Many Zelda fans, when first starting out, may have wondered whether there is only one Ganon, or if there are multiple Ganons. Most Zelda fans come to the commonsense conclusion that there is only one, and don't waste another thought on the issue. But other fans, aware of all the doubt and uncertainty about most issues in Zelda, keep wondering whether there really could be multiple Ganons. "After all," they think, "people are always saying there is more than one Link and Zelda. Why can't there be more than one Ganon?" The questions I would like to address in this article are the following. Why do people like to believe in multiple Ganons (what is the evidence)? What is the evidence that there is only one Ganon? I will argue that believing in one Ganon is a much more feasible option. In this articel I will try to connect together the Ganons from LoZ/AoL, ALttP, and OoT. I believe the connection between OoT and TWW is incontrovertible, so I won't even bother arguing for that. I also assume a connection between LoZ and AoL. If you disagree with either of these assumptions, well, that's the subject of another article.
Why the multiple Ganon idea is so attractive.
As I mentioned above, some people merely wish to play devil's advocate, asking why there can't be multiple Ganons if, after all, there are multiple Links, Zeldas, and Impas. Oftentimes, these fans will not take their question much further than that, because the evidence from games and manuals is either difficult to get or difficult to pull together. And really, if you only take evidence from games and manuals (as I have had the misfortune of trying to do in the past), there are no conclusive answers to any questions in Zelda. However, I will say this: there are very good reasons to believe in multiple Links, Zeldas, and Impas, namely, things like the finite lifespans of humans, the references to hundreds of years passing, the fact that Link doesn't know Zelda or Impa at the beginning of many of the games, etc. On the other hand, there are no similar reasons to believe in multiple Ganons. As far as we know, Ganon can keep himself alive indefinitely with the Triforce, and when he dies he can be revived many years later. There are further reasons to believe in one Ganon, which I give later in this article.
Other people like to believe in multiple Ganons for more constructive reasons: i.e., because it fits into their timeline theory. One popular notion is the following: there is a darker, more powerful, more sinister evil in Hyrule than Ganon. This mysterious, shadowy force has been lurking in the background for most of Hyrule's history, and is the main cause for all evil and chaos. Ganon is just a pawn in its master plan. In fact, "Ganon" is actually some kind of curse, or form of control, that inhabits different "hosts." Certain people in Hyrule's history have succombed to its control, thus becoming Ganon. Ganondorf was one such example. The Ganon in ALttP, OS, and LoZ/AoL are more examples of different people becoming Ganon.
There are two responses to this, one against the notion of some evil force being behind Ganon's actions, and the other against the notion of different people becoming Ganon. The first response is simple: there is no evidence. Okay, so fans of the theory can pick out little pieces here and there and claim they support the theory. But really, these bits and pieces are taken out of context.
One such bit of evidence that people point to is Agahnim's mention of the "Tribe of Evil" in ALttP. Some people interpret this as a reference to the mysterious force that's been behind Ganon's actions. However, it can just as easily (and more plausibly, in my opinion) be argued that the "Tribe of Evil" is simply Ganon's army. I'm almost willing to say that people who don't see this are denying the obvious. I'm also willing to bet that people are reading too much into the English translation. The original Japanese probably doesn't put any special emphasis on this name. It's just a reference to Ganon's army. Perhaps some people also want to pretend that Twinrova is part of this tribe of evil business. After all, she is Ganondorf's surrogate mother, and revives Ganon in the Oracle games, and calls up Veran and Onox from some Dark Realm. I won't deny that she obviously has some influence. But that's not good enough evidence to assume there's some higher order she belongs to, or helps run. And she doesn't seem to be controlling Ganon either, she's just a very devoted servant.
Obviously the theory is possible, but I don't think it is plausible. The great majority of evidence does not lead naturally to such a theory. Rather, supporters of this theory start with the theory, and try to find facts to support it. This is backwards, as Sherlock Holmes knows well: "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories." All I can say is, if the creators wanted for there to be some mysterious force behind Ganon's actions, they would have made it a LOT more obvious in ALL the games. The creators do indeed leave many questions unanswered, and hint at mysterious events, but I cannot believe that they would keep something as important as this in the background for almost eighteen years. It would have come out by now, and been a lot more obvious already. As it is, the most evil person we know is Ganon, and nobody seems to be controlling him.
