February 2, 2018
WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Link’s Awakening and Skyward Sword
Link’s Awakening is an odd entry in the Legend of Zelda series. The game doesn’t take place in Hyrule, it has nothing to do with Ganon or the Triforce, and Zelda doesn’t even make an appearance (outside of Link accidentally calling Marin “Zelda” when he first meets her). In the game, Link washes ashore a place called Koholint Island, and immediately goes to work finding a way off the island. As his adventures continue, Link learns that Koholint Island and all its residents are actually just part of a dream by an entity called the Wind Fish. In the end, Link manages to defeat the Nightmares that took over the dream, wake the Wind Fish, and escape Koholint Island. Seems pretty straightforward, right? Well, something about this premise has always felt a little….off. As the series has grown over time, I have come to believe an alternative theory about Link’s Awakening: Link isn’t trapped in the Wind Fish’s dream at all. He’s actually in his own dream, and his struggle to escape Koholint Island represent his desire to escape the never-ending cycle of evil, destruction, and world-saving he is stuck in.
When Link defeats Demise at the end of Skyward Sword, Demise delivers one of my favorite monologues in the entire Zelda series. He proclaims: “This is not the end. My hate…never perishes. It is born anew in a cycle with no end! I will rise again! Those like you…those who share the blood of the goddess and the spirit of the hero…they are eternally bound to this curse. An incarnation of my hatred shall ever follow your kind, dooming them to wander a blood-soaked sea of darkness for all time!” The incarnation of Demise’s hatred took the form of Ganondorf, who obtained a piece of the Triforce and has haunted every version of Link and Zelda to date. Link, in all his various forms and timelines, has had to fight the evil of Ganondorf and save Hyrule time and time again. As great as it must be to be the hero, Link never asked for this. He never wanted this. In each new legend, he is thrust into the role of the hero, usually with little or no say in the matter.
What a nightmare that must be! Link is forced to forever fight against darkness. He rarely knows lasting peace or happiness, as darkness falls over Hyrule time and time again. That, to me, is what Koholint Island represents in Link’s dream. He is trapped in a situation he doesn’t want to be in, fighting to escape. If you were in Link’s shoes, wouldn’t you want to escape the cycle too? Wouldn’t you want to know happiness and peace, not perpetual strife and darkness?
Beyond the island itself, there are plenty of other signs scattered throughout Link’s Awakening that represent aspects of Link’s real, non-dreaming life. First, there’s the Wind Fish. The Wind Fish is Link’s ultimate goal, sealed away in its egg. It is basically a personification of the Triforce. Link seeks out the Triforce (or a part of it) in many of his adventures. It is always sealed away, either in the Sacred Realm, or a dungeon, or under the sea. It is the driving force in Link’s waking life, just as the Wind Fish is the driving force in his dreaming life. On top of that, the people of Koholint make wishes to the Wind Fish. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
In order to get to the Wind Fish, Link must obtain the Instruments of the Sirens. This is no surprise, since musical instruments have been a key part of Link’s adventures from the very beginning. From the Recorder to the Ocarina of Time to the Goddess’s Harp, Link has sought out and used musical instruments to fight evil. It makes sense that in his dream, Link must obtain instruments to escape the island.
Next, we have the nightmares that Link must battle in his dream. In his real life, monsters are always attempting to keep Link trapped in his cycle of darkness. In his dream, the monsters are trying to keep Link trapped on the island. It’s no coincidence that many of the enemies Link encounters on Koholint mirror monsters he has had to fight in real life. This isn’t just limited to the rank-and-file villains Link encounters, but the boss nightmares as well. In his dream, Link has to battle bosses he has encountered in previous adventures, including Moldorm, Aghanim, and even Ganon himself. All of these monsters have fought to keep Link in his cycle, just as their nightmare forms fight to keep him trapped on Koholint. Going one step further, let’s take a quick look at DethI, the final nightmare Link faces. In its final form, it is an eye surrounded by two spinning arms. To me, these spinning arms are a physical manifestation of the cycle that Link is trapped in. Link physically defeats this “cycle” in order to escape the island. If only it was that easy in the waking world!
Finally, let’s talk about Marin. Marin is Link’s dream version of Zelda (he even calls her Zelda at first). She’s musically gifted, she has an affection for Link, and she helps Link throughout his time on Koholint. At one point, Link even has to rescue Marin when she has been captured by monsters. There’s even a little bit of fantasy here. In his dream, Marin wants to know everything there is to know about Link. In Link’s real life, there have always been hints of romance between Link and Zelda, but it has never been fully explored. Marin represents Link’s fantasy of being in a romantic relationship with Zelda.
Beyond that, Marin actually gives voice to Link’s desire to escape his cycle. When they talk on the beach (one of my all-time favorite Zelda moments), Marin expresses her wish that she could fly far away from the island. Since Link is a silent protagonist, this is actually Link expressing his desire to escape his cycle, through Marin’s words.
I think that about wraps it up. I believe that Link’s Awakening isn’t actually about Link being trapped in the Wind Fish’s dream. Instead, it is Link’s OWN dream, and his desire to escape the dream is an allegory for his desire to escape the never-ending curse put upon his bloodline by Demise. Thankfully for us gamers, Link doesn’t seem to have broken free of his cycle yet (unless Ganon was truly obliterated at the end of Breath of the Wild…), which means we should keep getting Legend of Zelda games for a long time to come!