R P G A M E R . C O M   -   E D I T O R I A L S

The Evolution of Ganon

Anthony Caudill

The character Ganon, as those who follow The Legend of Zelda series understand, is not the same villian in modern times as he was at the time of his debut in 1986. Arguably the best known recurring villian in gaming history (although he may be tied with Bowser on that count) has come a long way from his humble beginnings as a shadowy antagonist. Through the work of his creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, to understand better for himself the natures of dictatorship and of human evil, Ganon has evolved into a tragic, even sympathetic character trapped by forces beyond his own reckoning into a terrible cycle of fate. The story of Ganon is a message beyond antagonism: it is a lesson to all of us not to repeat the mistakes of his enemies.

When Ganon first arrived in the United States in 1987, a nation was gripped in a cloud of mystery unlike that which had come before. A national scandal of frightening proportions was playing out on television sets in the country: an unprecedented account of a secret government operating within the shadowy parameters of covert operations law. No one knew such a thing was possible. There had been conspiracy theories circulating for decades, but never before had the tales of conspiracy and secret, illegal dealings between nations been brought to the media spotlight. Ganon's advent, described only in a printed manual as the omnipotent tyrant of a fantasy land, seemed an extension of this larger wave of intrigue. Mysteries abounded in the late 1980s. New thoughts and new experiences were emerging everywhere, thanks in part to the promiscuity of the microprocessor. Microprocessors themselves meant a new age of ideas. With a microprocessor, a person could steer the natural state of things toward their own desires. The immutable march of time across a television set could be suspended. History could be as valid in a person's mind, as it was in the outside world. And, a person's mind alone could change history.

So came Hyrule into being. A loose collection of image patterns commandeered the Cold War's authority over man's window to the world, and showed a new world just as complete and valid as the one it replaced. The new world was actually very similar to the first: there were two powers, each with a titular head. Both wanted total dominance over the world, but under the pretense of different visions. One wanted a world where reason and wisdom led to prosperity. The other wanted power for its own sake, at the price of individual expression and progress. These dualing forces, too, had counterparts in the Cold War world. Capitalism, the force of individual reason and empowerment, struggled daily against communism, the ideology of collective empowerment at the price of the individual's destiny. The struggle for Hyrule was a simplification of the struggle for Earth.

There was, however, an important distinction between the conflicts on earth and the conflicts in Hyrule. On earth, the two forces remained in constant balance, each holding a scythe over the other's head. But in Hyrule, the will for power had completely overwhelmed reason and wisdom. The fruits of wisdom were destroyed, and whispers of a great kingdom were all that remained of the land's former prosperity and bountifulness. The people had long since fled their homes of stone and wood, and gone underground into the caves. They communicated little, for fear that the power that would enslave -- or destroy -- them might hear. Hyrule was a land completely overrun by the worst drives of emotion, a land gripped throughout by fear.

There was another distinction between the two worlds apart from the failure of conflict in one and the endurance of conflict in the other. On earth, the force of consuming, restraining power had no single leader, only a loose understanding between its adherents. Mikhail Gorbechev was certainly not the functioning mainstay of communist influence as he worked to bring it down by dissolving its very core. On earth, communism had its own name, but no single person to be observed as its living epitome.... In Hyrule, power had a name, and its name was Ganon.

To those who entered the world of Hyrule, Ganon was a complete mystery. The instruction booklet packaged with Hyrule's portal, The Legend of Zelda, referred in its introduction to the recent history of Hyrule, and of Ganon as its ruler. But little else was said. At the back of the booklet was a bestiary that described in detail the names, faces, and methods of Ganon's minions, but nothing about Ganon himself, save an intriguing, mysterious questioning: "Who is Ganon? What is Ganon like? No one knows. No one has lived to tell the tale."

Ganon lived as a shadow throughout the Legend of Zelda gameplay experience. The only thing that was known for sure, was that he lived somewhere on Death Mountain. It wasn't even understood whether or not he lived in a cave, or in a labyrinth. Perhaps he sat atop Spectacle Rock and hurled down the boulders that assailed Link as he explored there. Perhaps he lay buried beneath the gravestones of the cemetary, ready to strike the unwary. Perhaps he didn't exist at all.

