I was a latecomer to the Zelda franchise. I didn’t even touch any of the games until I was well into my teens, and even then, it was by borrowing the Collector’s Edition GameCube disk from a friend for a couple of weeks. It wasn’t until the release of Wind Waker HD that I actually was able to complete a Zelda game from start to finish.
And, to this day, Wind Waker is probably my favorite of the series, second only possibly to Breath of the Wild. I know, I know, that’s a rather controversial take. It feels like people either adore this game or absolutely loathe it. I fall into the former camp, and ironically enough, it’s for a lot of the same reasons that make people hate the game. I love the cutesy art style, and I really love the seafaring overworld exploration. But I think what really nails this entry for me is the journey of this particular Link: The Hero of Winds.
We all know Link: tall, blonde, with a strange obsession for Robin Hood cosplay. He’s the epitome of your European-fantasy hero archetype. We really tend to love these heroes: the strong, silent type who always know what they’re doing, usually because they’ve been granted some divine quest by a patron deity. In Link’s case, he’s usually doing the bidding of one (or all three) of Hyrule’s goddesses: Farore, Nayru, and Din. They call on every new incarnation of Link any time the ancient evil of Ganon arises in Hyrule. With that call, Link arises from his peaceful life (usually sleeping well into the morning,) and follows the call of the deities to save Hyrule once again.
Except that’s not always the case. In fact…that’s almost never the case. And nowhere is that myth busted more surely than in Wind Waker.
You see, the Link we meet in Wind Waker isn’t a hero. He’s not a knight, or a page, or a student. He doesn’t even have a full-time job. He’s just a kid who lives on tiny Outset Island, a place with a couple of families who share this tiny piece of land together. He lives there with his grandma and his little sister, Aryll. Life on Outset is peaceful, if a little dull, but Link doesn’t seem to mind. In true Zelda fashion, as the game opens, he’s catching a nap on a watchtower, awakened only by the insistent voice of his little sister. Aryll wants to remind Link that it’s his birthday, and that he needs to head to Grandma’s house to get his gift.
A few tutorial sessions later, and Link is up on a cliffside on Outset. Across a rickety rope bridge is Aryll, waving to him and calling him to the other side. Suddenly, an enormous bird, the Helmaroc King, swoops in and snatches Aryll from her perch. She lets out a shriek of terror as the bird sweeps away and fades into the distance. Link nearly takes a facefirst dive off a cliff face to save her, but he’s rescued by Tetra, a plucky pirate captain, who catches the back of his shirt before he becomes a Hylian pancake.
Link, distraught, determines that he has to go rescue Aryll, whatever the cost. He learns swordplay from the local swordmaster Orca, and boards the pirates’ ship to breach the Forsaken Fortress, not to follow the divine call of the goddesses, but to rescue his sister. And this is what leads Link to embark on his quest that ultimately awakens him as the Hero of the Winds. The call from the goddesses doesn’t come until a good third of the way through the game. Link embarks on his journey not because some deity told him it was the right thing to do, but because he believed himself that it was the right thing to do.
And the thing is, that’s actually the case for more Links than you’d expect. Link’s adventure in A Link to the Past begins because he follows his uncle into Hyrule Castle out of concern for his uncle’s safety. In Majora’s Mask, he’s searching for his fairy friend Navi when Skull Kid attacks him and lures him to Termina. In Skyward Sword, he starts his quest to rescue his friend Zelda, who isn’t even a princess this time around. Even in Breath of the Wild, Link isn’t explicitly following a divine command. Rather, he’s trusting the word of people that, in his mind, he’s just met.
While it’s true that there are many times Link operates under a call from some deity, be it the Great Deku Tree or one of the goddesses themselves, there are plenty of times where Link isn’t a divinely-called hero, but merely a kid doing what he thinks is right, and most of the time, that thing is protecting the ones he loves. Sometimes, it seems like he’s not even sure what he’s doing, just that he needs to persevere toward his goal. Yes, Link is the chosen Hero of Hyrule, reincarnated time and time again to face the evil of Ganon. But I’m beginning to wonder if each Link is born a hero, or if they are granted that title after they prove their courage and determination to do the right thing.
