There is a lot of hubbub going around about “Why isn’t Link a girl?” and I wanted to address it a little bit. I think that the discussion, both for and against, is mostly rooted in the wrong points. Generally speaking the pro side is saying “Why not, it doesn’t matter.” and the con side is saying “Don’t take away my linky poo!” I don’t know which side you are on and in either case I think both statements are equally silly, admittedly I’m grossly summarizing and might even be misrepresenting but that doesn’t really matter (and you’ll see why in a bit).
Link is an interesting character. He is as a character a tabula rasa that you may imprint upon with your own emotions. However he is not made of clay. Link is bound by legacy and something not unlike a curse. He is a boy, specifically, that is doomed to forever be trying to save the love of his life, a girl. In the quest for this one soul to save this other soul they are met by a third force, an older man. It is in his quest to defeat this older man that the young boy ends up unleashing his full potential. This is commonly, perhaps always, done by the release of a special sword from a hiding place.
Every single time link tries to save the world and every single time he, for a short while, just makes it worse. Ganondorf goes from being an evil sorcerer, to a superbly powerful one. Do you recall what happens after Link grabs the sword in OOT? A hellish future indeed. How about what transpires after you acquire it in Wind Waker? Bad stuff. Link has for time imemorable been partly to blame for the annihilation of peoples and the empowerment of Ganondorf. As one of the three, seemingly chosen, triforce holders he is bound in an eternal struggle. He might be older or younger but in every scenario he is always a boy. Because ultimately the thing that is always consistent with Link is his gender. Spiderman always fires webs, and Link is always a boy.
This isn’t always the case. I have no problems with Spider Man being black, Thor being a woman, or the excellent Khamala Khan story of Ms. Marvel. These things do not taint (and in some ways enrich) the characters they portray because they are not definitive characteristics of the legacy. Thor is the holder of Mjolnir, anyone that remembers Beta Ray Bill is probably pretty ok with Thor being different. Miles Morales is not Peter Parker, Spiderman is not Peter Parker either. Much like there have been multiple batmans. These super hero personas are packaging wrapped around a person. The first might have been white, or male, but this is not actually what defines the character. Each has their own traits that define them. Altruism, power, whatever else.
Link on the other hand is very tightly bound to the legend. I would argue that currently as the story stands his gender matters more than any other characteristic that defines him. Everything else changes in some manner or another. Normally if there was a trait that didn’t change (like say the general theme of a superhero costume) people are fine with it. But we live in a time now where people are being very passionate about gender. So if gender doesn’t change people lose their minds.
You might think I’m against Link being a girl. Generally these kind of polarizing talks require that people either agree with you or burn in the hellfire of your indignation. At least that’s how most twitter conversations go for me. But I’m actually totally fine with it. When I first heard that Link was a girl (false news but regardless) I was like “Cool, ok.”
So allow me to indulge you in my fantasy story. Stories are very important to me and they matter more than any political message. I understand that some people don’t care. The “Why not?” commentary seems to really speak to that, but I do.
Link approaches Ganondorf who has subdued Zelda (as the legend tells) and they clash. Link fights with all his might, the master sword in hand, to defeat Ganondorf and return Zelda’s triforce of Wisdom and to relinquish Ganondorfs triforce of power. But something is very wrong here, somehow Ganondorf has found a way to buck the trend, to shatter the legend. Perhaps another person has entered the fray, or a power not yet understood, perhaps Ganondorf has acquired Majora’s Mask. Regardless he defeats Link and leaves him broken at his feat.
Ganondorf cackles madly with power. The full power of the triforce coursing through his veins. He is now a god. Able to create and destroy the universe if he so desires. His egotism gets the better of him and he cannot contain it. In a brilliant flash Ganondorf not only destroys the universe but shatters the very core of the legend itself. We see the timeline of zelda shatter into a thousand pieces and rain down into the primordial sea of time.
From it a stem grows, a new timeline. It reaches up into the ethos of eons. Along its petals we see entire universes being reborn. Some stories the same, some different, in each a flash of history. Some we may see some day, some we may (by chance) have already seen, but the opportunity for discovery remains strong. We then land upon the newest petal of this seedling. In it we awake as Link on the wide open plains of Hyrule. She sits up and yawns. A good rest, a well needed one, but it was time to head back home.
She walks across the rolling hills towards her home when she notices smoke rising in the distance. Hyrule has always been a peaceful place, so she thinks not much of it. Perhaps someone is cooking and things have gotten out of hand. She knows that that Tingle fellow has been dabbling in fireworks as of late.
As she grows closer to home though, the smoke grows thicker. It’s shadowy arms stretching out far wider than any pipe dream could justify. She rushes onward. A sudden flash of horror, Link stands motionless at the top of the final hill overlooking her town. Kokiri village lies in ashes. Goblins razing what little is left to the ground. The familiar screams of her friends and family beat away at her heart. Link runs down the hill and into the village. She catches a goblin off guard and knocks them out with half a broken barrel. She removes their sword from their now limp hand and takes to the Goblins. She hopes to free someone, anyone, before they are all killed.