To those who did not understand Ganon, or where he was, or who he was, or what he was weak against, The Legend of Zelda was a mysterious, even frightening experience. Only when the courage of Link's various persons persevered to the bomb blast at Spectacle Rock did the mystery of Ganon begin to unfold. Ominous music struck a note of dread into their hearts as a familiar old man told them "THOSE WHO DO NOT HAVE TRIFORCE CANNOT ENTER". The greyish hues of the room held a creeping promise to the weakened adventurers: it will all be explained once you have the Triforce. It will all be explained when you have wisdom.

The restoration of the Triforce and its wisdom opened the three sealed doors and banished the man. Was he Ganon? Perhaps. Only the harrowing journey through the mountain skull could answer that question. Finally, after braving dozens of elaborate ambushes and traps, the beast behind it all was revealed. Power had a face.

It was a pig. Or a boar. Or whatever one would call a gigantic man-porker. The mysterious Ganon was bacon. A great slovenly, albeit invisible, incarnation of his own lust. It was no wonder no one had seen Ganon; without the Triforce to cast back his shadow, they couldn't. Ganon was slain by the courageous drive to destroy him, stabbing everywhere and in all directions. However, courage alone was not enough to destroy him completely. Only wisdom could do that. Wisdom that was incarnate in the relevance of the seemingly useless Silver Arrow to his demise. One had to have wisdom to understand that even those things that seem useless, have uses at the right moments. So it was that wisdom overcame power, and wisdom ruled as Princess Zelda.

This was, it would seem, the end of Ganon. But power is energy, and energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only changed. Ganon was not dead but merely sleeping, restrained by the courageous blood of his would-be killer. If that blood were to fall on his ashes, then not only would power be revived, but Ganon would remain the face of it. This was the first phase of Ganon's evolution as a known character. To be reborn, the courage that would wake wisdom had to die. But by preventing wisdom from waking, Ganon would be sealing the fate of Princess Zelda as well, for without courage she would sleep until time's end, and die with it. Ganon's villiany grew in his absentia. The mystery of Ganon as the shadowy figurehead was over, but the dread reality of his power lust lived on. The quest for courage put an end to his ambitions by waking Princess Zelda and her wisdom.

Together, courage and wisdom permanently restrained power. Ganon did not revive. Although the initial diagnosis of Ganon's situation suggests that his evolution as a character had ended due to the sealing of his power, the dynamic between wisdom and courage to restrain power emerged instead as a further evolution of Ganon's cyclical nature.

This evolution was explored in greater detail in the third foray into the land Ganon coveted. The Hyrule of a Link to the Past is not the Hyrule Ganon had completely overrun, only to see it slip through his fingers. This was a new Hyrule, and a new Ganon. Ganon had a history now, as a theif skilled in the magical arts. He had possession now of not just one Triforce but all three. He again had an army, but now Hyrule had one, too. And a great castle. And powerful magic. And a line of mighty knights. The theif who stumbled onto the Land of the Golden Power by mere accident, and killed his fellows to claim that power, seemed to lack the majestic terror of his previous incarnation. Perhaps it was because he was only revealed as the courage to defeat him believed itself finished with its work, although it was again the instruction booklet that described Ganon's past and not the in-game storyline. Failing obscurity, perhaps it was the determination of the sages who imprisoned him to call him "the Prince of Darkness" for no apparent reason. Perhaps it was because players already knew that he was a known quantity, and expected him to remain a man-boar. Or perhaps he was overshadowed by Agahnim's own malevolent arrogance and cunning. Whatever the reason, Ganon's character, although accented by his rebirth and new history, was diminished in the eyes of many for his seeming aloofness and irrelevance.

For six years, his mystery destroyed by publicity and his reputation tarnished, Ganon seemed dead. It wasn't until The Ocarina of Time, and a re-evaluation of his character, that Ganon finally rose from his own ashes and gave himself new life.

What a life it was.

