Legend of Zelda Theories

During the past two years I’ve begun to present and publish academic papers on the Legend of Zelda series. During my research I’ve encountered a lot of fan speculation about the many mysteries of the expansive universe of the games. I ended up taking notes on some of the more common theories I’ve encountered, as well as some of the stranger headcanons formulated and shared by fans, and I’ve noticed that these theories tend to fall into six main categories:

Expository Theories
These theories aim to fill in a sizeable gap in the story of a specific game.
Example: The Gerudo became the Twili in Twilight Princess.

Continuity Theories
These theories attempt to impose a sense of order on the shared universe of the games.
Example: Breath of the Wild is set in the distant future of the Twilight Princess timeline.

Meta Theories
These theories offer a deep reading of the stories, characters, and themes of the games.
Example: Majora’s Mask is based on the five stages of grief.

Dark Theories
These theories go out of their way to hurt you by providing the darkest possible interpretation of a specific story element.
Example: Navi dies at the end of Ocarina of Time.

Fridge Horror Theories
These theories go beyond “dark theories” in that their only purpose is to keep you awake at night. Example: Link recovers his energy by eating the bloody raw hearts of the enemies he slays.

Crack
What are these theories, what are they even.
Example: Ganondorf and Princess Zelda are secretly dating.

I’m not going to try to organize the theories I’ve collected by this typology, however, because they’re all over the place. Some are silly, some are creepy, some are actually plausible, and some are genuinely bizarre. Like urban legends, these theories have been circulated by word of mouth on online message boards. Some of the oldest appeared on the forums of Something Awful and Albino Blacksheep, and the more recent spread by means of Reddit and Imgur. Essentially, wherever people get together to have conversations about video games, someone always has a Zelda theory to share. In no particular order, here are some of the theories that have caught my attention.

– Paya, Impa’s granddaughter in Breath of the Wild, is shy around Link because she doesn’t often get the chance to interact with people her own age. Almost every Sheikah teenager leaves to join the Yiga Clan, which is why there are so few young people in Kakariko Village and so many Yiga Footsoldiers.

– Groose from Skyward Sword is the ancestor of the Gerudo. He settled in the Lanayru Desert, which is filled with ancient and contemporary technology, because of his love of machines. It’s possible that Ganondorf is a reincarnation of Groose, which is why he was affected so strongly by Demise’s curse.

– Tetra’s pirate crew in The Wind Waker are all reincarnations of the royal aides whose group portrait hangs in Hyrule Castle. This means that Princess Zelda isn’t the only person whose soul is reborn in different eras of Hyrule’s history.

– Agitha in Twilight Princess is Zelda’s sister, which is why she calls herself a princess. Like other princesses of the Hyrulean royal line, she experienced visions of a coming calamity, and these visions were so overwhelming that she lost touch with reality. She had to leave the castle for her own protection, but she is still wealthy enough to reward the hero who appeared in her visions for catching golden bugs that resemble the insects plaguing the Spirits of Light.

– Because only one male is born every hundred years, the Gerudo in Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask reproduce through gynogenesis, which is similar to cloning. This explains the relative lack of phenotypic diversity among the Gerudo, as well as their comparatively large population. The pregnancies following unions with Hylian men result in more noticeable genetic permutations, including those resulting in the rare Gerudo males.

– Link died while protecting Zelda during the Great Calamity that occurred one hundred years before Breath of the Wild. The Shrine of Resurrection created an entirely new body to house his spirit, much like how Ganon attempted to fashion a body for itself using the ancient technology hidden within Hyrule Castle. This is why Link is so weak when he wakes up, and it’s also why he has so much trouble remembering the past.

– According to Hyrule Historia, the “Downfall Timeline” leading to the original 1986 The Legend of Zelda results from Link dying at some point during Ocarina of Time. The world of Termina in Majora’s Mask is a purgatory that Link’s soul moves through on its way to the afterlife. The four main dungeons and final set of dungeons on the moon are therefore meant to represent the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance). Everyone Link meets in Termina symbolizes an aspect of the trauma he experienced in Hyrule, and Link must help them in order to heal himself and pass on peacefully.

