The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask is widely regarded as being the black sheep of the Zelda franchise. It doesn't make much sense when compared to the other entries in the series, and it's nothing like the other Zelda games, or even like any other Nintendo game up to that point. Instead of saving a princess and going on a (mostly) lighthearted adventure, Link gets transported to a completely different land that isn't Hyrule and has to save it from impending doom. Seems pretty straightforward, right?
Majora's Mask is easily the most emotionally mature title in the Legend of Zelda series. It revolves around death, loss, hopelessness, and grief. More specifically, it highlights and mirrors the five stages of grief. There is a widespread theory that claims that Link himself is going through the five stages of grief in the game in order to overcome his own death. There aren't any overt occurrences in the game that prove this theory, but it can be gathered from many of the in game events that maybe Nintendo developed this game to represent something deeper than what can be gathered on the surface...
(Of course, I will be delving very deep into this game so if you want to avoid spoilers, you better not read this!)
|Like any other great piece of art, there can be many different ways to analyze Majora's Mask beyond what you see on the surface...|
|This is the Kübler-Ross stages of grief model|
The Kübler-Ross stages of grief model outlines what the average person goes through when faced with a loss of a loved one. It may look like theory on the surface, but having gone through the loss of my father 3 years ago, I can personally attest that I did indeed follow the model when grieving over the loss I experienced. The five different areas in Majora's Mask perfectly mirror the five stages of grief in order.
|Somehow, the people of Clock Town don't seem to notice the ever-present and ever-terrifying moon looming over their heads, coming to bring certain doom|
|Yeah the theory is certainly groundless. I mean, a moon with a face on it being unnaturally close to the ground is completely normal!|
Another example of denial in Clock Town is the longest side quest in the game which revolves around two characters who decide to stay in town and die together in order to be together. Their relationship was doomed from the start, but they waited to be together at the very last second possible. I am of course referring to Anju and Kafei, who are separated and spend the last few days of their lives trying to reunite. You could say that they are in denial about the danger around them because they are so much in love. It's touching and sweet, but also a little maddening as well. You see, Kafei was turned into a child by the Skull Kid (the little annoying imp that stole Majora's Mask), and disappeared. It's then up to Link to track Kafei down and reunite him with Anju.
|Okay, Anju, I get that you love Kafei, but he looks like he could be your little brother.|
Not only do the characters show how Clock Town symbolizes denial, the music that plays conveys a sense of denial as well. As each day progresses, the music in Clock Town changes from cheery and pleasant to ominous and eerie. Even on the very last day, mere seconds before impending doom, the cheery melody of Clock Town plays on over the desolate and desperate melody of the final day. To get a better sense of what I'm describing, click here to experience the music for yourself.
|Whoa there, Deku King, let's not make decisions when we're angry...|
Moving on to both the next stage of grief, Anger, and next area the game, the player ventures to Woodfall to find that there's trouble amok. There, the Deku King's daughter (the princess) has gone missing, and he gets very angry about it. Instead of trying to look for her, he decides to punish an innocent monkey for it instead. There's no evidence that the monkey did it, other than that the monkey is actually friends with the princess and tried to save her himself. The king is just lashing out over the loss of his daughter because he's angry. Okay, so I was mistaken. You do indeed save a princess in this game, but it's less Zelda and more Deku.
To add insult to injury, Woodfall is tainted with poison, and to me that poison symbolizes how anger can get in you and kill you from the inside out, like any toxin does. Once you let anger in, it festers and can destroy things quickly, as shown by how rashly the Deku King lashed out.
|Poison, like anger, can spread to other areas of your life, affecting you beyond the loss you experienced|
The Deku King isn't the only person who is angry in Woodfall. The Tour Guide in the Swamp Tourist Center is embarrassed because his son acts immature for his age. If you show him a picture of his son, he gets really angry, but will give you a Heart Piece in return. Who is his son, you ask?
|That's right. It's Tingle, the 35-year-old fairy wannabe!|
|The next area in the game is Snowhead, where the next stage of grief, Bargaining, is represented|
The player comes in to contact with characters that are experiencing Bargaining in the next area of the game, Snowhead. The mountain-dweling race known as the Gorons have lost their hero and leader, Darmani. Link comes in to contact with the spirit of Darmani, and he begs Link to bring him back to life. Or, you could say that he's bargaining for his life.
