Legend of Zelda..Why not Legend of Link?

After all, isn’t Link the hero?  He is your avatar, the character you play as in every single Legend of Zelda game, yet the Legend belongs to the princess not the hero.  To explore this subject, we must first look into some of the underlying themes in the Zelda games, as well as the timeline to discover precisely what role Zelda and Link play in this.

First of all, the very name Link as series creator Miyamoto brought up is an obvious metaphor for the link between the player and the character.  Link is whoever you want him to be, especially in his early games.  Yet as new games have been released, Link has slowly developed a personality of his own, usually one expressed through facial expressions with Wind Waker being one of the most fantastic examples of this.  Also, with other games allowing you to create a character of your own such as Elder Scrolls, the appeal of there being a link between Link and the player decreases.  Despite that fact, you are Link throughout the games.

Zelda on the other hand is an outside force.  She might assist you but you never truly control her, save in a few non canon games or in Hyrule warriors.  She is a symbol not only for the prosperity and peace of Hyrule but for Hyrule itself.  Many times, the King of Hyrule is absent, dead, or powerless, but there must always be a Princess Zelda.  The reason for this is that she holds the Triforce of Wisdom.  She is the glue that holds Hyrule together.  When she is kidnapped, which usually doesn’t occur till near the end of most Zelda games, or more commonly when she is removed from a position of authority everything starts to unravel.

While Zelda is always present, Link is often a transient force, whose heroic actions are not always acknowledged.  This can be easily seen in the 3 way split timeline after Ocarina of Time.  In the adult timeline, Link defeats Ganon and then returns to his childhood leaving behind Princess Zelda.  In this timeline, he is known as the Hero of Time, but he is not around to enjoy any fame.  In fact, his absence later allows Ganon to rise again.  In the second timeline, Link is killed and is only mentioned as one among many knights who fell in the war to stop Ganon.  In the third timeline, Link as a child helps bring Ganon to justice but he receives no recognition for his heroics and he never trains a successor.  In all three of these, Zelda remains, but Link is only acknowledged as a Hero, a part of the Legend in one timeline and even in that one his memory is marred by later events.

This all brings me to my larger point, you as Link is merely a visitor to Hyrule.  You arrive in its time of crisis and save Hyrule not so that your legend will be preserved but so the Legend of Hyrule aka Zelda will be preserved.  It is no accident that in Skyward Sword, Zelda is a reincarnation of the goddess Hylia.  Zelda is the symbol of Hyrule.

This can be applied to the real world as well.  Are we attempting to make a name for ourselves or are we trying to genuinely make the world a better place?  It is similar to how Paul argues that he must be exalted less so that God can be exalted more.  To stand for something higher than yourself not for fame but because it is the right thing to do is the very definition of heroism.

 

As for the traditional implication that Zelda and Link are meant as a chivalric romance, it’s tough to say.  Certain games have more hints than others.  I’m okay with it though.  Zelda has always been a traditional story in the first place.

 

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The Skyrim Civil War and How All Wars Defy Easy Morality.

One of the greatest questions among Skyrim fans is “Imperial or Stormcloak?”  From the very moment you start the game, you are faced with the horrors of simple Stormcloak soldiers being sent to the execution block.

Allow me to supply some background information. This will prove important later. Skyrim used to be ruled by the powerful Empire of Tamriel.  Yet, the Empire got into a particularly perilous war for survival against the genocidal Thalmor, the government of the High Elves.  The Empire won a few victories but it eventually came to a treaty called the White Gold Concordant with the High Elves in which they agreed to ban all worship of Talos, the first emperor who ascended to godhood in the lore of the Elder Scrolls series.  Many of the Nords of Skyrim, particularly Ulfric Stormcloak became enraged with this decision and its effects of worshipers being executed by Thalmor agents.  Thus, Ulfric Stormcloak killed the High King of Skyrim in a duel and declared himself High King.  Now the land of Skyrim is engulfed in a viscous Civil War between the Empire and the Nords who support them and Ulfric Stormcloak and his army.

