Link with his Cross ShieldEarlier, I wrote a blog post about The Legend of Zelda and Theology by Jonathan L. Walls. At 173 pages, the book is a collection of 10 essays from various contributors. Its goal is twofold: to present Christianity to Zelda fans who might not know much about it and to give those familiar with Christianity insight into how Zelda relates to the religion. It explains intricacies of Zelda for those unfamiliar, and thankfully the descriptions are brief for those of us who know our Zelda lore. Unfortunately there is some overlap with the synopses of Zelda across essays, but that’s a minor complaint and is only natural given the format of the book.

Jonathan Walls gives a very clear disclaimer about this book in his introduction that cannot be ignored:

…none of us claim to have found the intended meaning behind the Zelda mythology’s symbolism when we relate it to Christianity. A very astute theological thinker and friend warned me of the error of superimposing Christian beliefs onto games that very well may have been made without Christian beliefs in mind. Let me assure you, we intend no superimposing.  Attempting to find an intentional and exclusive allegorical connection between Zelda mythology and Christian theology would be utterly erroneous and a dead end.

That being said, it’s time to look at how Zelda’s hero Link, Ganondorf, Zelda herself, and the games look from a Christian worldview according to Zelda and Theology.

The Problem of Evil

Jonathan Walls’ “Trouble in the Golden Realm: Ganondof and Hyrule’s Problem of Evil in Ocarina of Time” is one of the stronger entries in the book and looks at the philosophical problem of evil in the Christian and Zelda worlds. He channels C.S. Lewis often and identifies Pride as the “complete anti-God state of mind.” One such character with excessive Pride from the Ocarina of Time game is Ingo, a lazy ranch worker who is given control of the ranch by Ganondorf, the game’s primary villain. Ingo’s desire for power by calling the previous owner weak and himself hard working shows excessive Pride.

Walls goes on to tackle The Problem of Evil, summarized as: “If God is all-powerful and good, shouldn’t He just snap his fingers and wipe out all crime, hate and injustice from the world?” His explanations of free will and gratuitous natural evil are well articulated, relate to Zelda, and I’d even say they could prevent some non-believers from using The Problem of Evil as an argument against Christianity if they read the essay.

Secondary Worlds and J.R.R. Tolkien

Philip Tallon’s essay is in a “choose your own adventure” format. For instance, you can skip over the introduction to Zelda and J.R.R. Tolkien if you’re familiar with them. I read it straight through and it was still good, so the gimmick may be unnecessary. Tallon references Tolkien’s Andrew Lang lecture at the University of Saint Andrews on fairy stories. In this lecture, Tolkien elaborates on a secondary world called Faerie. Secondary worlds are, to Tolkien, a reshuffling of facts about our own world, as “only God has the power to create ex nihilo (out of nothing).”

The author acknowledges that Tolkien’s view of Faerie depends on fantasies being in the imagination and not visualized, as in video games. He counters with examples such as when “the gamer, on receiving from Nintendo Power a map of Hyrule with blank spaces at the edges, fills in the blank spaces with additional screens of his own creation.”  It is also noted:

Hyrule has retained a level of abstraction.  It is as if Miyamoto (the game’s creator) is aware of Tolkien’s worry that visual tricks might cancel out the imagination, and so intentionally hangs onto the charming children’s book quality of the first games.

This essay is lighter on relationships to Christianity, but does focus on Tolkien’s Christian faith and how Faerie relates in its presentation of magic and wonder.

The Afterlife and Majora’s Mask

Josh Corman’s entry about The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask examines the afterlife, purgatory, and sanctification. In the game, Link acquires the ability to use the souls of fallen individuals to become them and complete tasks that they failed to do while they were living. This relates with Christianity in that the end of life is not the end of the spirit. Interestingly, the game never shows the characters reunited with their old bodies, which is where this concept differs from Christianity. This essay evokes a unique interest in Majora’s Mask, which is one of Zelda’s stranger and more complex games.

