My Favorite Things in Ocarina of Time

This is a small zine I made to express my appreciation for some of the more interesting things in Ocarina of Time using graphics and screenshots from the game itself. It’s eight pages long and 4.75″ x 4.75″ (roughly the size of a Nintendo 3DS box).

It took me about four hours spread out over two days to make this zine. On the first day, I spent two hours collecting screenshots and other graphic elements like text boxes and fonts. On the next day, I spent another two hours creating the front and back covers, laying out the pages, and writing the text. My previous zines took weeks to put together, so I wanted to challenge myself to make something short in a limited amount of time.

I also made this zine to have something small to sell for $1.00 at the DC Zinefest this summer. I sold almost all of my copies at the event, and I put the remaining copies in my shop on Etsy. I think it’s probably fair to say that there are a lot of people who love the Legend of Zelda games, and it’s been fun to use this zine as an excuse to meet and talk with other Zelda fans in person and online.

What the experience of making this zine taught me is that it wouldn’t be that difficult to make something like a fake game manual that looks fairly official. What this means is that, at my current Photoshop skill level, I could make something that looks almost exactly like the official game manual for Ocarina of Time but provides “instructions” for an entirely different version of the game. For example, I could make a manual for a game in which Princess Zelda is the protagonist or a game in which it’s the player’s goal to capture and tame various monsters. I could also (very easily) reframe Ocarina of Time as a dating sim. The possibilities are endless, really.

In the future, I think it would be fun to do a similar zine about my favorite things in The Wind Waker. It might be also cool to create a fake Wind Waker game manual written from the perspective of Ganondorf, who wants the hero to stop mucking around and bring him the Triforce already. I’m planning to start work on an actual book about The Wind Waker soon, and making these two zines might be a good way to keep the project exciting and interesting.

The Legend of the Princess

This comic was drawn by Naomi Skye (@lightsintheskye on Tumblr) and written by me, Kathryn Hemmann (@kathrynthehuman on Twitter).

This is based on a scene from the sixth chapter of The Legend of the Princess, a Legend of Zelda fanfic I wrote in 2017 and 2018. I was interested in exploring the character of Ganondorf, who I don’t read as “evil” so much as taking radical action in extreme circumstances. This doesn’t mean that he’s a good person, but rather that Hyrule is an awful place. For me, Ganondorf represents a lot of the issues involved in what might be called “the ethics of rage.” He is expressing anger in this scene, but Zelda is wise enough not to make assumptions about what he means when he says that “Hyrule will burn.”

I’d always wanted to write a Gothic romance set in a haunted castle, but I wasn’t taking this story seriously until Naomi sent me this comic, which inspired me to step up my own creative efforts. The quality of Naomi’s work helped me realize that what I was doing had the potential to become an interesting and meaningful story that was worth my time and effort. Although I’d started writing a fairly basic fantasy-themed murder mystery, I ended up with an exploration of the intersections between gender, race, power, and political responsibility. It’s always a pleasure to collaborate with a visual artist, and I consider myself lucky that someone as brilliant and talented as Naomi was willing with work with me on this project.

Four Hands Are Better Than Two

This comic was drawn by Barbwalken (@barbwalken on Tumblr) and written by me, Kathryn Hemmann (@kathrynthehuman on Twitter).

For me, there have always been two major mysteries at the heart of Twilight Princess. First, why does Ganondorf feel the need to possess Princess Zelda at the end of the game? Second, how does he manage to put his hair up in such an elaborate style? When these two questions are viewed side by side, the answer to both becomes obvious.

We Will Keep Her Safe

This comic was drawn by FungiiDraws (@fungiiyells on Twitter) and written by me, Kathryn Hemmann (@kathrynthehuman on Twitter).

One of the things I love about the worldbuilding in the Legend of Zelda games is how gorgeously Gothic it is. Monsters and captive princesses and buried secrets, oh my! This comic isn’t just about castle spires and demon lovers and enchanted princesses, however; I also wanted to explore the troubled gender and racial politics of the Zelda series and make a statement about how the exclusionary prejudices that create monsters and damsels are hidden but ever-present in the legends that make heroes.

Ganondorf, Villainy, Race, and Fandom

Despite a few occasional bouts of drama, I love the Legend of Zelda fandom, and the only real unpleasantness I’ve encountered has had to do with Ganondorf. I want to talk about this briefly, because I think it’s representative of an alarming tendency in fandom as a whole.

The United States is in a strange and difficult place right now. It’s been like this for as long as anyone can remember, but the current presidential administration has brought some very ugly sentiments right out in the open. It was never particularly easy to be a Muslim or an African-American in this country, but since 2015 or so the violence of the rhetoric of prejudice has been omnipresent and overwhelming. We now have, for example, black women whose children were effectively lynched being subjected to all manner of humiliation and abuse for speaking out against police violence even as a mainstream presidential candidate won voters by belittling the Muslim family of a soldier who was killed in the line of duty.

This is just one of the myriad reasons why many of us are very sensitive to expressions of hatred against ethnic and racial minorities. Some people may feel confident in saying that ethnic stereotypes exist for a reason and that they don’t understand why people get upset over certain depictions of fictional characters, and I think it’s important to point out that not everyone who feels this way is (or identifies as) white. Fandom is supposed to be fun, after all, and no one wants to feel as if they’re being given a lecture when all they want to do is talk about video games.

I completely understand the desire to make fandom a politics-free zone, but I also think fandom should be large enough to accommodate multiple views and approaches. When it comes to Ganondorf specifically, I think there should be room for both silly jokes and serious analysis. On one hand, how ridiculous is the fact that Ganondorf built himself a giant murder castle in Ocarina of Time? On the other hand, how is Ganondorf’s intense love/hate relationship with Hyrule representative of the legacy of colonial ideologies both within the game and in the real world?