In its new form, power had a face and a history. And it had a human face, and a human history. And human feelings, and human dreams. Ganon was no longer a lustful pig. He was a man from the wrong side of the tracks. Suddenly it was no longer clear who Ganon was: misunderstood leader or evil warmonger? His mystery took on new life. Was Zelda the true villian? Was he truely wrong to take control of Hyrule from Zelda's father? The new picture of Ganon is a convincing one, born from humble origins and desperate dreams.

The king of desert nomads, Ganon lives a life of hardship and sacrifice. The winds that shape the desert shape him. Of the day he is harsh and unrelenting. Of the night he is cold and unforgiving. The only thing he brings with him is death, death to all he touches. Pain and sorrow. It is all he can offer, because it is all he has ever known. Only miles away he observes a nation of green fields and bountiful harvests, where the winds blow serenely across grassy plains. Where it is warm in the day, and only cool at night, not cold. He sees a land of milk and honey apart from the wilderness, which will not relent.

Ganon is alone. He is the only male of his kind to be born in a hundred years. He is their king and figurehead, and it is of no comfort to him to have his throne. He is apart from his subjects, who worship him. It is the custom of his kingdom to marry from outside of the tribe, in Hyrule Castle-town. It is only natural that he would seek to marry the only woman of royal blood alive there. She distrusts him.

The contrast between Zelda and Ganon is like unto the the war between good and evil, light and dark, wisdom and power. The wise know that desire for power for its own sake is not the having of power, but oppression by it. The power-hungry disdain the counsel of the wise, relying instead on their own arrogance and cunning to get them that which they crave. Above all, Ganon desires the wisdom to use power, to control power. Ganon sees that wisdom, and the comfort that wisdom inherently offers, in Zelda. It is wisdom, not green fields, that make Hyrule a land of life and living. The desert can be irrigated, but Ganon will not order it to happen. Wisdom is a distraction from power. One must first have power, he thinks, and then one can have wisdom, who's only purpose is to direct power. Ganon will not fill the desert because he is the desert, the ruthless, blind wind. Zelda is Hyrule in its keenness and resourcefulness. She is the grassy Hyrule Field, looking to expand its domain into areas where it is not. Ganon waits to be filled by the grass, but he cannot accept it. Courage is the will of wisdom to resist the spread of power, and to remain true to itself. Link, Ganon's adversary, is that courage. Link acts as the barrier between Zelda and himself, a constant reminder that Ganon can not have Zelda so long as he desires her. Link is Ganon's equal: the image of what Ganon must accept about himself before he can fulfill his desire. So long as Ganon cannot accept wisdom, he will not have Zelda, only Link.

It is through Ganon's evolution as a character that he re-invents the relationship between the hero and the villain. He establishes a relationship with Link apart from the player, who is compelled not to uncover Ganon's identity or even to defeat him, but instead to uncover the next stage of his relationship with Link. Link is Ganon's adversary, a partner in the great struggle for power he epitomizes. Link is Zelda's arm, the will of wisdom, through courage, to resist power. Apart from this, however, Link is also strong, and Ganon comes to respect this. By respecting Link, Ganon manages to fill a part of himself that he otherwise could not have filled. He is mistaken in the placement of that respect, for Link is fighting Ganon not to demonstrate his own strength, but to restrain Ganon's own. It is the very fact that he fights through strength and courage, rather than through wisdom alone, that inspires Ganon to appreciate Link. It is not by strength alone though, that Ganon is enhanced as a person by Link. For Link fights with courage and wisdom, and it is through the wisdom of his fighting that Ganon finds that which he cannot have in the wisdom of Zelda's resistance.

The relationship between Ganon, and Zelda, and Link is the cornerstone of The Ocarina Of Time's role as the further fulfillment of Ganon's evolution. It is clear at the beginning, when Ganon sets about plaguing the beautiful kingdom with maladies and curses. He understands that he will awaken Link's courage through these evil acts, and in so doing bring Link closer to himself. He is aware that Zelda is plotting against him as he does the same to her, appreciative of her mind but not her spirit. He sees in her a reflection of his own desire for the Triforce, and understands that she will try to use Link's courage to open the door to it. He is aware that she will wilt, wither, and flee when he betrays her father, as he knows he must if he is to prevent Zelda from taking control of the Triforce for herself. He is aware also, that without Zelda's wisdom there will be little Link can do to stop him from taking the Triforce for himself.

