The Missing Link
[WARNING: This post has very vague allusions to things that happen in Twilight Princess. However, it doesn’t overtly reveal anything. As such, this topic is NOT marked Spoiler. Please post accordingly.]
“Ah! the stories of yore! How fabled they are!” the minsterel said in the town square. “How enchanting are the tales that I’ve to tell this day! Gather ye round and hear of ages past, of legends and heroes, and of magic! I wish to tell you of a legend that happened long ago in this very castle town. I tell you a legend of a great evil which plagued our fair land long ago, of a hero so legendary that his feats you would dare not believe it true, …and of a fair maiden who fought at his side, a maiden who was our leader, our monarch, our very princess…”
Can you not imagine those words being said? (Oh, but if only we had our own convention—I propose the name HyruleCon—with which to congregate and share in our Zelda pride!) Can you not hear those words being said in the town square years upon years after one of the legendary battles of Link versus Ganondorf? I know I can. Such a place and time I can only dream of… yet at the same time, were I but a much younger lad, not even ten, standing before the minstrel hearing my favourite tale about Link and Zelda, I know for certain that I would’ve been tugging upon my mother’s simple dress, looking up wide-eyed at her face, and asking, “But Mum, if Zelda had no papa, wherefore is she not a queen but rather a princess?”
With the release of the 13th Zelda title for a Nintendo console, the basic structure of Hyrule is definitively locked within our minds. Link is a nobody-turned-hero. Ganondorf is this evil man bent upon conquering Hyrule. And Zelda is a princess—eternally a princess—in our minds.
It doesn’t matter what the political structure of the country is like in the game. It doesn’t matter what sort of backstory the game has or if they even mention the fact that Zelda has a father or not. It doesn’t matter if it appears that Zelda is actually the one and only monarch sitting upon the throne. She’s always a princess. It’s become a proverbial rule that she must be such. The Zelda structure is crystalised in time, locked in place for eternity, and that’s the end of the story. No ifs, ands, or buts about it, definition of “princess”—inaccurate as it may be—be darned.
Yet a quick look at the Zelda titles will reveal just what a misnomer “Princess Zelda” is. Legend of Zelda has no king… at least no king that’s alive during the game. The adult portion of Ocarina of Time certainly doesn’t seem to have a king; I reckon he died in Ganondorf’s invasion. Four Swords and Four Swords Adventures certainly don’t mention any such king that’s above Zelda. And Twilight Princess… well, I’m certain that those of you who’ve played it by now know precisely what I mean, wink, wink. Even beyond that, however, even in the games where a king (Zelda’s father, or so we hope! Don’t need any of that royal drama getting in the tabloids!) is in place above her (thus circumventing Zelda’s automatic ascension to the title of queen), with the exception of Wind Waker (with the real King of Red Lions) and in Minish Cap, the king is, at best, a character sprite found only in the ending credits roll or, at worst, never ever rendered upon the screen, merely an invisible hand that governs over Hyrule without ever being seen by our plucky hero. Practically, the king would be integral to the workings of a kingdom and a castle town; that’s the way the structure worked back then. However, to the stories presented in The Legend of Zelda series, well, not so much an important part of the story.
All of this drives home the point that the story really is about some random Joe Schmoe (Link) kicking some mega-evil bad dude (Ganondorf and/or Vaati, usually) in order to save yon fair princess (Zelda). Gee… this isn’t a cliché… I wonder if we’ve heard this story before…
Pretty much what you’re looking at here is the very core of a typical fairy tale. I mean, honestly, think about it. You’re Link; who’s he? Not anyone that would go down in the history books if he weren’t the Chosen Hero each darn generation. (Talk about a bummer of a birthmark, Hal.) And all of a sudden, before you know it, our everyday Joe is hobnobbing with the very daughter of the most powerful man for several leagues in any direction. I know the analogy is really bad here, but imagine this as if you suddenly were asked out by Brad Pitt, Anna Kournikova, or whomever you have dreams about at night. That’s quite a life change, if you ask me! And as we all (regretfully) know, such things don’t happen, you know, every day. The chances that destiny will lead me to a tea and crumpets party with the Queen of England is, well, significantly worse than me winning the lottery.
And oh, let’s not forget the pure evil bad guy that’s standing in our way. We’ve got the King of Evil or the Prince of Quasi-evil standing between us and the girl we are to chivalrously save. Now you might think that Ganondorf is a little too dark for a fairy tale, that since he’s not spouting butterfly wings off of his back that Zelda isn’t a fairy tale. Think again. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves involves apples with so much poison that they’ll knock you out for a thousand years. Beauty and the Beast involves angry mobs wanting to come in and burn the Beast’s house down. Cinderella’s evil stepmother and evil stepsisters would, in this day and age, be jailed for cruelty to children and physical abuse. Alice in Wonderland has a lovely queen who is overly excited with decapitation. Hansel and Gretel had a witch that wanted to eat children! The list goes on. No matter how dark Zelda is, it holds very true to its fairy tale roots.