The second response (to the theory that different people become Ganon) involves determining just who "Ganon" is. From my own personal experience, it appears to me that Ganon has always been the same person - meaning, he has the same personal identity, a consistent personality, etc. He is not different people who just happened to be possessed by some evil force. You don't hear any of them saying, "oh, I used to be Joe, but I was possessed by some weird thing that turned me into a form that people call Ganon." If you then abandon that position, and say that this "Ganon" thing which possesses people has a personality of its own which is preserved from host to host, then all you are really saying is that there is one Ganon, who just happens to take over different peoples' bodies. He is the same person, even if he changes bodies. If he takes over Joe's body, there is no more Joe, only Ganon. This is no different from saying that Ganon has been revived in a new body. When Twinrova used her body to revive Ganon in the Oracle games, this was no reason to suppose that Ganon was an entirely new person! Twinrova was destroyed, and Ganon took her place.
Another isolated piece of "evidence" that different people tend to use is the spelling of Ganon's name in early games. "Oh ho!" they say, "look, there is Gannon, and then Ganon is somebody else!" This may have been acceptable in the past, but I sincerely hope that nobody tries to pull this trick today. In fact, if you're involved with TSA's Zelda Headquarters at all, this kind of thing is already the butt of the ever-popular "GANNON-BAN" joke.
The explanation is very simple, really. The Japanese name for Ganon has always been, and doubtless always will be, "GANON" (in katakana). Some of the Japanese games have some English text, but it is very bad "Engrish." You only see the alternate spelling in older games, which are more inconsistent with spelling. You see GANNON in the Japanese and American LoZ intro, and in the included map. However, in the American LoZ manual it is spelled "Ganon." You also see GANNON in the Japanese intro for AoL. However, it is spelled "Ganon" everywhere in the U.S. version of the manual and game. Again, if you fail to see that "GANNON" is merely a translation inconsistency, you are only denying the obvious.
Why believing in one Ganon will make you a healthier, happier person.
Okay, not really, but I do believe this is a better option, and one that is much better supported by the evidence. To support my argument that there is only one Ganon, I am going to use two kinds of evidence. The first kind of evidence is the kind we are all familiar with: canon evidence from trustworthy sources (namely, games and manuals). The second kind of evidence is a sort I have not used before in an article on this site: creator evidence. Creator evidence is any evidence that gives insight into the intention of the creators, regardless of whether it is in the Zelda canon or not. Why am I considering such evidence? Because the games were made by these creators, and if anybody's intention should have weight, it is theirs. If the creators intended for something to be true in their world, then it is a waste of time to speculate otherwise. There are of course important caveats one must keep in mind when using such evidence - for example, do we really understand what they're saying, and was their intention communicated to us correctly? But that is a subject for another article. In this article I am only going to use very straightforward evidence, the clarity of which no reasonable person can deny.
To explain why I believe there is one Ganon, I will give the story behind Ganondorf and Ganon, as I think the creators have intended to tell it all along. If you don't believe this account, please bear with me to the end, because I think you will find that it is well supported. Now then, the history of Ganon begins with Ganondorf. Ganondorf was just a regular human until he found the Triforce. He used the Triforce to become an evil king, and he took on the name of "Ganon" as well. At times he appears in monster form, and usually, but not always, this monster form is known as Ganon. Ganon was first told about in LoZ and AoL, but this is when Ganondorf has already been Ganon for many long years. We got our first peak at Ganondorf, Ganon's original human form, in the ALttP manual:
One day, quite by accident, a gate to the Golden Land of the Triforce was opened by a gang of thieves skilled in the black arts. This land was like no other. In the gathering twilight, the Triforce shone from its resting place high above the world. In a long running battle, the leader of the thieves fought his way past his followers in a lust for the Golden Power. After vanquishing his own followers, the leader stood triumphant over the Triforce and grasped it with his blood- stained hands. He heard a whispered voice: "If thou has a strong desire or dream, wish for it..." And in reply, the roaring laughter of the brigand leader echoed across time and space and even reached the far-off land of Hyrule. The name of this king of thieves is Ganondorf Dragmire, but he is known by his alias, Mandrag Ganon, which means Ganon of the Enchanted Thieves. (U.S. manual, SNES version, p.5)
This is the story as given in the American ALttP SNES manual. Note that, from the perspective I'm giving, this story about Ganondorf is giving background information about Ganon, a character we are already supposed to know about from the NES games. Keeping that in mind, I would like to point out some things from the Japanese version of the manual. (Wherever the American version of a source differs from the Japanese version, the Japanese version wins. The Japanese version is closer to the original intention of the creators. The American version is a translation, and translations often go awry.) Now, the last sentence of the above quote is significantly different in the Japanese version of the manual:
The man's name was Ganondorf, and his common name was Ganon of the race of evil thieves. Indeed, the King of Evil Ganon, the one who has threatened Hyrule so, was born at this time. (Zethar-II's translation)
According to Zethar, that last sentence implies or assumes that the reader already knows who Ganon is. "Duh," the reader is supposed to think, "they're talking about Ganon from the NES games." This sentence is saying that the Ganon we all know and love from the NES games was born right here. That is to say, the thief Ganondorf became the evil king Ganon, the same Ganon from the NES games, when he got the Triforce. Now why, I ask, would the creators appeal to knowledge that the reader is already supposed to have about the NES Ganon, if they really intended for this to be a different Ganon? The common-sense answer is clear: the creators intended for ALttP to tell more about the NES Ganon, not to introduce a new Ganon.
