In Communist Hyrule, the Song of Storms Plays YOU
It's no small secret; Ocarina of Time is, as of the writing of this article, the biggest thing to have ever hit the Zelda community. In fact, that game alone quite nearly created the Zelda community. (Well, okay, it had the Internet's help on that one. And Miyamoto I'm sure helped. But those things aside, Ocarina is a definite winner!) Fans flocked to newly created forums and websites to discuss the game, to share information and their reflections. Fans began creating silly games and massive roleplay channels. Fans joined shipping groups and debated one another. And, certainly not least of all, fans, all because of Ocarina of Time , started debating the Zelda timeline. Almost a decade and eight Zelda titles later, that last group is still searching for the answers to questions that have grown exponentially since Ocarina has its debut.
Since Ocarina , self-proclaimed timeline enthusiasts have tended to investigate the timeline from a macroscopic level. Most scatter the thirteen Zeldas haphazardly upon the floor and start looking any possible chain of events that could possibly link them all together given the restrictions of canon. In short, most Zelda theorists (myself included) are to the Zelda timeline as Dimitri Mendeleev was to the periodic table, analysing patterns, trying to infer some logical organisation with an incomplete set of known facts. Timelines have been constructed by looking at the big picture: following the journey of the Triforce through its split and eventual reunification, proceeding each death of Ganondorf with an eventual resurrection of evil, and trying to align each game's backstory with the plot of some other title. Timeline construction was a search for truth and answers, a noble quest amongst our own kind.
On the other hand, most serious timeliners seem to go in the opposite direction when debunking timelines. Disproofs seem to take a more microscopic view. Many timeliners believe that every single line of dialogue, every single occurrence that happens in the Zelda games is an unquestionable truth, and any timeline that dares violate but a single factoid ends up in the garbage bin, unwanted and rejected. Timeliners, at least years ago if still not today, were ruthless in the criticism of proposals that argued against their own ideas, and there seemed to be no end to the rebuttals that could be presented to every timeline, no matter what the timeline looked like. (Talk about equal-opportunity employment!)
This latter approach is what we're going to use today; yes, this article is about debunking timelines. However, it's not just about debunking a timeline; better yet (well, likely worse yet for you), if you believe that every line of dialogue is unquestionable truth, if you believe that canon can never be questioned, this article is about debunking your timeline. No matter what you believe, no matter how well you have your timeline constructed, if you believe in that thing we call canon, your theory is gone as of today. This is the universal disproof of timelines as we know them. And in case you're wondering just how that's even possible, how I can axe your belief even when I don't know what it is, even when I don't even know the ordering in which you've placed the games, let me provide you the answer without hesitation. This disproof doesn't depend upon any game ordering. It relies solely upon a singel game, the one game to destroy them all: Ocarina of Time . It is my intent to show that Ocarina of Time is self-contradictory, that Ocarina itself prevents any timeline from existing.
It's almost ironic that the game that started the whole timeline debate should have also been the game that should have ended it as well. (Some people might call this sentence foreshadowing. You have no idea.)
So how does Ocarina ruin your timeline? Why, it's all because of one very simple plot device…
The Song of Storms
If you've ever thought about the Song of Storms for any length of time, you've probably already had several migraines about it. The Song of Storms is easily not the simplest part about Ocarina of Time . In fact, it's probably one of the least understood aspects about the game mainly because the timeline starts performing acrobatic stunts in midair whenever you think about it. I mean, if you think about it in the right way (or the wrong way, depending upon your perspective), Link uses the Song of Storms before he actually learns the tune. It's pretty easy to explain that away with the whole time travel thing… until you start thinking about it. It doesn't take very long to realise that, not only did the Guru-Guru Man teach Linkthe Song of Storms , but Link taught him the song as well! Moreover, you find out that Link taught him the song before Link actually went back to cause him to know the song to teach Link… and so couldn't Link go back in time and not teach him the song… thus messing up the future? And then what, Link doesn't know the song, so he can't not think about not teaching him… and AUGH! It only takes a few moments of consideration before your mind starts leaping ever closer to insanity, which is the point when everyone hurls the whole notion into a corner of their closet and locks the door.
Yet really, the concept truly is simple; the only reason it gets complex is because your mind starts playing tricks on you. The concept is best explained by the movie Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure , and anyone who has ever seen the movie will know exactly what I'm talking about. Towards the end of the movie (sorry to spoil it for you), Bill and Ted are trying to rescue their historical pals from jail, yet they quickly realise that they don't have what it takes to do it. For example, they don't have the jail cell keys… and they run into problems when Bill's father—a cop down at the precinct—catches them in the act. Yet, still they're able to make it happen all because of four words: “Remember the trash can!” Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, a trash can appears right where they need it to, beaning Bill's father on the head so they can make their escape.