Zelda and Theology BookVirtues Explored

Two essays in the book focus on virtues in The Legend of Zelda. In “On Hylian Virtues: Aristotle, Aquinas and the Hylian Cosmogenesis,” Justus Hunter looks at the Hylian virtues of power, wisdom, and courage and relates them to Aristotle’s account of virtue. He then explains Augustine’s and Aquinas’ accounts of virtue and how they differ from Aristotle. Aquinas says virtues are caused by God and Hunter goes on to look at what the source of Hylian virtues might be.

The essay “High Rule? Vintage Virtue in The Legend of Zelda” by Benjamin B. DeVan is more approachable for those who don’t know a lot about Christianity and Zelda. It looks at altruism and its role in Zelda games, particularly the first two installments that were released in the 80’s. DeVan claims that Jesus was indeed an inspiration for Link:

For example: Ganon’s minions believe Link’s blood contains the power of resurrection. Link walks on water like Jesus, though Link requires the winged boots. Link’s shields and gravestones in both games bear the cross (though Link’s shield in later games bears the sign of the Triforce.)  The Adventure of Link once references a church bell ringing. Link descends beneath Death Mountain in one game and Death Valley in the other to defeat the Prince of Darkness and confront the Shadow/Dark/False Link.

He goes on to look for the source of morality in Hyrule:

The creative design of the gaming universe(s) inhabited by Link, Zelda and other Hyrule citizens parallels God’s work as the Grand Designer, High Rule(r) and Ultimate Source for morality in our world, whether or not people directly acknowledge it.

With this, the author targets atheists and their supposed sources for morality:

Atheists recount some motivations for moral behavior, describe examples and manifestations of morality and moral intuitions, but they do not, and perhaps cannot, supply an original source, authority or absolute adjudicator for moral principle, outrage and conviction. Is philosophical incoherence the price for denying a source for absolute morals?

Power and A Link to the Past

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is my favorite game from the Zelda series. Jeremy Smith does a good job in looking at the role of power in the game and addresses the question, “Why spend time helping people when it won’t matter when they’re gone?” In A Link to the Past, a parallel “Dark World” is created by Ganon that will disappear along with all of its inhabitants when he is vanquished. Smith finds that the religious guide in the game, Sahasrahla, would be a proponent of a cataclysmic Christ “who sees sees the spiritual struggle and wants nothing but to vanquish all things dark, as the legend tells”. On the other hand, Link emulates a catalytic Christ “who acknowledges the spiritual struggle but does not allow this to interfere with helping individuals and expanding the circle of God’s grace to people beyond.”

Conclusion

The Legend of Zelda and Theology is certainly a thought-provoking book.  A few of the essays not mentioned here are a bit less exciting, but I wouldn’t call any of them bad. Some of the powerful essays will likely make connections and turn a few lights on for gamers who weren’t particularly religious before.

On the other hand, if you’re a devout Christian I recommend the book to illustrate why Zelda is possibly the greatest series of video games out there. What are you waiting for? Go pick up a copy at Amazon.

  • Toby Beeny

    Very interesting. I’m glad to see that people are thinking more seriously about video games. Gaming is becoming more and more prevalent in our society–for some they are much more influential than movies or music. When a person avidly plays a game, they spend a great deal of time with it, and it leaves a persistent mark upon the person.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joshua.gibbs.737 Joshua Gibbs

    I still remember the wonder Ocarina of Time inspired in me when I was just a lost little child. Looking back, I suppose it is no accident that that game was filled with biblical symbolism, though I can only see it now that I’ve been a Christian for several years. OoT has a story and a setting of mythical potency but it’s gameplay also has the perfect mixture of smooth controls and seamless structure that haven’t been part of the gaming scene since the N64. To me It will always be one of the best games ever made.

    P. S.: Don’t take the praise I heap on OoT to mean that some of the other Zelda games aren’t also awesome, it’s just that OoT is truly legendary – there is no shame in coming in second place when the race is between olympic-level athletes :)