(On a side note, Wind Waker corroborates this story about "Ganon" being Ganondorf's common name. The names "Ganon" and "Ganondorf" are mixed almost interchangably in TWW. In fact, he is most often called Ganon by those who know about him best (such as the King, Valoo, Jabun, etc.) Sometimes they call him Ganondorf, and he calls himself Ganondorf.)
My next topic is Ocarina of Time. There has literally been endless debate in the Zelda community whether the events depicted in OoT correspond to the "Imprisoning War" described in the ALttP manual. Thanks to this confusion and the proliferation of debate, there have been many opinions about where the Imprisoning War is placed in the timeline. Some put it before OoT. Some put it during. Some put it after. Nobody agrees on anything. Since this issue pertains to theories about whether there is one Ganon or many, I will attempt to quash some of the more radical theories with some simple interview quotes. These quotes are real beauties, and I would never have found them without the help of Mak and Zethar-II. (Thanks guys!)
The first quote comes from the Japanese magazine Famimaga 64. This interview was conducted with Miyamoto-san around November 26, 1997, about a year before the game's release. Miyamoto answered 100 questions about OoT in this interview. This translation was originally posted on IGN64.com, and the whole transcript can be viewed here.
Q: Are the backgrounds different in the child and adult eras?
Miyamoto: During the time when Link is an adult, conditions are intensified. Ganon, from the Super NES game, is a human form before he transforms into a monster. Ganon's elements change during the adult, since he changes into a monster.
The second quote comes from Ki no ue no Himitsu kichi, a Japanese gaming web site. This is an Ocarina of Time interview, parts of which were translated by Zethar-II. The quote is from character designer Satoru Takizawa.
This time, the story really wasn't an original. We were dealing with the "The Imprisoning War of the Seven Sages" from the SNES edition Zelda. To give that game a little "secret" recognition, I thought that keeping the "pigness" in Ganon would be the correct course. So we made him a beast "with the feeling of a pig."
These two quotes should make it pretty obvious that Ocarina of Time is meant to be a further explanation of the Imprisoning War account in the ALttP manual. It should also be obvious that Ganon(dorf) in OoT and Ganon in ALttP are the same person, because, well, the creators said so.
The one-Ganon interpretation is corroborated by all available Nintendo of America (NOA) materials, including guides, Nintendo Power magazine, and NOA's web sites. NOA is admittedly not the most reliable source for solid Zelda facts. I am the first to admit that, in the early days at least, NOA was not very careful when they communicated the story of Zelda to us. However, I do have some sources which supposedly have information straight from the creators, relatively untainted by carelessness and stupidity. Two summaries of an early version of OoT's story were published by NOA in 1997. They supposedly came straight from the creators, and are therefore of great interest to fans.
The first comes from Nintendo Power magazine, volume 103 (Dec 1997). It implies that there is one Ganon, the same Ganon one has been familiar with in past Zelda games.
The outline of the story for Zelda 64 comes straight from EAD, the chief game development department at Nintendo Company Ltd. in Kyoto, Japan. Although EAD considers everything "tentative" until the final version of a game is completed, much of what you read here will be part of Mr. Miyamoto's greatest epic. Long ago, before Gannon stole the Triforce and kidnapped Zelda, Link set out to his coming-of-age ceremony in the Maze Woods.
The second quote comes from Nintendo's own web site, Nintendo.com. Thanks to the Internet Archive, this page was preserved for prosperity and can still be viewed at this URL. Once again, it is implied that OoT stars the same Ganon we are supposed to be familiar with from earlier Zelda games.
Prepare to journey once again to Hyrule, land of the ancestors of the gods, in Zelda 64. As Zelda 64 gets closer to release this winter in Japan, additional details about the game's setting and story line are being revealed by the game's developers.
Even though Zelda 64's story is set in the misty past, players will once again take on the mantle of the young hero, Link.
Zelda 64 tells the story of an earlier age of Hyrule, when Gannon was merely known as the king of thieves and not the powerful creature of evil he becomes in the other Legend of Zelda adventures.