How'd the trash can get there? Well, after they go do their history report, they use their time-travelling phone booth to go back in time and place the trash can exactly where they would need it in the future. In short, they went back to fill in the gaps of their escape to ensure that they'd be able to come out as winners. The Song of Storms is precisely that… just with a little more deus ex machina … since, you know, it wasn't your idea to place the trash can play the Song of Storms for the Guru-Guru Man. Got it? Good.
So what does this have to do with the price of timelines in China? It's quite simple. Ocarina of Time is the very thing that tends to start any given timeline debate on the Internet because, well, (1) the game typically occurs very early in any timeline, and (2) the game ends by Link going back in time… thus causing everyone to promptly answer the question of what happens—or happened (or wioll haven happen , if you'd rather use the “Future Semiconditionally Modified Subinverted Plagal Past Subjunctive Intentional” verb form found in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy )—to the future in which Ganon conquered Hyrule and eventually received his comeuppance and subsequent Linkwhopin' . And indeed, timeline enthusiasts have been split about what to do with this future for many years. Still to date, no consensus has been reached about how to handle this single issue. However, you can usually break that into three major cases, or perhaps timeline templates are better terms for them. Now while I know that my core audience is intimately familiar with all three of these, considering the rather… complex nature of the Song of Storms, I think it's worthwhile to understand the core of each theory and show how they deal with time, so we're going to dig into the core of each one and explain how they work just so there's no confusion.
And for starters, we'll start with perhaps the most popular of all the timeline templates.
Debunking The Split Timeline Theory
The Split Timeline Theory, as we all know, comes from the belief that there are two separate and divergent endings of Ocarina of Time , the “adult ending” and the “child ending.” Both endings then diverge and run their own separate paths, independent of one another. The child ending, which fragments from the adult timeline when Link returns from the future, need not follow the future history that the adult timeline follows. But let's abstract away the specifics events in Zelda and state scientifically what this means.
If I am in a universe where the Split Timeline Theory holds, when I am born into the world, I exist within my original, native timeline; we'll call that Timeline A . Somewhere along that timeline, some event X happens. It could be that someone gets killed, someone conquers the world, a boy falls in love with a girl, or someone never gets told some crucial piece of information that would change ones life forever. Event X could literally be anything . Then, at some date after X happens, I decide to go back in time and somehow prevent X from happening, thus replacing X with the complement event NOT(X) (which I will denote as ¬ X , since ¬ means “not”). The moment I do this, the timeline splits into two separate timelines, one where X happens and one where ¬ X happens. The former, of course, is Timeline A ; the latter we'll call Timeline B . At this point, I am now trapped within Timeline B and can never rejoin Timeline A because the future of Timeline A is changed because X failed to happen. Even though I experienced the future of Timeline A and know what will eventually happen in the future of Timeline A , I'm not a part of it anymore because my future will be different. I will never again be able to experience Event X because it never happened in my timeline. The timeline is split into two, and that's that.
For those of you who have played Chrono Cross , you know exactly what I'm talking about.
Now let's just see what happens if we try to fit the Song of Storms into the Split Timeline Theory. Link starts in the normal timeline, Timeline A . However, X in this case would be Link never teaching the Guru-Guru Man the song. Before you question that, think about it. Once we “learn” the Song of Storms from the future, Link then comes back in time to teach it to the Guru-Guru Man, thus creating a split in the timeline. This is event ¬ X ! So X must be the opposite case, that the Guru-Guru Man never knew about the Song of Storms… but he clearly did know about the Song of Storms in the future of the original timeline! That's a huge contradiction, and so I have to respond with a loud OBJECTION! The Guru-Guru Man is living proof that the Split Timeline Theory is bunk.
Yes, I know, I know… you've already started typing your rebuttals. I know. I'll get to some of your concerns later. But we've got two more timeline templates to explore first. So let's move on.
Two Different Single Timeline Theories
So if we then presume that the Split Timeline Theory is properly debunked, that leaves us with the only alternative. If we can't have multiple timelines, we must have one, leaving us with the Single Timeline Theory, and that's the next thing on the docket to debunk. However, the Single Timeline Theory is… a teensy bit more broad than the Split Timeline Theory. There's more room for play when it comes to how we deal with the future. After all, if we're going to allow time travel within a single timeline, we've got to do something with that inconvenient future history… but given that we don't know what would happen to our own real-world timeline in such a case, our imaginations become free to come up with our own explanations. As far as I can tell from perusing through the popular Zelda timelines in this vein, there are two primary ideas on how to deal with that, thus creating two different Single Timeline Theory templates.