At first, this would seem to be a clear cut decision.  The Stormcloaks are fighting for religious freedom, so surely we should support them.  But we learn there are other complexities.  According to the Imperials, none of them are happy with the Thalmor and they barely enforce the ban on Talos worship.   The crackdown by the Thalmor came about as a result of Nords reacting violently.  Many Imperials argue that the Empire needs to be unified now more than ever if they hope to stand a chance against the Thalmor in the future wars to come. Also, the Stormcloaks are extremely nationalist and racist against other races such as the lizard like Argonians and Dark Elves.  Many of these other races are harassed, banned from cities, assaulted, or banished to ghettos.  Also, even more disturbing, Ulfric Stormcloak once gathered an angry militia to attack a group known as the Forsworn and executed their men, women, and children.  Yet, the Empire does not respect Nordic traditions or culture, and it does practice draconian executions and torture.  Also, giving in to the demands of the genocidal Thalmor is morally questionable all on its own.

 

I gave this long explanation to show that the situation in the Civil War is complicated.  It is difficult to say which side is the good or bad side.  The same goes for real wars going on today.  Think for example of the situation in Ukraine as Russian and Ukrainian backed militias battle for control of the country.  Or even better, think of the situation between Israel and Palestine.  It is strange that so many admire the more powerful Israel over the rebel Palestinians, but the fear of fundamentalist Islam and its influence in Palestine and regions around it seems to convince many that Israel is in the right, although both sides have committed atrocities.  With all this complexity, how do we pick sides in such a conflict?  Making the moral decision here is not easy in the slightest and should not be made without intense thought.  It requires a careful weighing of both sides of the conflict and an examination of the root causes.

Often the best decision is to not take sides at all, but rather attempt to work towards some form of reconciliation, but in many cases such peace would require one side or the other to be pacified or lose some of its former power.  For example, if Israel abandoned its Jewish only settlements on Palestinian land, this might start the process of peace, or perhaps if Hamas agreed to stop sending rockets towards Israel and dedicated itself to nonviolent resistance.  War is a terrible occurrence.  In truth, I can only stand behind focused military action against a very dangerous evil in the world, but it is rare to find such a thing in our world history.  When the Bible called us to be peacemakers, this was not a simple task, both in personal relationships and in war.  It is the path of most resistance, but perhaps the most rewarding.
Unfortunately Skyrim does not let you solve this issue without a fight.  You can bring about a temporary truce, but this truce ends as soon as the dragon Alduin is defeated.  Yet, real life gives us an opportunity to strive for peace or for conflict.

There is no such thing as easy morality in these matters.

Neon Genesis Evangelion: The Nature of Identity

What makes me, me?  What is my heart for?  How does our realities shape our identities?  These questions are all ones that the main character of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Shinji Ikari, must answer.

For the uninitiated, Neon Genesis Evangelion(the tv series) is a tale of giant cyborgs called Evangelions fighting great monsters known as Angels, but the true subject of the series is the deeply flawed cast of characters, all of which have enough daddy/mommy issues to make Freud blush.  But one topic that remains consistent throughout the series is how we define ourselves and what is our true identities.  I don’t agree with much of what Neon Genesis Evangelion presents, but we can still glean some important lessons from it.

Shinji constantly struggles with self loathing as well as obtaining acceptance from his father and his peers.  Thus, for the most part, all of his heroic actions of piloting the Evangelion unit 01 are motivated out of nothing less than gaining acceptance.  Shinji believes that he is worthless and no one truly cares for him. His abandonment issues from the time he was a child continue to pour over into all aspects of his life.  I am sure many of us know people like Shinji who are unable to move beyond their traumas and constantly seek affirmation from those that ignore them.

At the end of the series(Spoilers) Shinji comes to the realization that he must love himself first before he can begin to love others.  He also realizes that he can reject his current image of himself and craft his own reality and identity.  In fact, the series emphasizes that there are many different Shinjis.  There is the Shinji through the eyes of his father, and another Shinji that exists through the eyes of characters such as Rei, and then there is Shinji as he sees himself.  Thus it makes sense considering this ideology that Shinji can craft his own identity.  However, Shinji does not cling to nor develop a core that he can depend upon.

