Between the Panels: Dying to Lies and Redeeming Gifts in Twilight Princess Vol. 1

Today we’re joined by Casey Covel as we kick off a final series of Throwback Thursday posts to run through the end of 2020 and celebrating our 10th anniversary! Enjoy her temporary return to “Between the Panels,” and continue to stay tuned as other former and current writers revisit their own past columns in the coming weeks.

Greetings Tangles readers! I’m so excited to be bringing a new guest post to the Between the Panels column after four years. Around the web, I’m still known as Cutsceneaddict. Since my time at Beneath the Tangles I’ve been published at Think Christian and TheLifeStream.net, as well as in two printed books Area of Effect: Wisdom from Geek Culture and Thy Geekdom Come: 42 Fandom-Inspired Devotionals, with a third publication coming out this month. I previously discussed the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time manga. Today, I return to my roots by opening the first volume in the newest Zelda manga series, Twilight Princess. I hope you enjoy, and happy 10th Anniversary to this amazing blog!

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The first chapters of the Twilight Princess manga parallel the video game… for the most part. Farmhand (and soon-to-be-hero) Link lives a peaceful life in the idyllic village of Ordon. He’s popular with the children, who idolize him. The mayor calls him dependable and dedicated. The village warrior, Rusl, sees rare potential for swordsmanship in him. The other farmhands trust him to help around the ranch when their herds are out of control.

In between panels of sunlit cottages and tranquil fishing ponds, however, pools of darkness and canonical divergence start to form. The forgotten Twilight Realm, sealed away millennium ago by the goddesses, begins to merge with Link’s own world. The first foreshadowing of trouble, however, is not a glimpse of monstrous claws grasping out from the shadows, but a single panel of Link’s eye, vignetted by a deep darkness, as memories of his past resurface.

Taking liberties with the source material, the Twilight Princess manga adaptation dares to taint its iconic hero from his introductory scene. His sleep is unsettled by nightmares of fleeing for his life, but with no escape—a metaphor for how he has used his year-and-a-half of living in Ordon to run from his past. He pours over ancient books about magic, searching for a way to “change darkness to light” within him.

By day, the villagers try to honor Link with opportunities unheard of in their tiny corner of the world. The mayor elects Link to be the village’s representative to the Royal Family of Hyrule—a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Link refuses. Rusl offers to train Link in the coveted art of the sword to become the village’s protector. Link refuses. A boy who looks up to Link as a role model showers him with complements. Link brushes them off with anger.

The fear of being found out forces Link to compromise his potential.

As the pages turn, hairline cracks begin to crawl across Link’s reputation. More than anything, he wants to hide his past and live in this peaceful “false life” he loves so much. Deep down, he fears being forced to leave Ordon.

Two years ago, prior to his arrival in Ordon, Link lived close to the desert where he trained with other boys as future defenders of Hyrule’s border. Link’s distinctive left-handedness made him exceptionally gifted with a blade, and he vocalized his determination to drive out all threats to the kingdom. Fueled by self-confidence, he drew a forbidden sword at the cost of his entire village being swallowed in darkness.

“In guilt and fear, I ran away. I abandoned everything and fled as far as I could. I found my way to this border village… and pretended to be a ranch hand,” Link later confesses to Rusl.

This same narration could have come from the mouth of Moses in the book of Exodus. As a Hebrew raised in Pharaoh’s court, he was an educated man of promise, position, and assumedly combat skill—because when he finds one of his fellow Hebrews being beaten by a burly, Egyptian task-master, Moses secretly takes him out and buries him in the sand. Perhaps this begets an attitude of over-confidence and ambition in Moses. Like young Link, skilled with a sword and determined to protect the Kingdom with it, 20-something-year-old Moses no doubt felt he had initiated the process of delivering his people—that this was, in fact, his God-given calling. Only instead of waiting on God’s timing and methods, Moses reached out to take it, like a forbidden sword, in his own hands—with disastrous effects.

The next day, when Moses tries to play the hero by stopping two Hebrew slaves from fighting, one of them angrily calls out his secret killing. In an instant, Moses’ self-confidence crumbles. Perhaps guilt seizes his heart over his hidden sin. All we know for sure is that fear drives him to flee Egypt. Like Link running from his homeland for the Ordon countryside, Moses ends up in the wilderness, living as a humble shepherd for 40 years (the number associated with trial and testing in the Bible). Maybe Moses spoke little of his past, trying to bury it out of sight of his “new life,” just like he had buried the Egyptian in the sand. Like that Egyptian, however, Moses’ secret past is called out. God speaks to him from a burning bush, telling Moses that he has been commissioned to free the Hebrew people.

It’s a task that a younger Moses would have no doubt jumped into with the same zeal that caused him to jump between the two fighting Hebrews. But that same terrible experience has caused Moses to cut off his own gifts—his sense of justice, his determination, and his calling—lest they do worse harm. Instead of trusting in God to empower him, Moses at first refuses His guidance, no doubt preferring to remain an unfulfilled shepherd than confront his past and the people and pharaoh awaiting him there.

In the Twilight Princess manga, two of the village children venture into the dangerous, monster-infested woods surrounding Ordon, prompting a panicked, nighttime search. Feeling responsible for their disappearance, Link pursues but halts when he hears a god-like voice call out to him from a distance: “Isn’t it time you left the village?”