After Link plays the Song of Healing, sealing Darmani's spirit into a mask, he encourages Link to read about his life story so he can better understand how to live life in Darmani's stead. As mentioned above, one of the aspects of bargaining is the desire to tell one's story. Also, Darmani seems to be really confused about what happens, and tries to bargain with the fact that he can't be dead, which is also a classic sign of bargaining.
|Lulu the Zora is Depressed over the loss of her eggs|
The last area of the game before the finale is Ikana Valley. The stage of grief modeled here is Acceptance. While Ikana Valley is a place of death, the undead beings that exist here are comfortable and accepting of their existence. The most prominent example of acceptance in Ikana Valley is the Stone Tower temple. The temple requires Link to ascend into the heavens to accept his death. To complete the temple, you must flip it around so you face the ground. To me, this symbolizes the ascent to heaven, or the descent to hell. Before the boss fight, Link acquires the Giant's Mask in order to fight the boss. To me, this symbolizes Link achieving comfort with his death, and becoming larger in life because of it.
|In the Stone Tower Temple, you either ascend into the heavens, or descend into hell|
|The Elegy of Emptiness creates funeral effigies for the deceased characters, including Link|
|Another story of acceptance is that of Pamela and her dad|
|The calm before the storm: the very last stage before Link can fully accept his death.|
Even though he has overcome every stage of grief, his journey to acceptance isn't over yet. Inside the moon, there exist the "moon children". There are five of them, one for each area of the game. Four wear the masks of the bosses you have defeated, while one wears Majora's Mask. Link must talk to each child and give them some of the masks he's collected. He then enters into a kind of mini-dungeon that represents each dungeon he has overcome so far. It's like he's re-living the experiences that brought him to acceptance. I see these moon children as the final gatekeepers before Link can get to heaven. By giving the children the masks he's earned through his experiences in Termina, he's proving that he is worthy of entering paradise. However, even after he's proven himself to the moon children, he must prove that he can defeat what I think symbolizes his death: Majora himself.
|The moon children. Each mask represents a stage of grief and boss that Link has defeated except Majora. Majora represents Link's death itself. Link cannot fully overcome his death unless he defeats Majora|
If Link collects all 24 masks, he gets access to the Fierce Deity's mask. By wearing this mask, Link transforms into his adult self, except he is super powerful. To me, this symbolizes that Link has fully come to terms with each stage of grief and now has the true power to fully overcome his death, Majora.
The question is posed whether or not the Fierce Deity is as evil as Majora. To me, the Fierce Deity represents what Link could have become if he had not died. Only after healing everyone's sorrows, Link has access to the ultimate weapon to use against Majora, fulfilling his true potential. After Link defeats Majora, Skull Kid and Link get closure. This is the ultimate symbol of Link overcoming and accepting his death since Skull Kid seems to be the one responsible for everything that has happened to Link. Everything goes back to normal and the evil leaves the mask, like nothing had ever happened. Finally, the three day cycle is over, symbolizing Link's acceptance of his death. A Dawn of a New Day arrives, and the journey that Link went through almost seems pointless.
