Since the release of the Official Legend of Zelda Timeline in the Hyrule Historia, fans of the Zelda franchise have had to look at their own theories and revise the way they had shaped the history of the fantasy world in their own minds and among communities of those sharing similar ideas. The LoZ universe is one rich with speculation and unsolved mysteries.
Back in the day, there were two main camps of theorists: linear timeline theories and split timeline theorists. The linear camp believed that the LoZ series was one solid timeline from beginning to end. While there was open debate within their camp as to where what game and event fit into what position in the timeline, they were in solid agreement. The split timeline theorists believed that a split was formed at the moment when Zelda sent Link back to his childhood in Ocarina of Time, resulting in two distinctive timelines. Nintendo pulled the rug out from under all of our feet when they revealed that there was not one, not two, but three timelines.
After the dust settled from the flurry of excitement and rage that the announcement brought forth, fans went right back to work contemplating, revising their theories, histories, and conclusions to fit into the official timeline, myself included. At first, I found the three way split to be extremely random and for a while, I felt that it was a bit of a cop-out on Nintendo’s part. Admittedly, both timeline camps had their flaws in their theories but I found myself leaning towards a split timeline hen the debate hit a climax simply because it seemed to be the most reasonable. However, while working on my “Finding God in Hyrule” article, I came to look at the timeline a little differently.
The holy relic known as the Triforce is said to be left behind by the three golden goddesses of the Hyrulian faith at the dawn of creation. The Triforce is technically one united relic that splits into three parts—Wisdom, Courage, and Power—that are representative of the three Golden Goddesses, Nayru, Farore, and Din. When the three pieces are brought together, whomever touches the Triforce is granted the thing their heart desires most. The Triforce will then split, leaving the piece that best represents the one who touched the relic. It makes no distinction between good or evil; it simply acts upon the will of whomever is able to unite the three.
The destined bearers of the Triforce are bound to one another in the genesis of the series, Skyward Sword. During the final battle, Demise curses the spirit of the hero and the spirit of the goddess Hylia to forever be bound to his own. Thus laid the groundwork for every LoZ game in the entire franchise, as Skyward Sword is chronologically the “first.” Where the spirit of Demise rises, so too must rise the spirit of the hero and the spirit of the goddess, each bearing their piece of the sacred relic.
While Skyward Sword sets the stage for the dynamic of the three spirits who would forever collide over the fate of the world, it is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time that set the course of history. It’s at this point that the timeline, like the Triforce, is split three ways. The timelines to follow are classified as the Fallen Hero Timeline, the Child Timeline, and the Adult Timeline. It is my belief that each of these timelines represent the heart of each of the three bearers of the Triforce.
Biblically speaking, this theory is powerful: the desires of each of the three Triforce bearers are brought to fruit in a reality that leans upon the aspect of each character’s piece of the Triforce.
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
– Proverbs 4:23
The Timeline of Power: The Fallen Hero Timeline
In the Fallen Hero Timeline, Ganondorf’s desires reign as its creation is the result of his definitive actions. According to the Hyrule Historia, he is victorious over Link during the final confrontation, destroying the bloodline of the original hero in doing so. He gains power for a short time and forces the sages Link leaves behind after awakening them to act. Desperate to save Hyrule, the sages seal Ganondorf away in the sacred realm. The result of this is the creation of the Dark World where Ganondorf reigns supreme, the land is swallowed by evil, and those within the land are transformed into beasts that mirror his own heart.
“It can only be called fate… That here, I would again gather the three with the crests… That I should lay my hand on that which grants the wishes of the beholder. That when power, wisdom, and courage come together, the gods would have no choice but to come down… The power of the gods… The Triforce! He who touches it will have whatever he desires granted!“— Ganondorf
To this end, Ganondorf transforms from a Gerudo King of Thieves into the form of a massive boar. In Medieval heraldry, a boar represents courage (oddly enough) and ferocity in battle. Of all the creatures you don’t want to run into in the woods, the boar is perhaps the worst. They’re persistent, headstrong, and they can do more damage to man or beast than even a bear. Ganondorf’s desires transform him into a beast, and it’s in this form that he appears and re-appears in time and again.
Throughout the Fallen Hero timeline, Ganondorf is defeated, but he is never fully destroyed or killed, only sealed away. In every game, His followers and minions linger, desperate to revive their master. He is successfully revived three times in this timeline. During his reins, he throws Hyrule further and further into chaos. By the time the Era of Decline begins, Hyrule has been battered and torn apart to the point of being unrecognizable geographically from where it begins in Ocarina of Time.