In many ways, our identity is tied to our preconceived notions about ourselves.  If we believe we are pathetic and worthless, our actions reflect that mindset and it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.  Worse yet, our identities are meaningless without love and we cannot truly experience love if we do not love ourselves.  Thus those with self loathing tendencies like Shinji do not have fully formed identities.  The Golden Rule in the Bible in a way acknowledges that in order to truly love others you must love yourself.  Those with no sense of self worth cannot reach out to others in meaningful ways.  This is a major issue for Shinji as he finds himself trying to reach out to people like Rei and Asuka but ultimately he pushes himself and them farther away.

Yet, I believe that simply existentialist reconstructions of one’s character and perceptions is not enough.  One needs a core, some idea or ideology to shape their life around and to give one some degree of purpose and meaning.  Everyone has such a core, whether it be a belief in the goodness of humanity, technological advancement bringing greater equality and improved life, or a belief in God.    I believe much of Shinji’s unhappiness and indeed much of our unhappiness originates from our seeking for happiness in the wrong places.  When we merely do things in an attempt to force others to love us, then we miss the true happiness which can come from doing things because it falls in line with our greater core values.  Shinji seems to be grasping at some core values but his own self loathing and his lack of a clear identity gets in the way.

In the end,  love and our external core values define our identity.  As the apostle Paul wrote, “Without love I am nothing.”

Narnia and Childlike Imagination

Any discussion of whether adults should read fiction meant for children or young adults will inevitably mention the Chronicles of Narnia.  After all, the Chronicles are an excellent series of books which can be enjoyed regardless of one’s religious background.  Yet it is still primarily aimed at children, and it uses many of the tropes inherent in fairy tales from fantastic talking animals to evil witches.  Often the author CS Lewis’ quote regarding children’s literature is used to justify adults reading it.

“Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

This quote reveals a deeper truth, that a mature individual is not concerned with appearing mature.  Those who are adults find no inherent benefit in wearing the adult mask that those in later childhood and adolescence wear.  In addition, those who are truly mature can see the wisdom of childlike imagination.  Through imagination, we can explore our ideals and the potential pitfalls many of us face.  For example, Narnia does not deny the basic inhumanity of others and the desire to make our gods much like ourselves.  Contrast the god Tash with Aslan.  Tash is a cruel being that demands sacrifices but he is easy to know and to control.  Aslan on the other hand is kind but not tame.  He is a wild lion who does as He pleases and cannot be easily defined.

Yet one might argue that the true benefit of childlike imagination is simplicity.  After all, the best truths in the world are the simple ones, correct?  Well, CS Lewis would certainly not agree with statement.  He argued in his book Mere Christianity that nothing is simple at all.  Even something basic like a chair is not simple.  It is made up of wood that had to be crafted by a carpenter, and that wood is made up of countless atoms which is turn is made up of countless electrons, neutrons, and protons.  Nothing is simple.  John Green, author and blogger, regularly says, “The truth defies simplicity.” So I don’t believe CS Lewis’ admiration of children’s literature came from a mere appreciation for simplicity, because a childlike imagination is far from simple.  To create worlds in your head with different mixtures of creatures from many different sources is not a simple task.  In fact, someone who thinks simply cannot imagine anything at all.

 

Imagination requires a stretching of the mind which often allows you to see things that are not obvious.  This is not to say that imagination is always positive.  Just like anything else, it can also be used for ill, to shut ourselves off from anything that might hurt us.  But in general, childlike imagination is not a simple thing and it gives us a medium to explore not only different worlds but different ideas that we could not otherwise explore.  Think for example about CS Lewis’ flirting with the idea of others outside the accepted religions being able to reach paradise in the Last Battle.

However, as for more specific ideas and concepts that can be explored through imagination, that is the very role of this blog.

 

 

Why Bronies Make Some Men Uncomfortable

For several years, the brony phenomenon has continued to gain steam.  The idea that grown heterosexual men could enjoy a cartoon about ponies aimed at young females seemed truly revolutionary.  But, why was it so revolutionary?  No one bats an eye at women who enjoy Transformers or Marvel comic books.  This brony phenomenon would be an excellent case study for those academics involved in gender studies because I believe it says a lot about how we in the West view gender roles.