Super Mario Bros. 3, which Shigeru Miyamoto has said is a stage performance, is popular in Hyrule, which is why the Happy Mask Salesman in Majora’s Mask has a Mario mask on his backpack. The King of Hyrule in Ocarina of Time is a fan of the play, which is why there are paintings of Super Mario characters in his throne room.

– The Oocca in Twilight Princess, who live in the City in the Sky, are the descendants of the Loftwings in Skyward Sword. The differences in their appearance and level of sapience are due to a divinely facilitated evolution similar to the event that transformed the Zora into the Rito prior to The Wind Waker. There is a related theory that holds that the Rito are the descendants of the Oocca, who used their technology to alter their appearance in order to better acclimate to Hylian society after the existence of their city became widely known in Hyrule.

– Ghirahim, an anthropomorphic weapon who serves as the main antagonist of Skyward Sword, was created by Hylia, not Demise. Hylia knew that Demise would have to be unsealed in order to be defeated, so she created a copy of the Master Sword that would serve its own “master” by working to break the seal she placed on him. Unlike Fi, who remained in stasis while waiting for the chosen hero, Ghirahim gradually developed a personality, but his character became twisted by social isolation and his centuries-long failure to make progress on the task Hylia created him for, which could only be completed once her soul had been reborn.

– The people who were exiled from Hyrule and became the Twili in Twilight Princess were originally Sheikah, as demonstrated by the Sheikah-style eye motif on Midna’s crown and Zant’s throne. Another theory holds that the Twili are what became of Ganondorf’s followers who were imprisoned in the Arbiter’s Grounds.

– The Arbiter’s Grounds in Twilight Princess were built on the site of the Spirit Temple, the sacred site where the Gerudo in Ocarina of Time worshiped the Sand Goddess. The Hyrulean army destroyed the Spirit Temple during the war against Ganondorf and then made use of its ruins to build a concentration camp to house the Gerudo during a mass exile (or execution).

– There is a fourth piece of the Triforce, which is actually the Tetraforce. The fourth piece of the Tetraforce is the empty center of the Triforce, and it is depicted at the bottom of the original Hylian Shield (which the developers supposedly redesigned in response to this theory). The Triforce can be split into multiple parts (as demonstrated by its eightfold split in The Legend of Zelda), and it split into four parts in Ocarina of Time. There are two common theories about what happened to the “missing” piece. One is that it is shared by the Great Fairies, four of whom appear in Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. The other is that it seals away the darkness in Link’s heart and gives it physical form, which manifests as the Dark Link who appears in the Water Temple.

– The Fierce Deity in Majora’s Mask is, as the eponymous villain says at the end of the game, “the real villain.” Majora gives the Fierce Deity’s Mask to Link in order to corrupt him, knowing that the mask will steal Link’s soul. The Link from Ocarina of Time appears to the Link in Twilight Princess in the form of a rotting corpse because he has been cursed by the Fierce Deity’s Mask and cannot die unless he is struck down by the Master Sword.

– Every episode in the Legend of Zelda series is a dream experienced by the Link who wakes up at the beginning of each successive game. The entire series is therefore a dream inside a dream inside a dream inside a dream (including Link’s Awakening and Majora’s Mask, which are canonically dreams).

– The Zelda series takes place in the same universe as the Silent Hill games. The Order, the evil doomsday cult that performs torture and human sacrifice in the town of Silent Hill, Maine, was originally a renegade faction of the Sheikah that was banished to another world like the Twili in Twilight Princess. The main basis for this theory is the similarity in the Satanic design motifs associated with the Order and with the Sheikah, which include staring eyes, magic circles, and bird-headed imps.

– Linkle, the “female Link” who is a minor playable character in Hyrule Warriors Legends, is the daughter of Tingle, the green bodysuit-clad creeper best known for causing unnecessary delays during the Triforce Quest at the end of The Wind Waker. This implies that Tingle somehow managed to breed. Congratulations! Now you can never unsee it. You’re welcome!

