After various conversations and pondering, I had something of an enlightenment concerning OoT's ending and the creation of the Dark World. (This goes to show that, no matter how long one has played Zelda, there are always new insights to be had.) As I stood atop the Pyramid of Power in the middle of Dark World, looking at the dying red sun and lightning flashes from dark clouds in the distance, it suddenly occurred to me: "This is what Hyrule would look like if Ganon had ruled it for centuries! The Dark World reminds me very much of Hyrule in the second half of OoT."
So now I have a whole new theory about OoT's ending and the creation of the Dark World. This article explains my new theory and tries to demonstrate how it is consistent with the known facts. An explanation of the old theories and my new theory are below, while my analysis of pertinent quotes is spread throughout the other sections of this article. After reading about my theory here, see the Table of Contents at the bottom or the top for my analysis of quotes from ALttP and OoT. In the conclusion I wrap things up neatly, compare the new theory with the old theories, and try to answer any more objections.
The Old Theories
When I first played all the way to the end of OoT, the first explanation of the ending that came to mind seemed like common sense. Link and everyone else is sent back in time, and Ganondorf remains sealed in the Sacred Realm. Everyone remembers what Link has done, and he is a hero. The stage is thus set for ALttP to happen centuries later.
Then, in my first article on the subject of OoT's ending (see Article 3: OoT's Ending), I realized that there were problems with this theory. First, the account of the Imprisoning War in ALttP is very inconsistent with OoT as a whole. Second, this theory of the ending leaves room for time paradoxes. (I gave the example of Link son of Darunia, who wasn't even born in the past. Would he be born knowing of an alternate future that never really happened to him? This leads to fruitless speculations about who exactly remembered the events - just Link? just Link and Zelda? the Sages? the Royal Family?) So while this theory works and is easy to understand, it has grave problems.
A year later, after some conversations, I came up with another theory (see Article 9: OoT's Ending, Revisited and Article 12: OoT's Ending, Revisited Again). According to this theory, after the ending, Link is sent back in time to right after Ganondorf entered the Sacred Realm and split the Triforce. Nobody knows what Link did, but he is a hero in legends, because he warns Zelda about Ganondorf and leaves Hyrule. Years later, Ganondorf attacks Hyrule Castle. At this point, the account given in the ALttP manual happens. I called this the "real" Imprisoning War, because the "fake" one in which Ganondorf won the battle occurred in the alternate future of OoT, while Link was asleep in the Sacred Realm.
This theory works well, and has less paradoxes than the previous theory, but I have found that it is difficult for many people to understand. It also requires bending the facts in some places, and there are a lot of unwritten assumptions that aren't always obvious. (For example, according to this theory, Zelda returns to Hyrule Castle after the ending because, for the moment, Ganondorf isn't a threat.)
Additionally, neither of these two theories explain some other mysteries. Some unexplained facts include: (1) Why is the ALttP account of the Imprisoning War so messed up? Details being obscured by the mists of time can't explain why it's so close yet so far. (2) How, and why, did Ganon re-create Hyrule in the Dark World? Was he somehow able to "look" into Hyrule and create a carbon copy that he could corrupt? (3) What exactly happened to the old Sacred Realm? Did Ganon destroy it and put his own Dark World in its place? Is the original Golden Land restored when Ganon is defeated in ALttP? (4) Why are Link and Zelda floating in the air in the OoT ending? (5) What are the Evil Realm and the Dark Realm? Are they merely synonyms for the Dark World or Sacred Realm?
The New Theory
My new theory contains elements of the old theories, yet explains more than either. There are no time paradoxes in this theory, because it postulates that the OoT future became the Dark World, and the OoT past became the Light World. I will tell this theory in the form of a story, given below.
Ganondorf betrayed the King of Hyrule, and his army took the castle by surprise. The Knights, unprepared for the sudden attack, surrendered after a short time. Ganondorf and his men ransacked the halls of the castle, looking for Princess Zelda. She held the Ocarina of Time, and Ganondorf needed it. Suddenly he heard shouts from outside, and the sound of hoofbeats galloping away. He raced to his black steed and started after the white horse, calling for his men to follow. They chased Impa and Zelda through the market and back alleys, but several brave Knights tried to hold them back. Ganondorf was the first to get through the defense, but it was too late. When he got outside Castle Town, all he saw was the troublesome young lad from the forest. He blasted the brave youth and moved on. His small attachment of men sneaked out behind him.
Later, Link stepped up to the Master Sword, and pulled it out of the Pedestal of Time. He closed his eyes as he was enveloped in a mystical blue light. Link's spirit was sealed in the Chamber of Sages, a room in the middle of the Temple of Light, in the middle of the Sacred Realm. Link's dreamless sleep was disturbed with visions of Ganondorf, leering at the young boy's foolishness. Thanks to Link, Ganondorf had found the gates to the Sacred Realm.
