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The Power in Link’s Silence} ?>
In a bout of nostalgia, I re-opened the manga adaptation of my favourite video game of all time, half expecting to hear the anticipative “hidden item” fanfare as I did so.
As a child, I specifically remember the hero of Ocarina of Time capturing my interest. Link was both admirable and player-impressionable, which allowed me to meld bits of myself into his narrative. His journey captivated me; I was taken on a daring quest through time into fantastical lands inhabited by exotic creatures.
Mostly, though, I remember being enthralled by Link’s silence.
Theses have been written on the role of silence within video game narratives, though Link’s silence in particular is an issue returned to time and again by theorists. The most technical of the bunch insist that Link’s silence is a tool used by the game developers to allow the player to “impress” themselves upon him, thus offering immersion within the game and identification with the green-clad hero.
From a purely developmental standpoint, that may be true. But as a wide-eyed ten-year old venturing into the land of Hyrule for the first time, I wasn’t altogether focused on the game’s mechanics.
I connected with Link’s silence because I admired it. Here was a character who never spoke a word (outside of his combative foreign language), yet ten-year-old me was convinced he was the most noble, humble, and brave individual I’d ever connected with through a gaming controller. That’s partially because his selfless and heroic actions made words meaningless, but I also admired him because of his humility—his willingness to carry the weight of Hyrule on his back, his temperance not to lash back at others who mocked him, and his determination to make good on others’ vested faith in him.
He was a hero who mourned, served, and triumphed without words. Maybe that’s because words could not describe him. Thus, my first playthrough of Ocarina of Time was one of spellbinding fascination.
Cracking open the manga adaptation several years later re-awoke that fascination, but also reminded me why I so highly valued Link’s silence. In the interest of the story, Link had to speak on the printed page, and I wasn’t totally pleased with the results. Don’t get me wrong—it’s far from the abysmal level of the Faces of Evil and “Excuse me, Princess,” but still not the Link I envisioned upon completing my run of Ocarina of Time. He felt cockier, more fallible—perhaps more human, too, though I’d argue that Link is a hero I prefer to look up to rather than be on eye-level with.
With that said, I praise the manga for daring to tell a different story, adding a new angle of appreciation to the pointy-eared protagonist. Link is more aggressive—a never-say-die sort of hero who occasionally over-estimates himself—but he also feels pain. When Ganondorf turns an old friend against him, forcing Link to mortally wound his friend, the hero vows he’ll never forgive Ganondorf.
The mission to save Hyrule becomes more personal. It’s no longer totally selfless. Link’s personal vendetta against Ganondorf overlaps his duty to fulfill his role as hero. The Goron king advises Link against letting his emotions surge, suggesting he take a much-needed rest after the numbing incident.
Through a deadly battle with Shadow Link, the Hero of Time symbolically overcomes himself and his personal agenda in the quest. This allows him to wield the Triforce’s power of pure courage upon facing Ganondorf in a climatic final battle. By contrast, Ganondorf is portrayed as a tragic villain—one who serves only himself and whose hatred for Link causes the Triforce of Power to transform him into a hulking monstrosity.
Link is strong because he sets aside his own agenda of vengeance in order to fully dedicate himself to the role the Goddesses have chosen for him. Ganondorf is weak because he serves nothing greater than his own ambitions.
But where the manga is truly powerful—and surpasses its source material—is in Link’s final blow against Ganondorf. The primeval monster falls, wounded, and Link, with the master sword at full capacity, is told to finish him. It’s a moment where Link’s self-serving ideals could be most pronounced, but rather than smirk and victoriously deliver the blow, Link falls silent—a silence so reminiscent of his video game counterpart that it gives me nostalgic goosebumps every time I flip to that page.
His expression isn’t gleaming with victory, but heavy with pity. I think that’s because he sees the monstrosity that was once Ganondorf as something he could have easily become had he chosen to act selfishly. The final blow is fueled by duty and driven by a mute cry of determination, but there’s no sense of personal fulfillment therein.
In a present day where public and social issues are at the forefront of the world’s mind, I find myself especially struggling to set aside my personal agendas, particularly with issues that I strongly oppose or advocate. I find myself forced to step back and reevaluate: Who am I doing this for? Who am I saying this for? Am I using this as a means to fuel my agenda? Or am I speaking and acting out on behalf of the ideals that I believe in?
As a Christian, I believe that selfishness isn’t what God wants from me. It’s easy for me to be caught up in self-piety when taking a stance, rather than act purely on a belief and conviction afforded to me by God. It’s much easier to excuse my behaviour that way, lumping it all under the banner of “greater good.” When my personal emotions get involved and I want to retort, I have to ask myself: What am I really defending—the beliefs or my own pride?
Characters like Link put this idea into practice, reminding me that dying to my own pride and agendas and fully silencing myself—listening to God and paying attention to others instead of just myself—is the only way that God can truly work through me for good. Otherwise, my good intentions are easily corrupted by my human nature, resulting in tainted results at best.
I like to think that Link is silent, not so that gamers can identify with him, but because he is intently listening to the voices of the Goddesses who chose him as their hero. He is Hylian after all—a race whose pointed ears are rumoured to hear the voices of the gods. He’s selfless enough to silence his own voice and fully dedicate himself to theirs. That’s what enables him to wield the Triforce of Courage. That’s what qualifies him as the Hero of Time.
This article first appeared in Beneath the Tangles.
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