When it comes to the future, we can treat it one of two ways. When the past is changed, we can either erase the future and overwrite it… or we can not, thus leaving it locked as is. As far as I know, these two different variants of the Single Timeline Theory aren't named, and so I'm going to go out on a limb here and coin names for these guys. The timeline in which we overwrite and erase whatever happens in the future when we change the past will be called the Future Elimination Theory , whereas the theory in which the future is locked in stone and must occur as we saw it the first time will be the Future Predestination Theory . We'll start with the first of those.
Debunking the Future Elimination Theory
The Future Elimination Theory, as I just said, takes the future and immediately nullifies it the moment something in the past happens to cancel it out, thereby changing the destiny the future is going to take and completely rewriting history. Whereas Chrono Cross takes on the characterisation of the Split Timeline Theory, this theory is personified by the game Chrono Trigger (still one of the best RPGs to ever grace the world with its very presence!). So if you've played the game, the explanation will likely be complete overkill, but it's worth explaining anyway just to make sure we're on the same page.
(As an aside, the Future Elimination Theory is susceptible to the infamous grandfather paradox , in which Link would still exist if he went back in time and killed his parents before he was conceived—provided he knew exactly who they were!—even though he would have never been born, but that's more of a moot point here than anything else.)
So we've only got one timeline this time around, but we've still got two different futures. So I get born into our one little timeline and trot along quite happily through time, waving at all the people and watching the events as they go by. Then that dreaded event X happens again, an event so bad that I wish upon whatever I can wish upon that I could change it. This future—what happens after Event X —we will call Future A . But since Future A is so horrible, we don't want that to happen; we want to change the past. So I hop into my trusty time machine and go back in time to before X , and just like last time, I prevent X from ever happening by substituting it with ¬ X . The moment this happens, Future A cannot possibly happen because it depended upon X to exist! So thus, the future will change dramatically and turn out very differently, thus resulting in a Future B , completely different from the first. Future A is dead and gone, erased and eliminated, and truly it only still exists in the mind of the time traveller as the future that never was. No one except those who travelled through time will have any recollection of Future A .
Now traditionally, this theory is used to explain the ending of Ocarina , that when Zelda shifted Link back to his own time, somehow that prevented Ganondorf from conquering the world. Perhaps she sent him back in time before Ganondorf entered the Sacred Realm or, more popularly, sent Link back to the point just after Ganondorf entered the Sacred—now Evil—Realm, thereby sealing him within it forever. Either way, Ganondorf wouldn't have conquered Hyrule, and thus the entire adult portion of the game poofs into thin air like magic. (Well, it was the Ocarina's magic that did the deed, so I guess it really is magic!)
But if we apply this to the Song of Storms, we're going to run into the same problems again. As last time, Event ¬ X is that Link went back to teach the Guru-Guru Man the Song of Storms, thereby changing the future so that he could get into the well beneath the windmill. However, this means that Event X is, once again, the Guru-Guru Man not knowing anything about the Song of Storms. Thus, the Guru-Guru Man only knows about the song in Future B , not Future A ! But the Guru-Guru Man taught Link the Song of Storms himself before Link ever went back to change history, and thus, the Guru-Guru Man shouldn't know the song in Future A ! OBJECTION! Again, we've reached another contradiction here since the canon says that the Guru-Guru Man knew about the Song of Storms in both futures.
So the Future Elimination Theory is out as well. Again, I'll take care of your arguments later on, but for now, let's take care of the last timeline template…
Debunking the Future Predestination Theory
And at last, the last of the theories! We're down to the Future Predestination Theory. This theory tends to be the least popular of the three major templates I mentioned because it has some quirks and nagging questions that seem to always be left unanswered by it, as we will soon find out. However, to be quick about the theory before getting into the meat of it, this theory states that the future is immutable and cannot be changed. Ever. This means you, Link. So when Zelda sends Link back in time after defeating Ganondorf, Zelda letting Link live his life as a child means exactly that; she reverts him to being a ten year old and he will live the childhood he never lived… but he will have to live through the same seven years that the rest of Hyrule lived through. No matter what Link does as a child, he cannot personally go after Ganondorf and kill him because the future has predetermined that Ganondorf will be killed only the Link that went through time seven years after Link was thrown back through time at the end of Ocarina . Thus, instead of two timelines or two futures, this timeline is restricted to having only one of each. However, this timeline makes it all happen because, during the adult Link segment of Ocarina , there are technically two Links , both the same (apparent) age, but one of the two never went through that whole puberty thing. What Link (the Link that didn't skip over the seven-year period) did during those seven years and (more importantly) during the adult Link part of Ocarina , no one truly knows, but many people place Majora's Mask in that stretch, but let's not talk Majora . We're talking Ocarina . So let's dig in.