What Ganon was not aware of, was himself. Facing the reality of absolute, intangible power, he was humbled. In his frustration, he tried to turn the Triforce's might towards his own ends, only to force its fissure under the cosmic tumult of his own inadequacy. To prevent the destruction of the world by the improper use of power, the Triforce schizmed itself into its three composite forces. Ganon, who had hungered for power all of his life, now had all that could be had, but without the wisdom to guide it nor the courage to use it to fill his emptiness.

Failing to use his power, he instead reacted. When dissent rose up against his rule, he reacted, creating monsters to stoke fear in the hearts of his enemies. He cut himself off from everyone, surrounding the castle he had longed for with molten lava and peopling its city with the dead, whom he controlled. Deeply resentful, he struck out even against those who had not opposed him, freezing the Zoras' waters and draining the lake that was the mainstay of the beautiful green fields he had dreamed of having. Without the courage to change the flow of the world, he was trapped by it into an ever constricting loneliness. Nor had he the wisdom to understand he needed courage. Princess Zelda was on the run.

It was only when Link reappeared seven years later that Ganon's fate began to relent. He failed the courage to fight Link himself, and so Link undid the fruits of his reactions. Zora's Falls thawed, Lake Hylia was refilled, and the fires of Death Mountain were quenched. Even Ganon's fellow Gerudo were emboldened by Link's courage; they forsook their tradition of loyalty to Ganon, and instead accepted Link as one of their own. Through their rebellion, the Gerudo made Link into a peer of Ganon entirely on Ganon's own terms. Finally, Princess Zelda revealed herself, and the mystery surrounding Hyrule was emptied through her wisdom. Lacking a strong ruler, the nation of Hyrule recovered itself by compensating for power's dominance. Courage and wisdom revived. Ganon was hurt by Zelda's plan to seal him in the Sacred Realm. He reacted again, sealing her in a crystal and challenging Link to find him. Only courage could release wisdom from power. Link penetrated Ganon's fortress with his courage. As Link sprinted towards Ganon's inner sanctum, Ganon played a theme near and dear to his own heart on an organ. The organ piece was a strongly symbolic gesture, envoking the order of the pipes with its harmonies and contrasts. The order of the world, and its interplaying forces of wisdom, courage, and power, had found its figure in Ganon and his conflicts. He was power, and power controlled Hyrule, and he controlled Hyrule. And everything Link did, and everything Zelda did, and everything his enemies did, all played at his direction. When Link entered Ganon's room, Ganon lost all of that. But he also gained.

Through his defeat, Ganon was forced to face his past, and his own failures as a person. He could no longer run, no longer float above the puppets below. The puppets had put him down to their level. Now the chief of the puppets was no longer the princess who bedeviled him, who hated and feared him, who denied him. Now their chief was someone new, someone courageous, whom all admired for his strength of heart as much as for his courage. Now Ganon, too, admired Link.

Ganon reached out to Link with all of his rage channeled into his power. His rage was infinite, but temporary. He collapsed, all but dead, after failing to contain the rage that wracked his body with its energy. Wisdom was freed in power's vacuum.

Wisdom spoke to Ganon. "Gannondorf... pitiful man. He could not control the Triforce's power and..."

Wisdom was cut off. In the cataclysmic aftermath of Ganon's rage, the castle he loved so much toppled under its own weight. Even Ganon himself seemed buried in the rubble... if not for the Triforce of Power. Wisdom and courage were relieved to have escaped. Wisdom believed its victory was complete. Power was ended; wisdom had prevailed. This was too much for power. Wisdom was denying it. Courage was ignoring it. Wisdom and courage need power. Power needed wisdom and courage. Ganon needed wisdom and courage, and for an instant he acknowledged it. So did power.

Drawing upon its wisdom and courage, power became a dark shadow of its peers, and Ganon the Gerudo King became Ganon: Prince of Darkness. He became a shadow of his true self. So he shall remain a shadow of the greatness he might be, if only he would acknowledge that he needs courage and wisdom not from the Triforce, but in himself.

