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Destiny says Zelda is chosen to defeat Calamity Gannon. She was raised on the stories of her line’s power to seal his evil away and knows she is supposed to save her people from darkness. But try as she might in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the power won’t manifest. She’s travelled to the shrines, she’s said the prayers, she’s wished with all her being that this power would just appear so she could fulfill her role as the chosen one, but it doesn’t. Her father is frustrated with the attention she gives to the ancient war machines found in the kingdom and refuses to let her focus on them rather than unlocking her power; she’s looking for something else that could save her people, because she doesn’t seem to be able to. And to top it all off, the sword that seals the darkness chose some half-mute kid rather than her.
Because of her failures, the divine beasts—those that should have been able to resist Gannon—rampage across their regions causing destruction and harm. Their pilots, the heroes of each race, have died and their spirits are trapped. The guardians that were to protect the castle now patrol and destroy anyone who comes near. The world is in ruins and Link lays in stasis for 100 years; hopefully he will recover before all darkness takes the land, but his wounds were grave. Zelda had failed everyone.
Link awakes 100 years after being mortally wounded, weak and with no memories, knowing only what a mysterious voice tells him: that he must regain his strength and defeat Calamity Gannon. Part of regaining that strength is restoring his memories of the kingdom, and of Zelda. As the story of their preparation to face Gannon unfolds, we receive a rare glimpse into who Zelda is. Her love for her kingdom is evident, but her deep anger and sorrow for not being able to save them becomes even more apparent.
She is furious that Link follows her around and continually steps into danger to protect her. Every time he draws the Master Sword, she’s reminded of her failure. Everyone cheers the hero while she stands in the background, unchosen.
But as she lets go of her hurt and sets aside her anger, she begins to see Link not as the usurping hero taking her place, but as part of the chosen ones who will seal away the darkness together. Zelda’s fault lies in assuming that she is THE chosen one. She thinks everything rests on her shoulders, but the truth is she is just one of the chosen. Others have been chosen as well, including Link, Urbosa, Daruk, Revali, Mipha, each of their counterparts in this present time and a host of others. All that pressure, all that expectation—it was never meant to be carried by Zelda alone; it is meant to be carried by them all.
Most of us grew up hearing we could be anything and do anything. The books we read and the games play cast us as the hero. Yet, as we reach adulthood, we quickly discover that not only are we not THE hero, but that we are much more like NPCs saying the same boring lines day in and day out, stuck in a day/night cycle that is so predictable we don’t even have to think about it to maintain it. This can lead to frustration, anger, sadness and a deep depression that we will never do anything of value; that we are not heroes.
The thing is, we aren’t the hero of the world. We aren’t the one who will save everyone and everything. We can’t keep our families safe, we aren’t destined to be millionaires, we won’t dramatically change the world on our own. Like Zelda, we may put the weight of the world on our shoulders and be crushed by it. Or we can find comfort in knowing that there is no one hero among us, rather we all have a role to play in the heroic tale we find ourselves part of. Like threads in a tapestry, each one of us has a critical role, not to paint the whole scene, but to work with everyone else to make a beautiful picture. A tapestry of a single colour might be striking, but one of many colours weaving in and out is truly beautiful.
This is a tough lesson for me to learn. I often take the weight of everyone and everything and put it on my shoulders. I isolate myself in my struggle and attempt to hold, not only my own pain and struggle, but others’ burdens as well. I say yes to everything and run myself ragged. Then when I am near exhaustion and long to rest I feel selfish. Yet around me are amazing people who love me, care about the things I care about and would love to work with me to do greater things than I can do alone. When I ignore them and take all that weight on myself, I rob them of being part of great things with me. Because we only accomplish truly great things in community.
Zelda’s language subtly shifts in the game from her first memory to her last. In the early ones, she stands before a shrine saying she will work out a way to open it rather than ask Link to help. She tells her father she is doing “All I can” to make her power manifest and even yells at the statue of the goddess, desperately seeking the answers to what is wrong with her. But at the end of the game, she says: “There is still so much for us to do, and still so many painful memories that we must bear . . . but if we all work together we can restore Hyrule to its former glory, or even beyond.” Zelda goes from everything being about her and placing the weight on herself, to seeing that everything is about community, and sharing the weight of mourning and rebuilding. It took her 100 years of suffering alone desperately hoping for her to realize this; I’m hoping it takes me a lot less.
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