Ganondorf is clearly a villain in the Legend of Zelda universe. There are people in the Zelda fandom who love Ganondorf because he’s a charismatic and fascinating character, and there are also people in the Zelda fandom who hate Ganondorf because he’s just not a very nice person, to put it mildly. Both receptions of the character are totally understandable and valid.

The complication that arises with Ganondorf is that he is demonized according to real-world patterns of white supremacy, one of which is the common narrative that holds that “the Evil Barbaric Dark-Skinned Oriental Other” must be defeated by the virtuous heroes of a holy empire. Accordingly, the trouble I’ve experienced with fandom is that it can be easy for people to inadvertently slip into projecting negative racial and ethnic stereotypes onto the fictional world of the games.

Like men of African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian descent in the real world, Ganondorf is portrayed in a number of fanworks as unintelligent, bestial, violent, and incapable of human emotion. This is a gross oversimplification of how Ganondorf is canonically characterized in the games, but there are powerful cultural forces in our own societies that attempt to ensure that many of us become invested in the narrative of “the Brutal Evil Dark Man” to such an extent that we replicate it without intending to. Because of the nature of the narratives of the Zelda games themselves, in which Ganondorf is portrayed with very little sympathy, dealing with the character is always going to be tricky. This is why there needs to be a multiplicity of voices addressing these issues. For example, what does it mean that Ganondorf is imprisoned without a trial in Twilight Princess? Meanwhile, it’s equally worthwhile to make silly jokes and shitposts about the character; because let’s be real, you can bounce a quarter off that man’s leotard-clad ass. In other words, there needs to be room in fandom for humor and smut and serious analytical meta essays and silliness.

Unfortunately, Tumblr-based fandom has become so polarized that this sort of exchange is almost impossible. On one side of Tumblr are people who insist on ideological purity, and on the other side are people with good intentions who nevertheless feel alienated by “The Discourse,” an expression that refers to an incendiary argument that something or someone is “problematic.” What this means in practical terms is that, while one side of Tumblr is quick to attack anyone who engages with a “problematic” character like Ganondorf, the other side of Tumblr has come to ostracize anyone who’s interested in a more nuanced critique of popular media.

What’s happened within the specific context of Zelda fandom, then, is that many people will only draw and write about and reblog work featuring the light-skinned protagonists, while many of the people who are interested in the darker-skinned antagonists are surprisingly tolerant of what would generally be considered borderline racist representations in any other context. It’s not that any one approach to a character like Ganondorf is upsetting in and of itself, as it’s only natural that different people participate in fandom for different reasons, but rather that the aggressive refusal to consider or even acknowledge the validity of alternative opinions and perspectives can make the Zelda fandom a very weird and uncomfortable place to be sometimes.

To minimize potential confusion, I’d like to clarify the points I’m making about race and villainy:

IT IS OKAY to have dark-skinned characters who are not good people.

IT IS OKAY to have dark-skinned characters who do bad things and make mistakes and gradually grow and change.

IT IS OKAY to have dark-skinned characters who are irredeemably evil.

Let racial and ethnic minorities be villains! While you’re at it, let women and LGBTQ+ people and neuordivergent people and differently abled people be villains! Villains are great!

However:

IT IS NOT OKAY for a large multinational corporation to tell stories about how everything that is or has ever been bad in the world is the fault of one person whom we are supposed to know is evil because he is the only person in the story with dark skin.

Likewise, IT IS NOT OKAY for fans to tell stories that purposefully reproduce overt white supremacy in their portrayal of dark-skinned characters. For example, it’s not okay for fans to tell stories about how a dark-skinned character is “saved” by light-skinned people who teach him that his cultural heritage is bad so that he can be fully integrated into the “good” culture of the light-skinned majority ethnicity, or for a dark-skinned character to redeem himself by learning to apologize to representatives of the light-skinned ethnicity for his anger regarding the slavery and genocide of his people.

In other words, it’s totally normal to have a character who is a villain with dark skin, because expecting characters with dark skin to be perfect while denying them the full range of human experience and emotion is a ridiculous and counterproductive way to approach representations of racial and ethnic difference. That being said, it’s weird and gross to have a character who is a villain BECAUSE he has dark skin.

I’m excited that the recent Breath of the Wild sequel trailer has inspired a renewed appreciation for Ganondorf. It’s my hope that, while fans are enjoying the design and storytelling potential of a fun and interesting character, they’re also able to engage in critical discussions of the politics and ideology of the Zelda series without the conversation devolving into an exclusionary black-and-white mentality. The real-world implications of video game ideologies are multifaceted and complicated, and it’s important for these issues to be discussed outside of academia. Transnational fandom cultures are a perfect place for a wealth of diverse perspectives to come together, which is why I’d like to advocate for a better tolerance of a multiplicity of fanworks and opinions, as well as gentle and nuanced pushback that doesn’t take the form of death threats, bullying, or other forms of harassment.

Left Behind

This comic was drawn by Moonjelly Creations (@moonjellybeans on Twitter) and written by me, Kathryn Hemmann (@kathrynthehuman on Twitter).

I’m really interested in the relationship between Ganondorf and Tetra in The Wind Waker. While Link’s journey is full of light and laughter and discovery and growth, both Tetra and Ganondorf are associated with some fairly dark themes. They’re also literally in the dark in Hyrule Castle, which has lain dormant for centuries under the Great Sea. The Gothic creepiness of this scenario is fascinating, and I love how both Tetra and Ganondorf are painfully human even as they represent mythical forces that are much larger than themselves.