The Future Predestination Theory is perhaps the most difficult to explain since there's no simple way to view the single timeline, even from the time traveller's perspective. What is important to note is that if Event X physically happens at some point in time, whether or not it will happen or has already happened, it is impossible to alter the course of time and replace X with its complement ¬ X . X must happen no matter what. Thus, if we learn in the future that we are responsible for some event X that happened in the past, even if we haven't actually done X already, even if we must go back in time to actually cause Event X to happen, it is predetermined that we must accomplish that! We are obligated go correct our oversight and make it happen because the future has predetermined that we must do so; we have no choice in that. Be that as it may, however, it is perfectly legal that we can reap the rewards of Event X 's occurrence without actually having personally caused it yet… even if those rewards are used to cause X itself!
The Song of Storms actually does work with this theory actually. Link goes into the future and learns the Song of Storms from the person to whom he taught it. This happened in the game and is canon. But then Link implicitly is bound by the time traveller's obligation to correct his as-of-yet oversight of not teaching the song to the Guru-Guru Man since this is a required occurrence to ensure that the timeline is self-consistent. Of course, Nintendo guarantees that we do so since it's required to beat the game (at least, unless you cheat ). So Link has to go back and teach the Song of Storms to the Guru-Guru Man, and he indeed does so. It works! Ocarina of Time proves that this is the way the timeline must be, right? Well, not exactly…
Now let's fast forward (and rewind) to the end of the game. Zelda sends Link back in time via the Ocarina of Time back to when he was ten years old, but now we have to determine exactly to when Link was sent back. Before you answer the question when your own answer, remember that there's a hard limit on this. You see, history cannot be changed whatsoever. That's the rule, and we're not allowed to violate it. Now remember that the Door of Time was not opened prior to Link retrieving the three Spiritual Stones and the Ocarina. So the absolute earliest point in time to which Link could return is the exact moment that Link opened the Door of Time. (Otherwise, Link would be stuck in the Temple of Time forever and likely asphyxiate there. What an embarrassing way to die!) Technically, we also have to allow for some additional time after that because Link needed to come back for long enough to beat both the Well mini-dungeon and the child half of the Spirit Temple, not to mention that Ganondorf had to have had enough time to escape the Sacred Realm with the Triforce of Power since, you know, he still has to take over the world and such. (Immutable history is such a pain, but them's the breaks.)
But if you'll remember the very ending of Ocarina , Link comes back to Hyrule Castle to meet Zelda, this time with the Triforce on his hand. But wait, before we even started the adult portion of the quest, Zelda and Impa high-tailed it out of Castle Town so they wouldn't get caught by Ganondorf! She shouldn't be back in Hyrule Castle because Ganondorf is on the loose! OBJECTION! And already, I know what you're thinking… maybe there was a temporary time of peace before Ganondorf conquered the world, thus allowing Zelda to come back for long enough to make the scene possible. (After all, Ganondorf didn't conquer the world until some time after the child half of the Spirit Temple.) Even though you won't find Zelda at the window during that span of time, well… fine. If you're going to be picky, I'll gladly retract the question, but then I'll counter that with another. Where's the Ocarina of Time after Link opens the Door of Time and heads to the future? Why, you might remember that Link left that in the future in Zelda's hands! He didn't bring it back like he had always done with his other trips to the child portion of Ocarina . So how did Link get it for Majora's Mask before heading out? OBJECTION! The answer is he couldn't have. Now while I did say I didn't need another Zelda game to prove this to you, really Majora's Mask is merely further evidence of the fact. The first contradiction, which is hard canon by the way, should have been enough to convince all of those types who follow canon wherever it goes. As a direct result, this timeline template is out as well because the Song of Storms is, as always, incompatible with the ending of the game.
Answers to Likely Rebuttal Points
So, now that I've skewered everything you can possibly do with Ocarina of Time , I know that a few of you are already itching to head over to the forums or the comments section or whatever and denounce me for whatever reason, but let me answer some of the questions that you've likely been pondering through the course of reading this article.
