Author’s Disclaimer: Please note that while the following article aims to be objective in its analysis, it is influenced by personal assumptions and theories on my part that do not reflect the opinion of Zelda Informer as a whole. For instance, I assume that the “laws of the past” in The Wind Waker refer to The Adventure of Link’s backstory and also suggest that The Minish Cap cannot be placed as the first title in the timeline. The now developer confirmed ‘split-timeline’ is also taken for granted in this piece. These aside, I hope that this article is informative and a helpful tool for building your own opinions of The Legend of Zelda, whether or not you agree with me. Please enjoy.
As I was recently writing an article that took a look at how important Princess Zelda is to Legend of Zelda games, I briefly touched on the point of what exactly “The Legend of Zelda” is. Often we get messages here at Zelda Informer wondering why the series is called “The Legend of Zelda” when the games are based around the story of Link. Yes, we do know that the series is named after Zelda Fitzgerald, so most people conclude that due to that Nintendo continues to use a princess named Zelda in every story.
That is not entirely the case, because “The Legend of Zelda” is actually the backstory and the legend that drives the whole series. Ironically, the very game that tells us about this legend is the one that lacks that very phrase in its title: “Zelda II: The Adventure of Link”. That’s right, the so called ‘flop’ or odd game out of the series is the very game that gives meaning to the whole series along with its ambiguous title. It is time for lesson 101 on “The Legend of Zelda”.
“The time has come when I must tell you the legend of Zelda handed down in Hyrule”. These are the words of Zelda’s nursemaid, Impa, to Link in The Adventure of Link’s manual. Impa goes on to tell the story of a great king who ruled Hyrule with the whole Triforce. Once he had died, his son could only inherit the Triforce in part because of his unbalanced heart. The prince was angered and sought the remaining parts of the Triforce everywhere, but could not find them. One day a magician, who was close to the deceased king, came to him with a message saying that his younger sister, Princess Zelda, had been told something about the Triforce by the king before his death.
In a forceful attempt to get this information out of Zelda, the magician, against the prince’s will, began to cast a spell on Zelda, and eventually “Zelda fell on that spot and entered a sleep from which she might never awake… In his grief, the prince placed the princess in his room. He hoped that someday she would come back to life. So that this tragedy would never be forgotten, he ordered that every female child born into the royal household shall be given the name Zelda.”
And there you have it. There is much more to the whole story, so if you’re not familiar with it be sure to search Google for “Adventure of Link manual scans” and have a read of the full story. Had you been one of the people that thought it was a mere coincidence that every princess was called Zelda? Well it is no coincidence, it is in fact, The Legend of Zelda! I’m afraid I can’t explain Link though, that must just be a massive coincidence where every hero is named Link, or maybe it’s just a “divine prank”. Nevertheless, behind the series we all love is a very traditional and fairytale-like backstory where the beautiful Princess finds herself in an eternal sleep that only the hero can wake her from. Of course, in The Adventure of Link, that’s exactly what happens, but it is “The Legend of Zelda” itself that is more important.
This ‘legend of Zelda’ is the basis for the series, not just its title. It is what ties everything together. Still to this day theorists strive to find the one true timeline, but perhaps the truth is that the series is a group of stories all based around this one legend. Perhaps every Zelda tale is just another legend in itself. Despite all of the inconsistencies in chronology, this legend is the one constant that connects all of the games. When there is a princess in Hyrule she is named Zelda – simple. With Link’s Awakening being the only exception, every game has had a Princess Zelda. In some way, either directly or extremely loosely, all titles hearken back to this legend, and no game does it better than The Wind Waker.
The Wind Waker, as we all know, actually has our trusty Zelda named as Tetra, and looking quite different to what she normally would. It is only once she discovers that she is the last in the royal bloodline that she becomes Zelda. As Daphnes says: “You, too, must abide by the laws of the past… You are the true heir of the royal family of Hyrule…the last link in the bloodline. You are Princess Zelda.” The laws of the past refers to the prince’s decree, and so Tetra becomes Zelda. To many players this was just a little insignificant point in The Wind Waker’s story, but to more veteran players this was a truly superb moment where a modern game hearkened back to the originals and again reminded us what the legend of Zelda really is. It is references like this that tie the games together, perhaps moreso than an overall chronology.
It is no wonder that the timeline is considered such an important part of the series by fans, because the placement of when the ‘sleeping Zelda’ story occurs affects the whole series. A number of placements have been proposed for The Adventure of Link’s backstory, each with strengths and weaknesses – each with answers and more questions. The placement of The Adventure of Link itself varies greatly with some fans placing it on the child timeline, others going early in the adult split, and still others placing it late on the adult branch. Some theorists place the sleeping Zelda story directly before The Adventure of Link on their timelines, but this doesn’t work for two simple reasons.
Firstly, the sleeping Zelda story has to occur to the first Zelda in the timeline for all of the princesses that follow to bear that same name. Perhaps it is a Princess Zelda long before any games in the timeline occur. Or with Skyward Sword now coming as the first title in the timeline, perhaps it will contain the Zelda who becomes the sleeping Zelda. We can’t be sure when exactly, but the sleeping Zelda tragedy must occur early in the series which is why many place it as the first event to occur in the Zelda universe, long before Ocarina of Time.
Secondly, we know that the story has to take place before The Wind Waker for Tetra’s little scenario to be accurate. This has led to the theory that Zelda from Ocarina of Time is the sleeping Zelda, and that The Adventure of Link backstory takes place between Ocarina of Time and the events of the great flood. This theory also suggests that the prince may actually be King Daphnes and the magician may be Ganondorf. However, its major flaw is its lack of explanation for how this legend can then apply to the child branch of the timeline.
The Adventure of Link’s backstory, known to you now as ‘the legend of Zelda’, is complex to say the least. It is impossible to fit all of the points into the timeline without inconsistencies, but is that really the point? Yes, the ‘legend of Zelda’ is difficult to place, but at the same time doesn’t it remind us that it itself is the real story that connects all entries in the series together? Doesn’t it remind us that despite how confusing the timeline may become, that all games are tied together by this mythic pre-history? I believe that is the very reason why Nintendo went back to using ‘The Legend of Zelda’ as the permanent series title after The Adventure of Link. As a permanent reminder of the myth that the series is based upon. The myth that drives the legend. The legend known as The Legend of Zelda.
Highly Recommended Further Reading
- Mysteries in Hyrulean History: The Sleeping Zelda and the Timeline by Alex Plant – A theory on how the sleeping Zelda story can occur between Ocarina of Time and The Wind Waker.
- Mysteries in Hyrulean History: Dawn of the New Hyrule by Alex Plant – A theory on the formation of a new Hyrule in post Wind Waker times, drawing upon the theory of Daphnes being the scroll writer of The Adventure of Link’s backstory.
- Legends of Hyrule by Ben Lamoreux – Looks at the possibility of each game being a literal legend, as opposed to an actual occurrence that must be placed in the timeline.
- A Legend and a Timeline by Alex Plant – Inspired by the above article by Ben, this piece further looks at the ‘legend’ theory, with the Zelda games being simply a collection of myths.