One could argue that it's possible the creators didn't say it was the same Ganon, and that NOA merely assumed this. However, if you look at the two interview quotes from Miyamoto I gave above, you will see that this information is confirmed by a direct quote from a creator. One could then argue that Miyamoto was mistaken. After all, he did state his own timeline order, which most people suspect must be wrong. My answer is, it is possible for the creators to say something that is wrong, but this doesn't mean they're wrong all the time, or should always be suspect. I don't think it's possible for any creator to be careless about something this important. I do think the creators take a kind of cavalier attitude toward the storyline many times. That is why the timeline seems to be a confusing hodgepodge, and why certain creators are confused at times about the story. But as far as there being one Ganon, that's pretty simple and straightforward. Either they decided from the start that there was one Ganon, or they decided there were many. I think the above evidence points to the former option.
Finally, one could argue that the interviews do not say what the creators really meant to say. That is, everybody misunderstood the creators and, assuming there is one Ganon, made it appear that the creators are saying this. All I can say to that is, if the creators intended for there to be multiple Ganons, they would have said so in order to keep people from assuming there is only one. As it is, nothing says that there is not one Ganon. So, almost by default, we are left to assume there is only one Ganon, since this is the easiest course given the similarity of all the Ganons. I doubt the creators would have left us to assume there is one Ganon, if they really intended for there to be multiple Ganons. They would have tried to correct such a misunderstanding by saying explicitly that there are multiple Ganons.
Perhaps some people will still want to be a stick-in-the-mud, or play devil's advocate. "I can't accept these rubbish sources," they'll say, "I only believe sources I consider canon: games and manuals." I was once this way. However, after seeing the preponderance of evidence given above, any doubt about the matter was in my mind erased. If you can't believe the creators when they're being pretty clear, then who can you believe? Even if you choose to only look at evidence from the games and manuals, I think the one-Ganon interpretation is the only one that makes sense. As far as I can see, people only believe in multiple Ganons (a) because it helps their crazy, messed up timeline theory, or ( they want to be different. All I can say is, if you keep in mind that the creators were intending to tell about one Ganon in the Zelda games, then the facts given in the games fit, and make a lot of sense. If you try to suppose otherwise, you'll be in for a world of pain, theory-wise. Most of the facts in the Zelda canon imply that there is only one Ganon, and do not in any way suggest there are more than one. I'm not going to spend my time giving all the evidence from games and manuals that supports the one-Ganon theory. If you approach the Zelda games with too open a mind, you can come up with any theory you want about the matter. I cannot prove every deviant theory wrong, because there are too many of them, and all of them are possible given only canon facts. Eventually you have to draw a common-sense line: if the creators intended for a certain thing to be true, you'd be better off not wasting your time theorizing otherwise.
I have argued that multiple-Ganon theories are based on very little. A fair examination of all available facts leads naturally to the conclusion that there is one Ganon, not that there are many. People generally like to speculate about multiple Ganons to be different, or because it helps with their crazy timeline theory. Generally, the only support for multiple-Ganon theories is canon evidence that is pulled out and forced to fit. As Sherlock Holmes says, facts are twisted to fit theories, instead of theories being based on the trend of all available facts. It is very difficult to prove anything in Zelda using only canon facts from the games, because the facts are so vague that many different theories are possible. So, instead of trying to prove there is one Ganon using canon facts, I instead gave evidence from outside the Zelda canon. My evidence, if one chooses to believe it, shows that the creators intended for there to be one Ganon, even if they didn't state this too clearly within the Zelda canon itself. The Zelda canon itself shows all the signs that the creators intended for there to be one Ganon: an examination of the relevant facts naturally leads to a belief in one Ganon.
One might disagree with an assumption I have made throughout this article: that a fair examination of the Zelda canon leads to a belief in one Ganon. After all, I have not bothered to give a fair examination of the relevant canon facts in this article. However, I do have some evidence for that statement, which is this: most Zelda fans believe there is one Ganon. In fact, most fans think it is obvious there is only one Ganon. It is true that not everybody examines the Zelda facts fairly; but the fact remains that, after playing through the games, the natural conclusion to make is that there is one Ganon. If the creators had intended for there to be multiple Ganons, they would have put in a LOT of facts to illustrate this intention, and it would thus be natural for fans to conclude there are multiple Ganons. After all, the point of creating anything is to get one's intention across. If the creators really intended for there to be multiple Ganons, and yet it appears that there is only one, then the creators have failed miserably. I don't think any true Zelda fan would prefer to retain their crazy multiple-Ganon theory, if it means assuming that the creators have failed miserably in their storytelling. But that's up to fans to decide for themselves.