Ganondorf’s influence drips from every aspect of this timeline and seeps into even the races that populate the face of Hyrule. The Zora are no longer the noble protectors of the royal family, but have instead become territorial and primal monsters that dominate the seas and rivers of Hyrule. Even his own people, the Gerudo, have become no more than slaves to their former king’s desires: if the player manages to get close enough to an Iron Knuckle in OOT to glitch the game out, a dead-eyed Gerudo can be seen within the suit of armor. Even the sage of Spirit, Nabooru, is trapped inside a suit of armor, brainwashed into a monster known as an Iron Knuckle. These monsters appear in The Adventure of Link, the final game in the Fallen Hero timeline, where the power of Ganon—the manifestation of Ganondorf as pure evil—corrupts even the most intelligent races of Hyrule and transforms them into powerful and dangerous beasts.
While The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild could shake up this theory entirely, it’s established that by the end of the Fallen Hero Timeline that Hyrule has lost faith in their old gods and goddesses under the shadow of Ganon. Time and again, the land is plunged into bloody battle, tyrannical rule, and laid to ruin under the fist of evil. Alternatively, Christianity shows its beginnings within this timeline during A Link to the Past, and it has become clear by The Adventure of Link that the dominating religion is Christianity. Link, now bearing the cross instead of the Triforce as his coat of arms, prevents Ganon’s revival.
The Timeline of Wisdom: The Adult Timeline
The Adult Timeline is triggered when Zelda decides it’s best to send Link, successful in his defeat of Ganondorf, back in time so that he can live out his childhood. When Ganondorf breaks free of his seal, the world is left without a hero to stop him. Desperate to find salvation, the people of Hyrule turn to their gods and pray. Unfortunately for them, the old gods resolve to flood the world in order to bury beneath the waves the evil that has returned. This history is revealed to us through the introduction of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Zelda believed that the world has been definitively saved, that Ganon has been laid to rest, and that the hero has played his part. Believing it best that Link be able to live out the time he lost, Zelda returns him to seven years prior. While her bloodline survives through Tetra, the Hero’s bloodline is erased from time.
Some may argue that Zelda’s decision was short-sighted and even foolish, but Zelda is descended from the very first physical incarnation of the goddess Hylia herself. Prior to his defeat, Demise made it clear that he would forever haunt the bloodline of the hero and the goddess—that they would be fate-bound through all eternity. Even if this event was lost to the sands of time, Zelda was shown to have prophetic dreams that guided her from childhood. It’s very likely that the bloodline of the goddess Hylia was aware of the ongoing trinity of the hero, the villain, and her own incarnation, knowing that when the spirit of Demise returned, so too would the spirit of the hero. In OOT, Link has been robbed of several years of his life and is brought away from a crucial point in history where knowledge of future events would be essential to prevent catastrophe. As seen in its conclusion, Link returns to Hyrule Castle to warn the king of Hyrule of Ganon’s plots. Had Link not been returned to his own time, it’s very likely that the fallout would have made the world wide flood pale in comparison.
This timeline also reflects the power of intuition, foresight, and ingenuity through the cultural shifts of the races and the technological advances made. Like in the Fallen Hero Timeline, all are affected. The Zora are transformed from their sea-based forms and instead are given an avian form. While fans speculate that the Zora evolved over a long period of time into an avian form, the more reasonable conclusion is that the transformation was quite sudden and directed by the hands of a supernatural being. It is hinted at that the gods wished to keep the remains of old Hyrule lost to the sea so they transformed the race most likely to discover the ruins, the Zora, into Rito. The race was further aided by the great dragon, Valoo, in the growing of their wings.
Unlike their aquatic ancestors, the Rito are a peaceful people, never seeming to have much interest in the trials of the sea outside of their duties as mail carriers. They seemed to have abandoned their loyalty to the royal house as it’s been lost to them and instead focus on their own survival as a whole. They’ve become less warlike and instead seem more interested in scholarly pursuits and the preservation of their culture. The Gorons, another race from OOT, seem to have abandoned their warrior-like culture and instead have become wandering merchants. Even Ganondorf, savage as he is in the Fallen Hero Timeline, seems more tactful and calculating than he does in any other title. It is often theorized that he spares Link at the beginning of the game because he feels his kinship to the Hero’s spirit and needs Link to draw out Zelda’s predecessor and to ultimately unite the three pieces of the Triforce.
The Hylians themselves have managed to preserve their culture through oral traditions.Of all the races, the Hylians have become dominant and have begun to expand out from the island nations established after the floods. At this point they have already risen great windmills, sea-worthy vessels, battle cannons, and have even taken to diving as a means of discovering relics from the past. The suits used by the divers seen in Windwaker are similar to the atmospheric diving suits of the 1800’s. This shows an impressive rate of technological advances since a massive world-wide disaster.
