or if you look at yourself for a while and find other queries to pose, it is because you have experienced mythology as our elders intended us to do. Any time you find yourself thinking about the nature of heroism or speculating about the cyclical nature of The Legend of Zelda, you are giving an account of how Myth has changed your life perspective. For myths—as The Wind Waker’s prologue gently reminds us—are told for us to change… but also to remember.
“What became of that kingdom? None remain who know. The memory of the kingdom vanished, but its legend survived on the wind’s breath.”
If we take a further look at the final moments of the initial cut scene, we will also learn about another of the paramount functions of Myth. After telling us that the High Kingdom had vanished forever, the narrator pushes forward to the story’s present:
“On a certain island, it became customary to garb young boys in green when they came of age. Clothed in the green of fields, they aspired to find heroic blades and cast down evil. The elders wished only for the youths to know courage like the hero of legend…”
These lines stress what we may call the anthropological value of Myth. From Homer’s Odyssey to Tolkien’s Rings saga, heroic narratives fulfill a social function; Homer is known for being the man who educated Greece. Indeed, despite being enjoyable for all the reasons we can imagine, myths from that of Icarus to the Legend of Zelda are conceived primarily to guide ourselves towards a better understanding of the human experience, as much as to preserve traditional values that may be worth protecting. They are rituals, rites of passage. As the prologue explains, the elders of Outset Island are not much interested in the details of the Great Tale itself but on the fact that through them, youths can learn how to be precisely “like the hero of legend.”
While I personally enjoy The Legend of Zelda games in general—and The Wind Waker in particular—for all their flavor of discovery and endless adventure, great characters and what we all know and refer to as the franchise’s essence, I think that having a look at the symbolic value of the story hinted throughout the saga helps us to increase our understanding of each specific version of the tale. We have been told that The Legend of Zelda is not about change but about reinventing and retelling of the same old story. However, to paraphrase the King’s parting words, by repeating itself over and over again, it has implicitly “scattered the seeds of [our] future.”