By Celeste Roberts
This is only the beginning, Link.
In our world, temples are sanctuaries of faith, prayer, fraternity, and religious rituals. In the world of The Legend of Zelda, we learn that the various races also have temples for worshiping their gods, but their houses of reverence include puzzles, dangerous obstacles, and evil entities preventing peaceful meditation once dark forces take over.
Link undergoes a transition from an age of innocence to an age of experience in Ocarina of Time: he initially knows only the tranquil, isolated domain of Kokiri Forest and is one day thrust into a quest to protect the entire land of Hyrule, an adventure that transports the ten-year-old child seven years into the future with no halting in between the years. In order to rid Hyrule of the malicious Ganondorf, the Hero of Time must awaken six Sages by cleansing each temple of its curse (i.e., defeating the Boss).
In addition to exciting battles and arduous puzzles, I think each temple and its linear place in the game symbolize different stages of Link’s life as he explores Hyrule and encounters perils no normal Hylian could imagine.
Light Temple (Temple of Time): Birth/Entering Life/Hope
After slumbering for seven years, Link awakens as a young man in the Temple of Time, where he pulled the Master Sword from its pedestal and inadvertently permitted Ganondorf access to the Sacred Realm, where the foe obtains the Triforce and sends Hyrule into chaos.
Amidst the destruction and pain, Link is completely safe in the chambers of the Light Temple, similar to a child safe within his mother’s womb. Although the Sage of Light, Rauru, explains that Link has been awakened, I believe, in a sense, he has been reborn as the suitable Hero of Time Hyrule desperately needs.
The Chamber of the Sages inside the Temple of Light
Link is about to enter unfamiliar territory: decimated cities, destroyed populations, haunted fields, and suffering survivors. Yes, as a child he did gain courage and skills in his expeditions, but now he is beginning anew. The name of the song to transport him to the Temple of Time is “Prelude of Light,” a fitting title since the young man is introduced to a new adventure.
Light is a break in darkness, clarity in the midst of uncertainty. Plagued areas are shrouded in a dark fog until Link defeats the evil curses and restores peace. Link is the light of Hyrule, hope incarnate.
Forest Temple: The Unknown/Exploration/Childhood
Link first encounters the derelict entrance to the Forest Temple in the Sacred Forest Meadow as a child, where his dear friend and cheerleader Saria is playing her fairy ocarina. She teaches him her song, a sign of their friendship and, quite likely, her wish to assist her friend on his journey and to remind him of her gentle spirit whenever they are far apart.
"I've been waiting for you, Link! This is the Sacred Forest Meadow. It's my secret place! I feel... This place will be very important for both of us someday. That's what I feel. If you play the Ocarina here, you can talk with the spirits in the forest."
Seven years later, Link returns to his childhood homeland and the Lost Woods, where he fights stronger beasts and guards. In Saria’s stead is Sheik, who imparts bittersweet wisdom to Link: “The flow of time is always cruel... Its speed seems different for each person, but no one can change it... A thing that doesn't change with time is a memory of younger days…” The mysterious harpist then teaches Link the “Minuet of Forest,” another transportation melody. A minuet is a slow ballroom dance for two people; perhaps this is yet another symbol honoring the leisurely pace of childhood and the beloved, intimate moments between two friends.
Most people experience extreme bouts of nostalgia as they pause and acknowledge the fleeting nature of childhood--and life in general. Link suddenly realizes his childhood is gone; the familiarity of his home and his daily routines has vanished. The Forest Temple symbolizes his self-discovery and struggle to navigate his fate while learning to relinquish the comfort of his boyhood and innocence.
Fire Temple: Suffering/Passion
Link soon ventures back to Goron City, only to see empty caverns, save one fiercely rolling Goron who is Darunia’s son and who also happens to bear the name “Link.” He informs his namesake that Ganondorf imprisoned the rest of his tribe in the Fire Temple and is threatening to turn them into the dragon, Volvagia’s, meal.
The entrance to the Fire Temple
Fire has both negative and positive connotations: many associate Hell with fire and tribulations, while some view fire as a vehicle of cleansing and renewal. Sheik teaches Link the “Bolero of Fire” as his transportation song and shares some musings: “It is something that grows over time... a true friendship. A feeling in the heart that becomes even stronger over time... The passion of friendship will soon blossom into a righteous power and through it, you will know which way to go... This song is dedicated to the power of the heart…”
Many song lyrics describe love and passion as a “burning flame.” Young Link witnessed Darunia’s intense enthusiasm for music and dancing when he played "Saria’s Song" years before, and Link’s defeating the abominable Dodongo sealed their brotherhood and friendship, which involves a different type of love that can feel just as strong as romantic love. Many platonic relationships experience trials and periods of absence as life consumes our free time and energy; however, the sign of true, loving friendship as strong as a sword forged in flames is the decision to be available in times of suffering and sadness.