And so, the carnival does indeed take place, and Link (although not invited to it) rides off without even seeming to want to enjoy the place he saved by attending the carnival. Why? Well, because his work there is done. With the evil gone and his death overcome, he can finally move on.
|Even Tatl knows that Link's work is done and that he should take his leave|
|And so he does, riding off into the light...|
|The end. Literally.|
Lastly (well, almost, I still have a bit more to say), I interpret the end screen of this game as being Link's grave. He's pictured with Skull Kid and the four giants on a tree stump as pictured above. This represents the journey he went on. There's the beginning and end of his problems, represented by Skull Kid, and the personification of his efforts in Termina with the giants representing 4 of the 5 stages of grief (Skull Kid being the 5th).
So, in a nutshell, this is my theory of what happened:
Okay, so in the beginning of the game, we have our hero Link riding into the woods to look for Navi, the fairy that aided him in his quest in the last game. I think by this point, Link had already passed away. The woods look different. They're misty and desolate, nothing like the woods we saw in Ocarina of Time.
It is said in Ocarina of Time that anyone who wanders into the woods and gets lost who is not a child of the forest (a Kokiri) will be turned into a Stalfos, a skeleton-like monster. It is revealed in Ocarina of Time that Link is not a Kokiri, meaning that if he gets lost in the woods, he can become a Stalfos. So, I believe that Link got lost in the woods while looking for Navi and became a Stalfos.
To back up my theory even more, let's fast forward to Twilight Princess, another installment in the Legend of Zelda franchise.
|What Hyrule Historia, A.K.A. The Bible of the Zelda Universe, says about The Hero's Shade|
In Twilight Princess, an entity known as the Hero's Shade teaches Link secret techniques. He desires to do this because he "could not convey the lessons of that lift those who came after". In Hyrule Historia, it is confirmed that the Hero's Shade is the spirit of the Hero of Time, A.K.A. Link in Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask. So, why wouldn't the Hero of Time be able to convey the lessons he learned? Something must have happened to him. He wasn't able to carry on the hero's legacy because he died in the forest, becoming a Stalfos. He even appears in Stalfos form in Twilight Princess, as pictured above. That's also why I think Link's grave is that stump in the woods; that's where he died.
To further prove that the Hero's Shade is Link from OOT and MM, he's left handed like Link, and many of the songs he knows are from Ocarina and Majora. He also says the phrase "believe in your strengths", something also said by the Happy Mask Salesman, a pivotal character in Majora's Mask.
Hyrule Historia also says that he wasn't remembered as a hero. Having saved the kingdom from the ultimate evil, you think he would have been. To reiterate, something must have happened to him for him not to be remembered, such as him completely turning into a form that is so different from his own. To me, the evidence is overwhelming.
|The Zelda timeline as it appears in Hyrule Historia|
This theory also makes sense with the official Zelda timeline. Majora's Mask is a direct sequel to Ocarina of Time, and Twilight Princess (the game in which the Hero's Shade appears) comes after Majora's Mask. It is also said in The Wind Waker that the Hero of Time disappeared, resulting in Hyrule being flooded. While The Wind Waker takes place in a different timeline known as the Adult Era and Majora being in the Child Era, it still makes sense to me that the Hero of Time's disappearance would be him falling in the forest as a child, never becoming an adult, meaning that the Hero was gone from Hyrule, leaving it unprotected, resulting in the events that take place in The Wind Waker. The Hero's Shade and the timeline are in my opinion the strongest evidence supporting this theory, considering that this is all information that is confirmed to be canon by Nintendo.
Going back to the game itself, Majora's Mask just has a really surreal feel to it. Everything in the game seems otherworldly, like it can't be real. I mean, there are aliens in this game. Aliens.
|Yup. That's a cow being abducted by aliens in a Zelda game. It seems too weird to be true, mostly because it probably is.|
|Link remembers Zelda giving him the Ocarina, but that's it.|
|Everything Link experiences in Link's Awakening is a product of the Wind Fish's dreamy imagination|
So, Link dies in the forest, his body becomes a Stalfos, and his spirit moves on to the pergetory-like Termina where he must accept his death, represented by the Skull Kid and Majora's Mask. Once these two are defeated, he can finally move on. But, his regrets weren't fully eased, and he must pass down his teachings to Link in Twilight Princess to fully move on.