From a not-so-burning-bush, a golden wolf appears, staring into Link’s soul, only to vanish moments later. Link doesn’t know it, but this is the spirit of his predecessor commissioning him for the goddesses.

The command is every bit as intimidating as God’s command to Moses. For Link, leaving the village means leaving behind his current life—the same thing as returning to his cursed past. But Link cannot deny the nagging call he’s been feeling in his soul over the past 18 months. When Rusl at last confronts Link in private about his strange behavior, Link admits, “I didn’t want to go to the castle, because I was afraid I’d see someone I know. I was lying when I said I’d never held a sword…” As he continues naming all the individuals he’s lied to, Link can only conclude with, “I was lying the whole time.”

Link, like Moses, expects rejection, but the older swordsman embraces him like a son, placing a sword into his hands. The potential that Link has kept hidden since first arriving in Ordon unleashes as he unsheathes a sword for the first time in over a year. He charges into the darkened woods after the missing children to fulfill his calling as a protector.

“I thought I forfeited the honor of wielding a sword when I caused the deaths of so many people. I lost my sense of duty and the right to call myself a protector of the people. But now I will protect my village.”

The Bible speaks in-depth about individual gifts. Luke 12:48 tells us that “To whom much is given, much will be required.” In other words, we are expected to use all that we have in God’s service. Often, this mentality is limited to the physical realm, such as money, resources, and priviledge. Other times, this verse is interpreted through the lens of talents, such as critical-thinking, artistic ability, public speaking, service-mindedness, or leadership.

A less common way to view Luke 12:48 is through the angle of life experiences. Every person has a story to tell—stories of heartache and pain, hope and fulfillment, loss and love, failure and success. Through sharing our stories, we form healing connections of empathy with others, letting them know they are not alone and that there is hope. These stories are precious, which is why telling our vulnerable experiences to others can be so frightening. We fear being viewed in a less loveable, more flawed, simply different light. Recounting our experiences can be painful, but when communicated in the right way and time, they can be healing—not only to ourselves, but also to others.

Luke 11:33 reads: “No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth [it] in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light.” While this verse is talking about public testimony and witnessing, perhaps the same idea could be applied to our gifts. What God has given us is meant to be used—our passions, our goals, our dreams, and our talents. Like Moses and Link, it is easy to let our pasts riddled with fear, guilt, and failure to act as a deterrent; but when we realign our passions with God’s will, we are assured that He will redeem them. And nothing is redeemed in isolation. Our transformation will always have an impact on others.

In the Twilight Princess manga, the encroaching Twilight becomes an exclusive metaphor for Link’s encroaching guilt and unease that sooner or later he will be found out. He plays it safe, wiling away his days without pro-action, never taking up the sword he is so skilled with, nor warning the villagers of the coming darkness out of fear they will discover his past. In doing so, he not only throws away his potential but also strays from his inherent calling to protect others.

“Dirty things, ominous things, inconvenient things… you throw them away like trash,” narrates a Twilight monster, observing the nature of humans, such as Link.

All too often, we do exactly this—cutting off those parts of ourselves we’re ashamed of, burying them as though they never existed, unable to see the usefulness of our abilities, or feeling that we are tainted beyond cleaning. But the beauty of God’s grace is that He takes all our broken pieces—all the dirty, ominous, and inconvenient things—and transforms them into something new and whole. Creation itself is one giant act of redemption—taking the chaos of nothingness, voids, and emptiness, and producing a functional, flourishing system of intelligent design. Our individual life stories are microcosms of this same phenomenon. Ill bodies, broken hearts, anxious minds, past failures… God aligns them all into a coherent whole, even finding ways to use our redemption to redeem others.

By the end of Twilight Princess Volume 1, Link dies with his sword arm severed from his body. However, the goddesses resurrect and restore him in a moment symbolizing the death of his old, lie-filled life and the rebirth of his calling as hero of Hyrule. With sword in hand, he sets out on a divine mission, like Moses, to free peoples under oppression.

Christians are called to “die to themselves” every day by sacrificing their desires to God’s bigger picture. That includes dying to the lies we believe about ourselves. Only when we set aside every weight can we “run the race before us” the way that God intended—forgiven, free, and with Him empowering our full potential.

2 thoughts on “Between the Panels: Dying to Lies and Redeeming Gifts in Twilight Princess Vol. 1

    1. Ocarina of Time is my ultimate nostalgia experience that introduced me not only to the world of Zelda but also to how incredible a virtual world could be. It seems like ever since then I’ve been chasing each new Zelda game searching for that same magical “awe” that I got as a 10-year-old exploring Ocarina of Time. Each new release has been hailed as “the best game since OoT,” and while I have enjoyed each one (Twilight Princess, especially), none of them quite captured that same feeling of “wonder” that OoT inspired.

      Until Breath of the Wild.

      Visually it doesn’t reflect anything remotely close to OoT’s darker graphic style. But spiritually, it is the true successor. That open-world sense of wonder, the feeling of simply existing in the game world and finding joy in it, the encouragement to explore while still feeling the call to save the day… Breath of the Wild nails it. I cannot recommend it enough.

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