For that matter, since we’re making comparisons, all of the modern Zelda games involve someone standing, flying, or watching over you the entire time. Yes, Navi is very much like your fairy godmother. (Sure, she’s got the fairy part right, but she isn’t exactly godmotherly…) But enough of beating a dead Epona over and over again. Why princess? Why is Zelda always a princess? If you don’t look at The Legend of Zelda in terms of a fairy tale, your guesses would be as good as mine; however, looking through the light of literature, the reason why Zelda is a princess (and indeed why The Legend of Zelda is set up in the way is set up!) becomes quite clear.
First, you have to consider who the audience for these fairy tales were. Remember the first paragraph of the article when I played the Hyrulean minstrel for you? I didn’t just add that in for no reason whatsoever! Fairy tales back in the days of yore were told to the common folk. It would pass from minstrel to minstrel, bard to villager, mother to child. And many of the stories, especially those that set themselves in much more medieval times, became stories of hope, the stuff of dreams. How many Disney fairy-tales-turned-cartoons from the ’80s and early ’90s can you name where a young woman falls in love with a Prince Charming or a young man marries a princess in the end? I bet we could all name five or six off the top of our heads without even having to resort to IMDB. But here’s the kicker: How did you feel after you came out of those movies? Elated? High-spirited? Most likely. You see, nearly all of us in some way see ourselves reflected in Cinderella, in Aladdin, in the Beast, in Mulan… you name it. We see ourselves in the underdog. And then we get to see the one we relate to, the one that represents us, achieve such a dreamy position—hobnobbing with royalty, promises of marriage, a hero to come after us, whatever that may be. These weren’t your rich people stories; after all, they were already living the fantasy life everyone dreamed about. The stories were told to entertain and to make the common folk have hope.
And this is partially why Link, our hero, never starts out as a lofty knight at the game’s beginning. In fact, none of the Zelda titles to date actually puts Link in the position where, from the game’s beginning, everyone know precisely who Link is and revere him as an ultra-cool man. (Adventure of Link could have been the only exception to this, but since text was expensive back then, and they were already doing such things as “I am error,” well… you know.) The best Link ever gets to be at the game’s beginning is the princess’ childhood friend. (I’m sure many of us are within two or three degrees of someone that we’re proud to be within three degrees of!) As such, thus already we have a common bond with Link. He’s a nobody, just like us, and we get to take him through a journey that we wouldn’t dare do if it were for real, yet a journey we get to ride because Link, and therefore us, will reach lofty heights by the game’s end!
Inevitably, in most Zelda titles, that becomes a journey that will take us to the princess. And now we get to the title topic of the whole article. Why princess? Well, tell me, honestly. Imagine yourself Link, a 17-year-old common boy. Which sounds more appealing to you… which sounds more attractive: Princess Zelda… or Queen Zelda? I’ll bet that at least 90 percent of you would choose the former. And it makes sense, too. The connotation of princess in our minds is this young, beautiful, unmarried and eligible maiden to whom we might serenade in hope of winning her heart the ability to court her. The connotation of queen is an older woman, usually married, has kids already, much less fair than a princess would be, and so forth. Queen doesn’t sound appealing in comparison despite the fact that it’s a much more important role in the everyday life of a kingdom. And so what better reward for Link than to be able to hobnob with a princess at the end of the day (or even possibly during the last fight)?
(Ironically enough, this is the precise argument that sageshippers—my old forum’s name for Link/Zelda shippers—used to show that a Link/Zelda OTP would just be heavenly, that it’s the perfect fairy tale ending. Oddly enough, they’ve never really dug deep and truly realised how close they were to the mark, that their fairy tale ending is indeed possible because… Zelda is indeed a fairy tale. But shhh, like Linkville, it’s a secret to everybody!)
Almost sadly, the fairy tale structure doesn’t work any other way. Fairy tales rarely, if ever, have protagonists that are already nobles; it doesn’t jive with the audience, and the genre inevitably becomes something else entirely, usually an epic novel… so goodbye Prince Linky-bear. You could turn it around and play from Zelda’s point of view, a common Jane. But the fairy tale universe is a very patriarchal society. The women are the ones who are saved; the males are the ones who do the saving. Granted, this hasn’t stopped Nintendo from mixing it up a little bit (and Disney too, look at Mulan); Nintendo’s put Zelda in the limelight of Wind Waker… and there are two games that we will not name that have her as the sole heroine of Hyrule… but Link going to save Zelda is virtually tradition. It’s hard to give up our favourite left-handed Hyrulean in the whole world.
So I know that in some ways I’m mixed about the subject. On one hand, I’d love to see things mixed up a little bit, almost let an alternate universe type of story get embedded into a Zelda game rather than our classical Hyrulean fairy tale… but at the same time, doing so would completely eradicate the very foundations of Zelda, foundations by which I am so enraptured that… well… I live and breathe this world every day of life. Of course, Nintendo does have a tendency to give the second Zelda game for any given console a little twist of experimentation; maybe once—just once—we could see them give a little power to the princess instead of letting Link have all the fun.Follow This Entry | Leave a Response | Trackback
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