My theory about the prevalence of time and grief in Majora's Mask:
When I was in high school, one of the Biology classes did a big project about how humans deal with grief, which sparked my interest in the topic. They covered the Kübler-Ross stages of grief, but also talked about something called "The Loop".
"The Loop", besides being the neighborhood in Chicago I live in, is how people often deal with grief. You see, grief isn't a linear journey; we constantly cycle back though the different stages, sometimes ceaselessly. I think this is represented in the 3 day mechanic in Majora's Mask. People cycle through the stages of grief over ad over again until they come to terms with the death they experienced. Also, the "Grief Wheel" also bears an uncanny likeness to something else in Majora's Mask...
|Clocks are an ever apparent symbol in Majora's Mask|
|The transformation cutscenes are some of the most terrifying and unsettling elements in the game|
My theory about the Happy Mask Salesman's character:
Before I say anything else, let me say that the Happy Mask Salesman is probably one of my favorite video game characters of all time, if not my absolute favorite. He has this air of mystery and hilarity about him. He's quirky, serious, foreboding, and not to mention terrifying all at the same time. He's a pivotal character in the game, and the first character Link comes into contact with when he enters Termina.
|The very first thing the Happy Mask Salesman says to you, and probably the most famous line in the game|
The Happy Mask Salesman plays a very important role in the game. He turns Link back into a human and gives him the most important tool that he will use in his journey through Termina— the Song of Healing. He tasks Link with getting Majora's Mask back from Skull Kid, so you could say that he really pushes him to conquer his death, or so I theorize.
|He may be a bit spazzy, but the Happy Mask Salesman has a lot of power|
The HMS doesn't behave like a normal character. His animations are purposely spazzy (for lack of a better word) and at the end of the game, after getting back Majora's Mask, he just disappears into thin air. He also talks in parables, much like you would expect of a god-like figure. He also makes a giant organ appear out of nowhere, which is strange to say the least.
|This isn't Animal Crossing; you can't just pull pianos out of your pocket!|
|He says before this "However, a parting need not last forever", which goes along with the fact that even though death separates us from our loved ones, they still exist in our hearts and minds.|
|The Happy Mask Salesman is he appears in the opening cutscene of Majora's Mask|
According to Didyouknowgamimg.com, the Happy Mask Salesman is based off of Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of the Legend of Zelda series. Miyamoto is highly regarded in the gaming community, god-like almost, so I think the same can be assumed about the HMS. Sure, it may be a bit of a stretch, but it's an interesting notion nonetheless.
Remember the moon children we talked about earlier? They kind of look like the Happy Mask Salesman, don't they? It would make sense considering their interest in masks. Also, many theorize (including myself) that the Happy Mask Salesman and these children are a part of the tribe that sealed the evil of Majora's Mask away. They would have to be pretty powerful and god-like to be able to seal away such a great evil.
|The Happy Mask Salesman: Wise, quirky, helpful, god-like, and terrifying.|
Majora's Mask is easily my favorite game of all time. So much of the game is left unexplained, leaving the player to make up their own explanations. The themes of loss and grief speak to those who have experienced those feelings in real life, such as myself. All of the things I have described in this post are how I in particular interpret the game. I have heard many other theories about how this game mirrors African mythology, and other mythological stories from around the world. So much of Majora's Mask is open to interpretation, much like many great novels and works of art are as well. To me, Majora's Mask is the perfect case for why video games should be considered art— they speak to us and help us cope with the harsh reality of daily life, just like many novels, films, or paintings can. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my theories about this masterpiece of a game! Believe it or not, I have one more post planned about Majora's Mask for you guys. In the meantime, what do you think the story in Majora's Mask means? Do you believe Link is dead? Why or why not? Like I said, this game is open to so much interpretation, so I'd love to hear your take on it!