Water Temple: Cleansing
Water Temple. These two words evoke feelings of irritation and hopelessness for many players of the original 1998 version of Ocarina of Time, whose iteration of the Water Temple is infamous for its challenging layout and puzzles. With water levels constantly rising and falling in the labyrinthine halls of the temple, one could become lost quickly and for a long time without resorting to a player’s guide or walkthrough.
Many of us conquered this dungeon over two decades ago when we were children, meaning our memories may be clouded with bias towards a puzzle we struggled to solve due to our young ages and unrefined critical thinking skills. That’s okay--we all will approach challenges in our lives as we, to speak in terms of video games, level up.
Setting aside any disgruntlement, we can admire the Water Temple for the structure itself and its potential deeper meanings. Sheik teaches Link the “Serenade of Water” as the two enjoy the tranquility of Lake Hylia: "Time passes, people move.... Like a river’s flow, it never ends... A childish mind will turn to noble ambition... Young love will become deep affection... The clear water's surface reflects growth…” A serenade is a musical piece that honors someone; many men attempt to woo their desired sweethearts by singing to them or playing a song. Interestingly, within the Water Temple is Link’s fiancée from seven years before: Princess Ruto.
This temple is also home to one of the most famous battles in the Zelda series: Link versus Dark Link, Link’s shadowy doppelganger.
Link must use his cunning and quick attacks to defeat… himself!
Sometimes we are our greatest obstacle. We must take time to reflect on our worries and hopes so we can understand what is holding us back. As destructive and dangerous as water can be (flooding, drowning, riptides), it also is a calm presence one may rest beside to regain composure.
Shadow Temple: Fragility/Truth/Regret
What happened on the outskirts of Kakariko Village?
Even beautiful Hyrule has a dark past: the Sheikah sworn to protect the Royal Family often resorted to torture to intimidate enemies who could harm the governing clan. Impa is one of the only remaining members of her tribe, who often were referred to as the “shadow folk.”
This temple is a nightmare incarnate; it includes eerie music, haunting whispers from the deceased, terrifying creatures, and weapons that have not seen the light of day. Despite noble intentions of protection, at what point are one’s methods criminal?
In order to progress in his quest to save Hyrule and to find Princess Zelda, Link must, indeed, kill his enemies, small and massive. No matter how many times his blade saves his own life, does Link feel any tinge of regret upon ending the life of another being, regardless of its evil nature?
Link never falters in his journey, yet we never peek inside his psyche to see how he is handling his trials. Surely even the Hero of Time has moments of fear, doubt, and even regret as he bears the weight of an entire land.
The song used to transport him to the Shadow Temple, which is located within the graveyard of Kakariko Village, is the “Nocturne of Shadow.” Sheik has few words to describe the terrors awaiting Link: “This is the melody that will draw you into the infinite darkness that absorbs even time…” A nocturne references anything nocturnal or evocative of the night. Even steadfast warriors encounter darkness within.
Spirit Temple: Stamina/Hardiness
The last temple Link must explore and conquer is hidden in a desert wasteland past the land of the Gerudo, the all-female clan of thieves.
The Desert Colossus, where the Spirit Temple lies.
A lone oasis lies outside of the entrance to the temple like a beacon of hope and respite in the barren land. The placement of the temple is fitting: the song for voyaging to this area is entitled the “Requiem of Spirit.” A requiem is a song played at a funeral. One’s burial or cremation is the final part of life’s adventure, and, canonically, the Spirit Temple is the final trial before Link faces Ganondorf and his castle.
Unlike the previous temples, Link must time travel and explore the ruins as both a child and a man: "To restore the Desert Colossus and enter the Spirit Temple, you must travel back through time's flow... Listen to this ‘Requiem of Spirit’... This melody will lead a child back to the desert” (Sheik). As we age, we may find ourselves reflecting on our past and appreciating, regretting, and even missing how our lives used to be.
Only the hardiest flora and fauna flourish in a desert, a sign of resilience and persistence. Link has conquered all adversities in his path, and he will vanquish the darkness in Hyrule and restore peace. Imagine undergoing such an odyssey at such young ages; truly, only a determined mind and gallant spirit may see this crusade to the end.
In the span of merely hours of gameplay, Ocarina of Time, for me, brings a philosophical examination of life and our various experiences as we tumble along. What do you think about symbolism in the Zelda series? Which temple is your favorite and why? I would love to hear from you!
Special thanks to Zeldapedia for the listing of Sheik’s wise words when he teaches Link transportation songs and the analyses of the names of the songs.
Another great source of inspiration is The Architecture of Zelda, a ruminative and profound blog about the deeper meanings hidden within this beloved series.