I think the reason this sort of hero’s journey resonates with me so much is because, as a Christian, I have constantly grown up hearing that “God has a perfect plan for my life.” Far from being a freeing belief, this led me to a rigid, terrified existence of trying to discern God’s perfect will out of all the other, non-Godly options at my disposal. It wasn’t until I entered college that I was faced with the idea that, perhaps, there might be more to this whole “God’s Will” thing than I was led to believe.
Theologian Roger Olson puts it well on his blog: “For most of us, most of the time, “God’s will” is simply to receive his gifts of character and service and use them to paint a beautiful picture on the canvas of life he has granted us. There is no inflexible, rigid, detailed divine blueprint for every aspect of life such that missing one piece of it, whether through ignorance or disobedience, leads to a miserable existence.”
That eternal waiting game, constantly wondering if or when God will finally reveal the One True Path to us, is miserable. And I’m speaking from experience. It leaves you paranoid, wondering if every word of advice from a friend is God’s call, or perhaps more sinister, the enemy trying to ward you away from where you’re supposed to be. Instead of feeling empowered to pursue what you think is right, you’re constantly frozen in fear, hoping that this choice isn’t the one that sends you into oblivion.
I think the most convicting and challenging thing about this kind of “hero’s journey” is that, in Link’s case, he’s trusting his own sense of what’s right. Now, in the real world, we know that “the heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). If we follow our own inclination toward what’s right, most of the time, we will indeed fall off the track. But we’re not on our own. As Christians, we have the guidance of the Holy Spirit in us. In fact, the argument could be made that Link is always led by the goddesses on his path, using his innate sense of justice.
The Holy Spirit guides us as believers to follow what is right and true, but all the while gives us the crucial freedom to choose. If we didn’t have that freedom, we’d be nothing more than robots serving a divine taskmaster. God has always given humanity the freedom to make a choice, even when it has the potential for great harm, (see, for reference, Adam and Eve in the garden.) But our free will, paired with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, can be used as a powerful tool for good.
If you want an example of this type of faithful living in action, look no further than the book of Esther, which notably does not mention God’s name. But just because the book does not mention God does not mean He is not working. Notably, His vessel in this story is a Hebrew woman named Hadassah who is thrust into a culture of sexual immorality, abuse of power, and literal genocide.
She makes the decision to stand up for her people, in the face of almost certain death, not because she received a divine word from God, but because she did what she believed was right. Though she lived in an era before the coming of the Spirit, with godly counsel from her cousin/father figure Mordecai, she took a leap into a future she did not know. Hadassah’s courage did not come from an explicit message from God, but from a deep-seated belief in God and His justice and character.
Link follows this example in several games in the Zelda series, embarking on dangerous quests not because he feels coerced by a deity, but because he believes in something and is willing to fight for it. He has an innate sense of justice, driven by his love for those around him and his desire to set wrongs right. And, I think tellingly, he generally does end up getting that explicit word from the heavens we all long for, but only after he’s taken the first leap.
Honestly, I had a hard time writing this, mainly because I still really want to believe in the explicit voice from Heaven. I want to be told exactly what I’m supposed to do, so I don’t have to feel any responsibility for my own choices. But as much as I tell myself that’s the life I’d prefer…would I really? Would I really want to live a life where I had no real choice? Perhaps. It would certainly be a peaceful life. But would it be denying some deep part of me that God has created? I think so.
And so, I’ll keep walking, taking life one day at a time. I’ll mess up, I’ll make wrong choices, but I know that my God is faithful and just to forgive me my sins and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. He has a way of making things, even evil things, work for good. And, always being sure to check my boundaries and check in with my Guide, I’ll walk, a little unsure of what’s ahead, but knowing that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, my desires are being aligned with God’s, and I will find His presence as I seek His face as I move.
And maybe I should follow Link’s example and take a few more naps. Naps are good too.
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