Okay, Zelda fans, this question has been swirling around my brain off and on since I picked up this game and played it for the first time in 2007. I was easing my way into the Zelda series in my college years when one of my best friends lent me his copy of Twilight Princess. “Give it a try – I bet you’ll like it!” he said.
As I progressed through the game and found myself being pulled through the realm of twilight by a bunch of baddies, I was astounded at what I saw: Link, my favorite video game protagonist, contorted painfully into a wolf and collapsed to the ground. As the baddies dragged his body away, two thoughts popped up in my head:
1.) What happened to Link? *worried fan-girling commences!*
2.) Why in the h*ck is Link a dang wolf?!
Seriously, out of all the animals in the known universe, why did he turn into a wolf, not a bear or a dragon or a Pegasus or whatever?
Well, I have a few thoughts about that:
The Wolf in Japanese Folklore
My first thought in answering this question was to look into Japanese culture. The wolf (ōkami) is considered a sacred messenger of the gods in the Shinto belief. Swift and agile, the creature can be both benevolent and malevolent, depending on the heart of the human interacting with it, and act as a moral judge. In Twilight Princess, we see Wolf Link visiting various regions of Hyrule, clearing out the darkness to reawaken the gods and return the light.
Additionally, it was believed that the wolf guided lost travelers in the mountains back home. These wolves were known as “okuri-ōkami,” a.k.a. the “sending wolf,” and it’s supposedly never seen, hiding perfectly in the shadows. Considering how Link carries Midna throughout the Twilight to retrieve the Tears of Light, I feel like this correlates quite nicely, or at least exemplifies the ancient folklore.
The Wolf and the Boar
Here’s another angle to consider when determining why Link became a wolf rather than a different animal. Peasants in Japan for the longest time revered the wolf. Why? They protected the rice field against herbivores that would destroy the crops, including rabbits, deer, and boars.
Yes, you read that right – boars. The animal that Ganon turns into in Twilight Princess.
During one of the phases of the final battle, Link becomes a wolf to take down Ganon in his massive boar form. Wolf Link is defending the crops – the living and lost souls of Hyrule – against the most dangerous would-be crop pillager in history.
Also, consider that Link came to live and grow in Ordon, a village that is predominately a farming community. The residents – especially the young children – often see him as a protector as time progresses. Coincidence? Perhaps not!
A White Wolf Leads the Way
Now, Link isn’t the only wolf in Twilight Princess. The Ancient Hero appears as an eye-catching golden wolf with red eyes. He is a guidepost for the players as they move forward in the game and provides valuable wisdom, skills, and insight. This also, I feel, is based in a bit of Japanese history.
In the 2nd century A.D., legendary Prince Yamato Takeru became lost deep in the mountains. As any other person would probably react, he became distraught as he tried to find his way out. In his despair, a white wolf appeared before him and helped him find his way. Without the wolf’s assistance, the prince knew he wouldn’t have survived. Because of this occurrence (and the prince’s deep gratitude), several shrines were built in dedication to the “wolf gods of the mountain.” In this story, we can see Link as the prince, lost in the Twilight, looking for his way, when the white wolf – the Hero’s shade – comes to his aide and guides him forward.
A Personal, Irrelevant Note
I’ll be honest, you guys – I didn’t care for the Wolf Link mechanic at first, mostly for a few really dumb reasons. But as time went by and I dug deeper into the game, I wound up, well, loving it, strangely enough. In fact, this game is the very reason I became interested in wolves. Now they’re one of my top three favorite animals. I have a lot of wolf plushies and am a real-life advocate for the animals, even “adopting” a wolf a few years ago at a nearby endangered wolf center. Seriously, it’s all thanks to this game – it changed my life in a lot of different ways. (Thanks, CJ!)
What do you think about Wolf Link or about this theory? Let me know your thoughts in the comments! I love chatting with you guys about this stuff! 🙂