Fanfic and Commissioned Illustrations

I’m currently writing a Majora’s Mask AU in which Termina only exists because of Link. In my story, after Link “saves” Termina, it begins to disappear. The only two people who are even marginally aware of that anything is strange are Zelda and Ganondorf, who have been drawn into Termina by the strength of Link’s dream. Zelda is seeing it in a vision, and Ganondorf is experiencing it from where he’s imprisoned in the Sacred Realm. Neither of them realizes this until the end of the story, when they figure out that they have to wake up into the “real” world of Ocarina of Time, which is a much harsher reality than the one contained within Termina.

At the moment Tumblr seems to be the main platform people are using to engage with fandom; and, unlike LiveJournal or even Twitter, Tumblr exhibits an extreme bias toward images. What this means in practice is that fan art gets a ton of love, while fanfic receives relatively little attention. People complain about this all the time, and I routinely tell fic writers I’m friendly with that they should stop trying to write for fandom. Instead, it might make more sense for them to file off the serial numbers of their work so that they can publish it as original fiction.

This is easier said than done, of course, and in fact I declined to follow my own advice when I began outlining the plot and character details for this story. Two people trapped in a fading dreamworld is a fairly broad and open concept, and the characters obviously don’t have to be Zelda and Ganondorf. It would be fairly easy to change the names and smudge the identifying details and thus write a completely “original” story… but I don’t want to.

I recently finished my third playthrough of Breath of the Wild, and instead of moving on to something different I decided to pick up Majora’s Mask, which I hadn’t played since the game was released on the Nintendo 3DS back in 2015. I love the dark and foreboding atmosphere of the game, and I’m fascinated by all the many ways that Termina is falling apart at its seams. I read Majora’s Mask as a deep dive into the trauma that Link experienced in Ocarina of Time, especially his guilt over the fact that, even with the ability to travel through time, he couldn’t save everyone. I’m fascinated by Majora’s Mask, and I want to spend more time in the world of the game. I also want to explore its themes from a different perspective.

Specifically, what trauma did Zelda experience in Ocarina of Time? And what about Ganondorf? Who would these two characters be if they weren’t trapped in their respective roles? And what does it mean that they are trapped?

What I’m trying to do with this fanfic is to read Majora’s Mask through a critical lens. I’m a big fan of analytic meta essays about the game and its story, but I want to do something a little more creative in the way I examine its themes. For example, Majora’s Mask strips away Link’s identity as the “Hero of Time” and places him into a new environment, but the core of his character remains – he’s still a hero. So what would it look like if Zelda’s identity as the “princess of Hyrule” were stripped away? Who would she be? And who would Ganondorf be if he weren’t the “Demon King Ganon”? I want to play with these archetypes, but I’m also interested in the challenge of adding greater depth to seemingly one-note character tropes.

One of the nice things about working in the discursive space of fandom is that there’s a pre-existing community of readers who might be interested in a story like this. There’s also a large community of artists, especially in the fandom of a well-established gaming franchise like Legend of Zelda. Even though I don’t have much artistic talent myself, I’m primarily a visual person, and I find it inspiring to collaborate with artists on illustrations. This generally works in the same way it does in the independent comic publishing business, namely, the writer commissions an artist. Although most of the actual labor of illustration is done by the artist, it’s the writer’s job to find someone whose style and interests would be a good fit for the project. In fandom, this is relatively easy, but it’s still very cool when sparks fly and magic happens.

I’m very lucky to be able to work with Thali (@snoozeforever on Twitter / @ponthion on Tumblr) to create illustrations for this story, since I’ve been a fan of her art for years. In fact, it’s her critical engagement with the Legend of Zelda games as expressed through her artwork that encouraged me to start engaging with the Zelda fandom on Tumblr.

It’s a little embarrassing to commission an illustration for my own story, especially if it’s fanfiction. On the other hand, it’s an incredible experience to watch my ideas and characters come to life in visual art. The process of communicating with artists about design elements is also a lot of fun. It can sometimes be a challenge to try to express a complicated character concept in just one or two sentences so as not to overwhelm people with long emails full of extraneous details, but I am continually amazed by the brilliant interpretations created by the artists with whom I’ve had the honor of collaborating.

In any case, Thali has created as created multiple incredible designs based on the character concepts I sent her, and you can see some of my favorites below!

( Character designs by Thali )