Disclaimer: GuestGeekBrian is an employee of Nintendo of America. His opinions are his own and in no way reflect those of his employer.
“It was the spark that started the fire– A legend that grew in the telling”
– Jonathan Hickman, Avengers (2012) #1
There once was a boy in a green cap with pointy ears and blond hair. Okay, maybe it was strawberry blond? Anyway, this boy set out to rescue a girl with hair and ears like his. He left home with nothing but the green tunic on his back, but a kindly older man gave him a sword. He delved into the deep places of this world to search for the power to save the girl. Some say he even ventured into worlds beyond this one. The girl was held captive by an evil wizard who had embraced the bestial power in his heart, but the boy’s courage and the girl’s wisdom proved too much for the wizard. He was defeated — for a time.
That should sound familiar. But which game in the Legend of Zelda series is it? It could be (nearly) all of them. While Nintendo has an official three-timelines explanation of how all of the Zelda games fit together, I like to take the title literally and think of them as retellings of the same legend.
Just like the myths and legends of our past, the legend of Link, Zelda and Ganon permeates the fabric of geek culture and sometimes escapes into the mainstream. Any particular gamer may hear different versions of the legend from different sources. You may have heard that Ganondorf was born in the Gerudo Valley, while I had been told he was the earthly manifestation of the rage of a fallen god. You thought the Zora were helpful fish folk while I assumed they were all aquatic monsters who serve the Prince of Darkness.
The takeaway is always the same, however. Unchecked power corrupts the land and makes it unfit for peaceful society. Such power will blot out wisdom and hide its light from the world unless those with courage stand and fight to restore wisdom to its place as our guiding force.
Pop Culture Artifacts as Legends
“All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again.”
– J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
My point is that perhaps there’s another angle to take when popular culture endlessly repeats the same story. Each time a tale is told, a new richness is added by the teller. New insight can be given to the reader, listener, or even player.
It took nearly 400 years for the early Christian church to decide what would really be in the New Testament. To the people involved, the story they had to tell was the most important the world had ever known, and there were quite a few different versions. Even with centuries to refine the work, we still have four mostly consistent, sometimes diverging, occasionally conflicting versions of a supremely important story. They kept four versions because the story told four different ways is richer than if it had only been told once. While I don’t mean to compare the relative importance of a holy scripture to a video game, I feel like the same process is at work.
Maybe we can learn to get the same message from the constant reboots and retcons in other popular heroic media. Does it matter exactly which version of the death of Batman’s parents is the one that really happened as long as Bruce Wayne grows into the hero that even my grandmother loved? Does it matter if Wolverine is a Canadian mutant or the canine Kwisatz Haderach of a convergently evolved race of dog people as long as he’s still the best at what he does, and what he does ain’t pretty? I don’t think so.
Geeks love to, well, geek out about the minutiae, and that’s our right. But in the end what matters most is that our hero took up the Master Sword, empowered by The Goddess/The Sages/Mom & Apple Pie and used it to vanquish evil and make the world a better place.
At least until the sequel.
Photo Credit: Promotional image from the Official Windwaker HD site.