Through his characterization in The Ocarina of Time, Ganon becomes a complete character in his own right. The drives of Ganon in every game he appears in become extensions of his own self-doubt. His desire to rule Hyrule and Zelda is no longer the cliche incoherence it was before. Today Ganon does not need mystery, nor even villiany, to justify his relevance. Ganon is who he is, and that is enough.

We have, now, established that Ganon is a valid, human character. We are compelled to ask ourselves what we can learn from him, and from the message of his creator through him.

Ganon's message is that he is alive in all of us. His appeal rests in the mystery of our own self-doubt. His enduring legacy is not his own story, but in his role as our adversary. The fear we felt from his original incarnation, in its mystery and ambivalence, stemmed not from the mystery he evoked, but from our own doubt that we could face that mystery. Throughout life we fear that which we do not know, and most of all we fear that which is not knowing, death. The skull in Death Mountain is a reminder that what we really fear is not death, but our own doubt we can face it. We fear Ganon.

The silver arrow that defeats Ganon on Death Mountain is a metaphor for our last triumph against our own doubt, and the peace that awaits us when Ganon is dead. The Triforce represents, in the hand of Link the courageous, the wisdom that we gain through our life's journey, all in preparation to illuminate our self-doubt at that final moment. To conquer our own self-doubt, allows us to finally have Princess Zelda. To finally have ourselves.

We are not alone in our battle, and Link's message is that he is with us, and will always be with us, in the hearts of those like him. Shigeru Miyamoto himself is with us, and it is through his Master Sword, Nintendo, that he fights the Ganon of our own doubt. So long as The Legend of Zelda endures, we will all have our love of the legend in common. Through the legend, Miyamoto reaffirms that even in our darkest moments of disbelief in ourselves and in others, we all have at least the love of the legend in common. The legend is a link between all of us. The legend, and Ganon's role in it, serve not only as an affirmation of ourselves, but through Ganon, a warning. Even as Link lives with us and protects us, so does Ganon live with us, also. He lives in a prison in Baghdad, awaiting trial for his reactionary rule. He lives in a terror camp somewhere in Iraq, cutting off heads in honor of his own Triforce of Power. He is on trial in the Hague for leading a campaign of ethnic cleansing against those he perceived to be a threat. He is marching in rallies in Cuba, trying to reaffirm his own dominion. He is stifling software innovation in Redmond, Washington, to protect his hold over the Triforce there. He is clamping down on individual freedoms in China, anxious that one more worthy of the Triforce may try to take it from him. He is hiding in the mountains of the Afghan-Pakistani border, planning to take the power of the Sacred Realm for himself.

Ganon is everywhere. And unless we do not defeat the Ganon in ourselves, we will be ill-suited to fight the Ganon out there.

"Must we fight Ganon? Why must we fight Ganon? Maybe Ganon will just go away. Link is there, right? Let Link take care of Ganon."

All well and good if Link comes to our rescue, but what if Ganon gets Link before he gets us? What good will it do us, to wait for a hero that cannot come because he is already defeated? Will we face the same fate as Hyrule did in its latest incarnation? Will we let our earth be buried beneath the waves because we did not face up to Ganon ourselves?

In his latest incarnation, Ganon has presented us with a new possibility, one that we have not seen before. Ganon can win. Ganon can overcome us through our reliance on Link to come to our rescue. His own belief in the Triforce can overcome our belief in ourselves if we will not hold on to it. He can overcome us completely, even destroy us, if we ourselves will not take it upon ourselves to break his cycle of self-doubt. Only by working to help Ganon break free of his own shackles can we be free of his menace. We must avoid repeating the mistakes of Link and Zelda, who themselves could not face their own Ganon until it was too late. Rather than be the enemy of Ganon, we must be his friends. We must all be the equals of Ganon, and help him overcome himself, to see the need for wisdom and courage in himself. Only then will we truely overcome him, only then will his evolution be finally complete.

© 1998-2017 RPGamer All Rights Reserved
Privacy Policy