Ganondorf slaughtered his followers and seized the Triforce from the Temple of Light. His heart was not in balance, so all that remained in his greedy hands was the Triforce of Power. He became the King of Evil, and went on to invade the Sacred Realm. The Sacred Realm is a mirror that reflects the heart of the one who enters it, so soon the Sacred Realm became a world of evil. This world had no solid form: dark and shapeless, it became a shadowy container for Ganondorf's evil power. As Ganondorf's evil power radiated from the temples of Hyrule, many disasters beset Hyrule, and evil men came to join Ganondorf's army. Ganondorf's monsters swarmed over Hyrule, and one dark day a terrible army stormed Hyrule Castle. The castle, though valiantly defended, was taken. Ganondorf, his goal complete, left behind the tainted Sacred Realm, sealing the door behind him. The Sacred Realm was left a dark void, the Temple of Light the only remnant. Ganon was now the Evil King, and set up his own black tower, an impenetrable fortress.
Years later, Link finally woke up in the Chamber of Sages. Rauru returned Link's spirit to Hyrule, where he wielded the Master Sword and rescued the six Sages from six temples. These six, destined to be Sages by an "awakening voice" calling from the Sacred Realm, plotted to open the sealed door to the Sacred Realm and lure Ganondorf back in. The leader of the Sages would close the door behind him, sealing him in. Zelda, the one destined to be the leader of the Sages, revealed herself to Link in the Temple of Time after he had rescued the six Sages, but that's when the Sages' plans went afoul. Ganondorf used his sorcerous powers to kidnap Zelda. Zelda held the Triforce of Wisdom, and Link held Courage, and Ganondorf planned to unite the three pieces to obtain the True Force to rule the whole world. Without Zelda, the six other Sages could not form a perfect seal, so Link invaded Ganon's Tower.
Link defeated Ganondorf, but the Evil King had a secret from beyond the grave: his twisted use of the Triforce of Power gave him a form of fearsome strength, which could not be destroyed by any blade or weapon save one. Link and the Evil King Ganon dueled atop the ruined tower, until repeated blows from the sacred Master Sword stunned Ganon. As Zelda held the Evil King with her power, Link delivered a painful blow to his face. Ganon sprung up, his rage out of control. The seven Wise Ones took this opportunity, and Rauru prayed to the ancient creators of Hyrule, asking them to open the sealed door and send the Evil Incarnation of Darkness into the void of the Evil Realm.
The Sages' request was granted in a way none had seen clearly before. Where Link before had traveled between two times, these two times became two different worlds: the Light World and the Dark World. The tainted future of Hyrule, a world of monsters ruled by the Evil King Ganon, filled the void of the Evil Realm, turning it into the Dark World. As the world of darkness was taken away from Hyrule to the Sacred Realm, Ganon cursed his enemies. Zelda completed the seal, and Ganon was locked away in his Dark World.
The denizens of Hyrule rejoiced at Ganon's downfall, knowing that they would soon be returned to a world of peace. The spirits of the Sages descended from the Chamber of Sages to the world below, the Dark World, and looked upon the celebration. Meanwhile, Link and Zelda floated in the blissful emptiness that would soon become the Light World. Playing her lullaby upon the Ocarina of Time, Zelda corrected the evil she had caused, sending the people of Hyrule back to a world of light, the way Hyrule was supposed to be. While Ganon's evil monsters remained in the Dark World, the people of Hyrule warped to the Light World. This world was in likeness to the original world of Hyrule which existed before Ganon had tainted it with his evil might. Thus, the world was divided into two.
Link awoke in the Temple of Time. The road between times was sundered, for now the future of darkness existed in the Sacred Realm as the Dark World, not in the future. The world of light, once the past, now existed in Hyrule as the Light World. The Light World was in appearance like the world that existed before Ganondorf tainted it, but in truth it was a new world, inhabited by all those who had lived through seven years of Ganondorf's dark reign. Thanks to Link's bravery, peace had returned to Hyrule, the Light World. His time traveling days over, Link visited Zelda before he left on a personal journey, and she entrusted him with the Ocarina of Time.
For this new theory to be valid (and I am thoroughly convinced that it is), it must be consistent with quotes from ALttP and OoT. It is also important that the usage of certain names (like the Golden Land, Sacred Realm, Dark World) be carefully examined and understood. If you aren't already convinced of the beauty of this new theory, please read the proof of its validity in the sections following. In particular, pay close attention to my resolution of my theory with the conflicting account of the Imprisoning War in the ALttP manual in Part IV.
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