At the conclusion of Windwaker, Link defeats Ganon definitively and old Hyrule is flushed away by the waters of the great sea. What remained of the old kingdom is effectively lost. Consequently, the world continues down this road of advancement in the final game of the timeline: Spirit Tracks. By this point in the timeline, the descendants of Link and Tetra/Zelda have found a new land and have colonized it for the Hylian people. Another invention of the 1800’s, the steam engine, emerges as a major form of transportation and freight. In Phantom Hourglass, Link is a conductor with his own steam engine facing a dark entity with no affiliation with Ganon.
Within Zelda’s timeline, the races of Hyrule have advanced rapidly, inventing new ways of life, entirely new cultures, and developing technology far advanced from their medieval-themed roots. If this timeline develops further in future titles, it can be expected that technology will continue to develop rapidly and a new Ganon will never emerge.
The Timeline of Courage: The Child Timeline
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. – Romans 5:3-4
The Child Timeline begins when Zelda sends Link back to his childhood to live out the time that he misses while he was sealed away within the sacred realm. At the moment of Link’s return, his companion Navi flies off without a word and vanishes, never to be seen again. While troubled, Link’s first action is to return to Hyrule Castle to warn young Zelda of Ganondorf’s plans. The two of them manage to convince the king of the thief’s treachery. The king orders the execution of Ganondorf and the sages are the ones who carry out this execution. This event is depicted early on in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Unfortunately, despite being pierced through the chest with a blade, Ganon defies death through the Triforce of Power and nearly escapes. The sages are forced to instead seal Ganon away into the Twilight Realm. In the chaos, the sage of water loses their life.
In the meantime, Link rides out on his companion, Epona, unaware of the failed execution of Ganon. His mind is focused entirely on finding Navi, or at least learning of her fate. This timeline begins with the story of Majora’s Mask and the games that follow are a result of Link’s choices and actions. During the events of Majora’s Mask, Link is swept away to another land known as Termina, a realm that parallels Hyrule in many ways but that exists in its own plane of existence. Here, Link must soothe the souls of the departed and to heal the hearts of those that they left behind. In a way, this journey is a parallel to Link’s own emotional state at this time. Navi is gone, likely forever, and he has yet to come to grips with it. There are many theories suggesting that Majora’s Mask is an allegory for the stages of grief, though the fan base is divided on just whose psyche is being reflected. I believe that the story reflects Link’s own struggle with the loss of his friend, Navi, and of many of the sages who were departed from the physical plane.
While subtle, the theme of courage is powerful within Majora’s Mask. Anyone who has ever lost a loved one knows that the hardest thing in the world is to face the reality of that person being gone. It’s even harder to pick yourself up and be strong for those around you who are also lost in grieving. In Majora’s Mask, Link is unwilling to accept losing Navi. Through his trials on Termina, he helps other people stand despite their personal grief and find the courage to move on with their own lives. By the end of the game, Link seems to have come to terms with his own personal loss. Link, at this point in his life, is alone in the world. His only companion and friend is his steed, Epona. His childhood best friend, Saria, has become a sage and can no longer remain within the mortal realm. Zelda is less a friend and more of an acquaintance and even she is locked away behind the safety of Hyrule castle’s walls. Navi has left him, and his father-figure, the Great Deku Tree, has passed on. He knows too much about the world to return to his simple life among the Kokiri, and unlike them, he knows he is to grow old. The boy without a fairy became a young man without a place to belong to. Link puts his own hardships aside and fights for the sake of other people, healing grief and saving an entire world. In the end, he does end up making friends with a new fairy and the Skull Kid himself.
Despite coming to terms with all he had lost, Link eventually passes away himself. However, Link’s spirit lingers as the character known as “Hero’s Shade.” All that Nintendo is willing to reveal about this character is that he is, in fact, the Link from Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask; regret may have kept him bound to the spiritual form that he carries. It’s not too much to assume that Shade lingers because despite everything that he sacrificed and suffered through, his efforts are forgotten. In OOT, he saves the world but returns to a time before the world would have known. His deeds in Termina never even become a whisper in the lore of Hyrule, so Link’s suffering is never acknowledged. It would be far too easy for someone, even the best among us, to grow angry and resentful towards the world. Instead, he endures in a decaying state long enough to personally ensure that the one who takes up his legacy is prepared for the fight ahead in both body and spirit. It would have been far too easy to simply allow himself to pass on, leaving the world to the hands of fate, but he chose to remain.
His descendant (fans can speculate how distant or close of a descendant TP Link actually is) is tested in his abilities and in his own courage. With every lesson of the blade that Shade delivers, he is also careful to sharpen TP Link’s resolve. Shade is put to rest only when he is certain that the heir to his legacy is equipped with both his courage and his lost arts.
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. – Proverbs 22:6 –