- Ah ha! You can't beat me! Whoever said the Ocarina of Time changed time precisely like the Master Sword? Huh, TML? — Ah yes, you've fallen into my trap, little fly! Let's look at the parallels here between the two. The Master Sword is found in the Temple of Time (which plays the music of the Song of Time) beyond the Door of Time, which requires the Ocarina of Time to open. The Ocarina of Time plays the Song of Time (and indeed does stuff when it is played) and is required to open the Door of Time in the Temple of Time. Both are artefacts that the Royal Family took great care in protecting. Both the Master Sword and the Ocarina of Time have mysterious powers, nearly divine powers even, and can do many impossible things; they are, perhaps, equipotential in their abilities, neither one able to truly defeat the other. There are so many parallels between the two, so many connections between the two, so many similar references to time itself that to say that they have different abilities would likely be less canon than saying they had to function the same.
- Couldn't it have been that Nintendo just screwed up somewhere? — I'm not dismissing that possibility at all, actually. In fact, my money would be on it. The Song of Storms is a very unique plot point, but it also could have been nothing more than a clever plot device one of the developers thought up one day. I highly doubt they analysed the entire game for every possible error in “timeline” (since it barely existed back when Ocarina of Time came out) and just thought that the two complimented one another, leaving it at that. However, using that as a front for why my theory wouldn't work sort of defeats the purpose of canon.
- Shouldn't Aonuma's or Miyamoto's opinions trump something as trivial as this? — All discussion of whether or not their words are even canon to begin with aside, no, they shouldn't. The highest level of canon, everyone agrees, is the game text and events. By a very strict interpretation of canon, which is what this article uses to disprove the very existence of a timeline, the details of the games supersede everything else (with perhaps the exception of future Zelda titles, but this article doesn't even touch those, so I'm safe).
- Shouldn't the end of the game—which is much more important to the game—trump a trivial detail as this? — Again, this depends upon your notion of canon. If every detail is sacred, then no. However, if you allow yourself certain discretions for violating a strict canon policy, some artistic license if you will, then yes, fitting a theory to the end of the game is much more within the spirit of the game than fitting to your theory to the Song of Storms and nothing else.
- So are you saying that there IS no Zelda timeline? — That question cannot be answered by a simple yes or no because I made a single assumption when writing this article, that every single detail of canon is considered unquestionably true. If you believe every word, every event, every picture found within the Zelda games is pure, hard canon and happened exactly as they are presented, if you put canon before timeline, then no, a timeline cannot exist. However, if your goal is to construct a timeline and don't care if it fits every detail of the canon or not, if you place timeline before canon, then of course, you can have one.
- What about TToTT ( The Triforce of Time Theory )? — I don't have the heart to put that theory to death. I'll let it slide my wrath. So I decree by fiat that it's compatible with the Song of Storms.
Now before I close, I do want to mention that I'm not anti-timeline. In the truest sense of the term, I am a timeline enthusiast, and I enjoy discussing the role of timeline and the ordering of the Zelda games, challenging theories to show their weaknesses in hopes that they can be made better. After all, I have a half-completed fan-novel about the Zelda timeline and history of Hyrule , and I'm not about to delete that gem from the Internet.
However, I am very strongly anti-canon. Ever since I started writing The Book of Mudora , I have been seduced by the sheer freedom in the artistic license granted by writing my timeline in fanfiction form. Unlike simple timeline outlines, a fanfiction version of the timeline is much more difficult to create because any paradox or overt contradiction will not only break the timeline but also the reader's suspension of disbelief, ruining the story and wasting their time. Since the Zelda timeline has so many paradoxes as it stands, sweeping those inconvenient “truths” away and thus ignoring or changing small details that don't work conveniently allows the overall story to be much stronger and more solid. Even if it doesn't hold true to the letter of the law, it still nevertheless follows the overall spirit of the timeline, and I think that's a win-win situation, especially in the light of this article, when a single point such as the Song of Storms can be driven into the ground and destroy everything in its wake. After all, it doesn't take the moon hovering over Termina to defeat a timeline; merely one unexplainable notion is sufficient.
The conclusion I wish to present is as follows: You can have timeline, or you can have canon, but not both . If one strictly follows the strictest form of canon, the timeline is ultimately destroyed. A quick song of A, down-C, up-C, A, down-C, up-C is proof enough of that. On the other hand, if one strives to create the most coherent timeline, the canon must be broken by corollary. It is the unfortunate world in which Nintendo has placed us, and now it is up to decide which road we shall follow: the road of truth where nothing can be created, or the road of imagination where nothing can be destroyed. Personally, I believe the latter subscribes more to the spirit of the Legend of Zelda, and I shall choose that path every time.