The typical Legend of Zelda narrative is designed like an adventure-filled fairytale: a hero is chosen to obtain a great power that will allow them to conquer an invasive evil in the land. While the plot particulars each Zelda game differ (and often exhibit a uniquely Japanese take on a mostly western monomyth archetype), rarely does a Zelda game differ heavily from that standard fairytale formula. But The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess differs from the other Zelda games in more than just its ESRB T rating. It also differs in how it thematically presents that struggle between good and evil, with the introduction of Midna and Link’s relationship.
If you haven’t played the game recently, it is important to understand exactly who Midna is. Mida is a member of the fictional Zelda race known as the Twili. The Twili are descendants of a group of dark magi that sought to claim a dark power called the “Fused Shadows,” which was forbidden by the goddesses. Midna is seeking to overthrow the unjust king, Zant, and enlists Link’s aid in gathering together the Fused Shadows so that she may overthrow the evil king.
One of the most enigmatic things surrounding the Twili race is the meaning of the cutscene that explains the Twili’s backstory. Rather than using an actual depiction of the Twili race searching for the Fused Shadows, the whole cutscene is told using clones of Link and Ilia (the girl Link has formed a relationship with prior to the events of the game). One possible interpretation of this cutscene may be gleaned from the similar imagery it uses to that used by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, in his book “Phenomenology of the Spirit.” In that book, Hegel describes a theoretical battle between two self-consciousnesses, in which each recognizes themselves in the other, but which are diametrically opposed to each other. This creates an existential struggle for dominance, which can only be resolved through death, or through one becoming subservient to the other. Ironically, Hegel concludes, the subservient one actually does a better job asserting its dominance, because the one in the position of master over the other must now concede to the other for any action to occur.
By using the player’s Avatar, Link, as a representation of the subjecticated Twili race, the cutscene imperfectly mimics the struggle Hegel describes. It’s imperfect because it’s not a phenomenological struggle, like Hegel describes, but rather a description of the struggle of good and evil. Here, the evil are the greedy and power driven (yet subjugated) Twili ancestors, while the residents of the world of light, along with the goddesses (the ones doing the subjugation) are the forces for good in this cutscene. By retelling Hegel’s allegorical description of his master-slave dialectic in the context of a struggle between good and evil, it begs the question, “Who has the power in the typical good versus evil story?”
Like the master in Hegel’s myth, good appears to be the master in the relationship. But, also like Hegel’s myth, there is evidence that this does not give then power. For example, when the Twilight realm is cast over a section of Hyrule, the creatures of twilight are able to pull those from the light into the Twilight Realm, but not vice-versa. Furthermore, the members of the light race are limited in their traversal to areas not bathed in Twilight, but Twilight soldiers are shown to regularly drop from portals to confront Link in the world of light.
The elevation of the slave is shown even more directly in Midna’s first encounter with Link. Link, at that point, is chained in his wolf form in the dungeons of Hyrule Castle. Without Midna, he has no option to escape (the game even makes that apparent with a playable section that only allows the player to run in circles), and is unable to act otherwise until the next cutscene triggers. After Midna frees him, she tells Link directly, “I’m not going to help you unless you’ll be my slave!” And yet, despite Link’s designation as slave, he is allotted the role of primary actor throughout the story.
Although Link spends Twilight Princess subjugated, in most adventurous fairy tales the story surrounds not the aftermath of such a subjugation, but rather the initial struggle for good to subjugate evil. Rarely do we explore the power relationship that this creates between the two. Perhaps, in the grand narrative of storytelling, we focus too heavily on evil. True, good vs evil stories usually show good triumphant, but in the subjugation of evil, we’ve allowed it to fully consume our stories. Almost never will a children’s story avoid the inclusion of a greed, tyranny, hatred, etc. In fact, with the heroes of these stories, we always define our heroes by their opposition and destruction of these negative qualities, rather than by their own unique achievements. In that sense, good cannot exist without evil to oppose, meaning by that very definition, our sense of good must breed evil to fight, or good will itself fade as well. Perhaps defining good in this way, we are subjugating it to heavily.