Mara Mahan’s Psychoanalytic Analysis of The Legend of Zelda

There’s no denying that F. Scott Fitzgerald made a lasting impact on the world with his writing–especially The Great Gatsby–but fewer people are aware of his wife, Zelda Fitzgerald, as anything more than a possible inspiration for the character of Daisy Buchanon.

However, it turns out that Zelda Fitzgerald was an inspiring woman, and her impact is arguably even more prevalent in modern popular culture–she gave her name to the iconic Legend of Zelda video game franchise.

Now that we’ve gotten that nice little segue out of the way, let’s dive into our psychoanalytic reading of the 1998 classic, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

Ocarina of Time, the fifth game in the Zelda franchise, is widely counted among the best video games of all time, and as of 2010, Guinness World Records recognized it as “the highest rating video game ever reviewed.”

The plot follows the structure of the monomyth as laid out by Joseph Campbell,

(for those of you who aren’t familiar with the monomyth/archetypal Hero’s Journey, this video is pretty great)

and depicts the adventure of Link, the player-controlled protagonist, in his efforts to save the world and rescue Princess Zelda from the evil Ganondorf. These three characters are respectively associated with the ideals of courage, wisdom, and power.

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As Ganondorf (power) is grasping and immoral, he can be equated to the Freudian concept of the id, while Princess Zelda (wisdom) becomes symbolically representative of government and orderly society, therefore representing the superego. Meanwhile, Link (courage) is left to navigate the distance between the two, overcoming the id in pursuit of the superego.

Moreover, Link is a “silent protagonist”–he has no lines throughout the whole of the Zelda franchise. This allows the player to project his or her own self onto the character. As Link is the character’s means of interacting with the world of the game, he represents the player’s conscious will–the ego, caught between the superego and the id.

Furthermore, not only do the events of the game follow the structure of the archetypal Hero’s Journey, but the story illustrates a metaphorical representation of the transition into adulthood.

The first major event in the plot is the death of Link’s father figure and Link’s subsequent call to adventure. Link leaves behind the fairyland populated by ageless children and enters the open world, leading him to transition into what Freud would consider the Oedipal stage as he attempts to take on the responsibilities of an adult.

He meets and befriends Princess Zelda, but she is eventually kidnapped and Link takes up a legendary blade known as the Master Sword from in order to rescue her. Not only does the kidnapping represent a loss of the feminine influence to a stronger masculine presence, but the sword itself is a symbol for manhood and maturity. The game shows this by having the sword literally send Link through time and into his own grown-up future.

As an adult, Link must confront and overcome the darkness lurking in his own subconscious in order to gain the power to rescue Zelda. This confrontation takes the form of a fight against “Shadow Link”–a literal representation of Link’s subconscious desires and anxieties.

The game ends with Ganondorf’s eventual defeat, and Zelda, upon being rescued, sends Link back in time to live out the childhood he lost through the events of the plot.

As Link has fought and won the battle against his base nature, he is rewarded with a return to a more simplistic time, keeping his strength and knowledge so that the battle may be won before it is begun. He relinquishes the Master Sword and walks away from power and the fulfillment of the id, illustrating a maturity tempered by the wisdom of the superego. Through his journey, Link has reached a spiritual adulthood.

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