But there is no blood, no bodies. She turns a corner to find a wagon at the end of the road full with teetering cages. Inside them her friends and family shout. “Link!” They scream at the sight of her.
Link rushes towards the wagon only to hit a solid wall of darkness. She falls to the ground. The goblin’s sword echoes in the air as it bounces away across the cobblestone street. Link looks up to see a man of the purest darkness. He does not feel so much evil as he does something worse. A being that no evil would trust. He eyes Link and laughs. A terrible beastial laugh. Link grits her teeth and stands.
The man stops laughing. He does not fear Link. There is no person living or dead that could defeat him. The ritual will be completed and he will collect all the pieces of the triforce. Godhood stands at his doorstep. Link rushes the man only to be thrust away with a single swat of his left arm. They do not touch but some unseen force launches Link into a burning building. It collapses partly. The dark man laughs once more and then departs.
Link blacks out. Flashes of Kokiri dance about in her subconscious. The screams, so many. And finally her friends being carted away. They wander off into the horizon and vanish in the darkness. Suddenly a giant head rolls into view. It’s big bulbous red nose bounces as it speaks. “kooloo limpah!” It shouts. “This is my magic saying. Do not steal it.” The face adds.
Link blinks and the darkness fades, replaced now by the fog of wet, tear ridden, eyes. Tingle stands over her staring at her face. “You nearly died!” He says. “Tingle was strategically hiding. Saw you fly into the building. Pulled you out quickly.” The air still smelled of burned cinders. Link stood and looked off to the Horizon. Hyrule castle stood tall in the distance. She knew where she had to go. They must be told of this atrocity and actions must be taken.
Tingle grabbed Link’s arm as she tried to leave. “You’ll want a map.” He said. Link looked at him. “Only 10 rupees.” He added. She scrunched her face at the notion of charging her at a time like this. “Ok, ok. Free. But don’t forget Tingle.”
Link took the map and was on her way. Days passed before she reached the castle. Visions of the dark man haunted her every time she blinked. Hyrule castle was a magnificent sight. Towering into the sky. Surrounded the capital city on all sides and a moat beyond that. A single drawbridge let in and out all guests. It was already down, surprising, she expected to herald the guards atop the castle wall for entry.
They were not there either. Just as link entered the city the top of Hyrule castle exploded in a brilliant flash. Giant blocks of stone rained down upon the city destroying rooftops and leaving great craters in the ground. A stone the size of a horse nearly crushed Link where she stood. Link rushed to the castle as quickly as she could. In the sky she saw a wisp of darkness bolting away. Link reached the castle doors to find them shattered like reeds of grass.
Guards strewn across the floor in every room. The shadowman had been here. She climbed the castle making her way to the top. Wondering if she’d find anyone. It was not until she reached the top did she hear anyone. A single gruff voice coughing. She entered the main chamber to find a woman leaning against a shattered pillar. A blade larger than any Link had ever seen had been bent around her pinning her to the pillar.
“You!” The woman shouted. “Help me out of here. He’s taken the princess!” Link grasped the handle of the sword and then propped her feet against the pillar. With a great tug and groan she pried it just far enough apart that the woman could escape its binds. Link stepped off the pillar and released the sword. The woman approached her. “I am Impa”. She looked to the wall. “I protect Princess Zelda.” Link turned to see a painting of the Princess. A woman more beautiful than any she had ever seen.
“I have failed in my duties.” Impa said. “I will not do so again.” Impa looked at her sword and grunted. “He will rue the day he crossed me. If any harm befalls her his end will not be merciful.”
Impa looked at Link and saw it in her eyes. She too had lost to this monster. “You will join me?” Impa asked. Link nodded. “I will make way to the Zora. We will need their help. I need you to speak with the Goron. If we combine our efforts we can find this monster more quickly. The power of the hyrulian peoples is not to be underestimated.”
After some more words they break. What follows next will be told off in legends for centuries. But ultimately we return to the final battle between Link and Ganondorf, the shadow man.
Some things change when you shatter time and space. Some things do not. Ganondorf’s egotism remains eternal. Every step of the way he ignored Link. No man could possibly stand up against him, what chance does a woman have? Ultimately it is this mistake that leads to his end. Link defeats him handedly and saves the people of Hyrule.
I like this particular method of changing Link because it keeps in spirit of the story. Additionally it shows us that sexism ultimately leads to downfall. I could go on to tell you that it teaches that women are just as good as men but frankly when guys say this it just sounds patronizing. So I won’t (beyond telling you why I’m not).
So that’s it, if we are going to have a female Zelda I’d love to see the story be something like this. Hope it wasn’t too boring of a read.