First, it shows how we typically view things, especially shows, designed for women as being innately inferior.  If something is good, it can be surmised that it is good for everyone.  But to argue that “girl” shows are exclusive to girls and “boy” shows can be enjoyed by everyone implies a strong inequality.  Many female orientated shows such as Sex and the City are viewed as banal, silly, and not to be taken seriously.  A true man doesn’t watch female shows.  Relational drama such as that in Downtown Abbey is viewed as being “girly” and not for true men.  And finally, the happy go lucky spirit of My Little Pony Friendship is Magic is viewed as feminine and not for men, whether if they are young or old.

It says a lot about our society that the first insult people give to bronies is that they are homosexual for enjoying this show.  Homosexuality among males in the west is associated with effeminacy and weakness.  No one would call Clay Aiken manly.  But this idea about homosexuality is not universal.  In other countries, the “hard gay” stereotype is more prevalent.  This is the idea that muscular men who love to show off are more likely to be homosexual.  I can’t think of any strong gay male characters in mainstream Television.  Even in Modern Family, Mitchell and Cam fit the stereotype of the rather feminine gay men(Cam’s love for football aside).  Thus, when men enjoy something that is more “feminine” our first instinct is to believe they are homosexual since in the West effeminacy is associated with homosexuality.

The idea that heterosexual men can enjoy a delightful show intended for little girls but made well enough to draw in a larger audience, directly challenges the very ideas of gender the West has built up.  It is understood that men hate everything feminine(minus sex with a woman), so the very idea that some men love the magic of friendship dumbfounds some people. Could Friendship is Magic eventually erode what people think men have to be in order to be “masculine?” I believe this would be an excellent thing. Throughout the feminist movement(of which I appreciate some things and dislike others but more on that later) there has been one constant, women have challenged the idea they had to fit certain gender roles to be a woman.  Why should not men also challenge the gender roles that society has built for them?

And on a more basic level, why spend so much time talking about what it means to be a good man or woman instead of talking about what it means to be a good person?

Also, Twilight is the best pony.

 

 

 

The Purpose(and why Dragons should have swords)

When I was a small child, I remember staring at my reflection in the mirror and wondering why I was who I was.  What made me, me?  Why did I exist?  In retrospect, it was a fairly odd time in my life to have an existential crisis, but now it has brought up a deeper question.  How do we define who we are both individually and collectively?  Why is it that knights hold swords and not dragons?

I always thought it would be cool to see a dragon wielding a massive sword and flying into battles.  But why are such images so few and far in between?  Even in modern fantasy like Skyrim, dragons are still an enemy to be defeated.  Even more pro dragon fiction such as How to Train Your Dragon and the Inheritance Cycle paint dragons as being subservient to humans.

I believe dragons tell us something interesting about overall Western culture.  We view the little guy, the knight, as being the good guy and the large guy, the dragon as being evil.  Even religious texts like the Bible utilize the cultural image of dragons as a metaphor for Satan.  A dragon is a good example of how we view evil as being large, destructive, greedy.  Yet, it doesn’t have to be this way.  A dragon can just as much be a champion for justice as a knight.  Or it can be just as morally ambiguous as humans can often be.

Think of how the Bible describes lions, both Jesus and Satan are referred to as lions but in a different context.  The Lion of Judah is majestic and noble whereas the Lion of Satan is hungry and eager to consume innocent people.  It has to do with legitimacy.

A sword is often considered a noble weapon.  Even with the de-mythification of the medieval period by writers like George RR Martin, our culture still preserves the idea of swords being special(even Martin does this through Jaime giving the sword Oathkeeper to Brienne of Tarth).  To give a sword to someone is to give them legitimacy.  Link is not the Hero of Time until he gains the Master Sword.  So if you give a dragon a sword, it can be a hero or a villain.  It becomes not a mere evil force, but a knight with moral agency.

I plan to explore many topics here, especially in regards to fiction and philosophy, but mainly I hope you take away from this post one thing,

Dragons with Swords are awesome.