I’m writing this on the morning of March 3rd, 2017. Blessed with the day off, I woke up early to wait for my local Best Buy to open. Because then, and only then, can I go pick up The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Sitting here, waiting, I decided to at least start a series that I’ve been thinking of for a while. Fantasy Fandom will be a place where I talk briefly about some of the franchises that shaped my writing. How I found them, why I love them, and what I’ve learned from them.
The first installment was always going to be about The Legend of Zelda. But this morning, as I basically sit and stare at a wall, hands on my knees, waiting for 10AM, I decided, “Today’s the perfect day for this.”
My First Experience with The Legend of Zelda
I don’t remember the year, because I was in single digits–at an age where I wasn’t yet concerned what year it was.
But a friend of the family lived across the street, and one day, my mother brought us over to hang out. The parents quickly ushered us into their son’s room–a guy who greeted us, but then immediately turned back to a TV.
Back to a duel to the death with Dark Link in Zelda II.
At the time, I had no idea he was fighting the most difficult boss in the entire series–that he was at the end of the second game.
All I knew was, “Whoooaaa . . . He’s controlling the guy on screen. And fighting a shadow version of himself.” And, I’m absolutely giving voice to a thought I didn’t understand at the time, but I remember thinking something like, “What kind of meta, psychological struggle is this shit!? With this elf dude! And there are curtains! What is this!?”
I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the first time I’d ever experienced video games–I’d owned an Atari 2600 and played Super Mario Bros., Pitfall, and Duck Hunt at other friends’ places–but this was a turning point for me in gaming. When my family finally got an NES, I proceeded to annoy my mom by asking her to call a bunch of Funcolands and Toys ‘R’ Us’s, asking if they had Zelda.
Again, I don’t know how old I was, but the day when I came home with used copies of The Legend of Zelda and Metroid for the NES were good days. Even though that’s when I discovered that LoZ and Adventures of Link were extremely different.
Since then, The Legend of Zelda has been a staple of my life. I’ve bought and played nearly every one of them to completion. When I write a bio for myself, I always add that The Legend of Zelda was a huge influence for me.
Because it always has been and still is.
Why I Love It
What really grabbed me about that Dark Link fight was the strange pageantry of the whole thing. The fact that the world fell into silhouettes against a purple sky when you fought him. The fact that he was just a doppleganger of Link (this being my first experience with the concept of evil doubles).
That beautiful strangeness endures in all of Zelda, and that’s what I love about it.
Although the series uses some fantasy tropes, it gives them a unique, weird polish that I’ve never seen anywhere else.
For example, Hylians have long, pointed ears. But they are not elves–most certainly not Tolkien elves. Hylians are bizarre. They’re ugly–often comically so. They have strange body shapes that are exaggerated to illustrate their characters. They talk, but always with simple, guttural sounds. In a lot of cases, they’re blatantly, flat out terrifying in their words and actions, although it never seems like they’re being scary on purpose; in most cases, you’re just a kid who happens to hear them say the weirdest things.
Even the hero is strange. Link, we came to learn, is not a single, destined hero who goes on many adventures. He’s a . . . lineage? All of the Links are descendants of the first (and good luck figuring out which Link came first [I think Skyward Sword’s?]), which, on its own, is a bizarre turn for a fantasy hero. I can’t think of another franchise that spans thousands of years, following one bloodline of legendary heroes. Legendary heroes who always come to power . . . with a Princess named Zelda, sometimes a weirdo named Tingle, and always a cast of other staple characters, similar in appearance, but actually different. Zelda runs on a concept of history repeating itself, which allows it to go to strange new places.
All of this means that the only recurring character–who is always the same man as far as I can tell–is the series’ villain, Ganon. How strange for a fantasy series to have a new hero kill the one villain every time, instead of the one hero killing a new villain every time.
Whatever. The point is that Zelda is bizarre in many, many ways, and that’s why I love it.
What I’ve Learned from It
Because of its strangeness, I think Zelda taught me how to be independent with my fantasy. It taught me to write without bowing to established fantasy expectations. There are elves, but they’re not the famous kind of elves. There’s a hero, but, even though he looks similar, he’s a new person every time.
To be sure, Zelda is still pretty typical; it’s still the story of a young boy who inherits a legendary power and leaves his home to slay a great evil.
But Zelda’s strange take on that story made it possible for me to think beyond it altogether.
And, for that, I thank you, Legend of Zelda. I would not be the same writer without you.
Thanks for reading.
If you’re a regular, thank you for hanging out with me for another week. I forgot to ask last post because I got . . . super touchy feely, but if you liked this post, please drop a Like so I can keep track of how many people enjoyed it. If you didn’t like it, absolutely pass; I’m trying to sift through my series and focus on the ones people like the most, so negative votes also really help.
If you’re new, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was recently published in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out. Part of that means posting on here every weekday, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting an email every weekday–a new post from me delivered right to your inbox–then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.
Either way, thank you for stopping by, and I hope you have an awesome weekend. I know I will; halfway through this post, I a) scheduled an interview for a new job and b) went and picked up Breath of the Wild, cause 10AM came and I couldn’t contain myself.
I’ll see you next week, and, as always, write well!
5 thoughts on “Fantasy Fandom: The Legend of Zelda”
Great post! I always felt weird compared to other Zelda fans. I came in with Link’s Awakening, which is still to this day my favorite because it was my first. Now I know that installment is one is the oddest and put together with tons of random cameos due to the limitations of the Gameboy. But I actually really, really love how they created this unique story with those same limitations.
Since then, I feel the same as you: I’ve come to really enjoy the series’ unique brand of fantasy that is neither Tolkien nor mythically European. It’s a unique combination of many mythologies, legends, folklore, video game tropes and other pop culture references. It has unique quirks and silliness but also unique drama. I love, love, love this series!
Yeah, the way the series exists somewhere strange, just beyond the reach of common fantasy aesthetics, will always be amazing to me. It’s an entire world built on often bizarre fairies in caves and giant moons with human faces.
I kinda wonder how much Zelda imagery is more common in Japan, but here, for me, things like a race of bangable fish people will always feel super original.
I know what I said.
Or a race of creepy nightmare inducing alien-looking god chickens. But seriously, thinking of the recurring themes, gags and actually characters, I’ve lost countless hours enjoying Hyrule and it’s neighboring lands. I love that attacking innocent chickens excessively like a monster leads to a legion of chickens attacking you like bomber jets. I love the variety of items always at your disposal. I love the weird people who populate these towns because they seem to adapt to everything no matter how insane.
Could you write a post about your ideal Zelda game, following Breath of the Wild? What kind of setting, mechanics/features, themes and items you’d like to see?
Oh man. A post about my ideal Zelda? Well, that would be super fun, and maybe I will, but I definitely want to say, right now, that my favorite is one of the interim/spin-off games, Majora’s Mask. Which I point out because, omfg, I’m dying for a weird, interim sequel/spin-off for Breath of the Wild.
I have zero idea how true this actually is, but it always seems like the interim Zelda’s experiment with these amazing, weird ideas. Some of them are fucking great (the wall-riding mechanic in Link Between Worlds, or the masks & time mechanics in Majora’s Mask), or terrible (like the train in Spirit Tracks), but, either way, I’d absolutely love to see a weird sequel for Breath of the Wild that uses the same assets so it can push a weird, spirit-forging mechanic or something. And, no, I don’t know what spirit-forging is, but if I heard it was the gimmick in a new Breath of the Wild spin-off, I’d lose my goddamn mind.