Examining Link: The Child Soldier
Is “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past” the tale of a youthful hero rising to greatness, or is it a story of horrendous trauma from the perspective of a boy forced to become a man by unforgiving and cruel circumstances? It’s time to bust this classic out for a modern, grown-up analysis.
To give a quick synopsis of A Link to the Past, Link is awoken from Princess Zelda talking to him in his sleep, telling him that she has been kidnapped and that the evil Wizard has everyone else under his control. She urges him to come to the Palace to save her, and Link defeats the Wizard after collecting three legendary treasures and the Master Sword, then gets warped into the Dark World where he must defeat seven more monstrosities in order to break the barrier open to Ganon, the true antagonist all along. Link defeats the evil Ganon and restores the Dark World to the purity it once knew, becoming the Hero of Hyrule.
But what exactly is wrong here? Essentially, Link has had the sword thrust upon him, and has been told to go forth and do whatever may be necessary to save Princess Zelda and Hyrule. It seems like a classic greatness-from-nothingness story. What we never stopped to examine is that his uncle has essentially sent a boy, without any formal training, to become a Knight. With a sword and shield being the only things Link has available, he is woefully unprepared and now must suddenly defend himself against grown, presumably trained soldiers of the monarchy who are prepared to kill a young man with fanatical, mind-controlled devotion to their new master. What psychological impact is this having? Fighting the monstrous denizens of the world is one thing; indeed, many of us wouldn’t think twice about killing a rat, snake, or other pest, but the very first enemy faced in the game is a human soldier. Before Link is old enough to shave, he is forced to murder another human being.
What does Link take away from this? Does he find that life is cheap? Or is the entire matter just traumatizing and he only continues his adventure because he believes he has no choice? It doesn’t help that Link has so few friends along the way. The good people of the village are helpful, to be certain, but none of them have any real familiarity with his struggle. They’re only living under the oppressive rule of the Wizard. The only people Link has that he can actually count as friends are the Princess, the old man in the Sanctuary, and the Elder Sahashrala, one of whom is killed by the soldiers a quarter into the game. How would any of us react in his same situation?
Throughout his journey, Link is faced with the bleak reality that his world is a terrible place, where one man can consume all the power, and to fight him would be nearly hopeless. How many of us would give up and accept our fate under the dark rule of Ganon and the wizard? The amount of walking Link has to do would be exhausting alone. What is it that keeps Link going? Is he slavishly devoted to the defense of his home, or does he only want to see the nightmare end so he can finally pull away from everyone and attempt to process the awful experience he’s just had? Either way, it doesn’t indicate a bright future for the Hero of Hyrule.
To conclude, Link has indeed accomplished extraordinary things by the end of his journey, but we must ask at what cost to himself? Whether he was motivated by duty or fear, there must be a lasting psychological impact that will influence him throughout the rest of his life. His relations with Princess Zelda and indeed the remaining people of Hyrule will all be affected. One can only hope that his awful experience, going from a boy living in the woods to a Man with blood on his hands won’t lead him to alienate himself from the people he saved, therefore ostracizing himself from those who would call him Hero.