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The Exquisite Liminality Of Zelda: Skyward Sword – Feature

Link Falling To The World Below

To celebrate the 35th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda, we’re running a series of features looking at a specific aspect — a theme, character, mechanic, location, memory or something else entirely — from each of the mainline Zelda games. Today, Kate compares Skyward Sword to a corridor, or something…

Skyward Sword. A two-word title that strikes fear into the heart of many. But worry not, my dear Zelda-loving/hating friends – I come to ‘bury’ Skyward Sword, not to praise it. Some of our Zelda essays have been about how much we love a particular game, and don’t get me wrong — I am a Skyward Sword apologist — but this is not one of those essays. I want to talk, instead, about an interesting feature of the most divisive Zelda game – its fascination with liminality.

Ah, liminality: the friend to all university essay-writers and pretentious games journalists alike. The term comes from the Latin for “threshold” — limen — and that’s exactly what it means: a space between. A liminal space is the threshold between doing something or being somewhere, and what comes next, a space that — perhaps unsurprisingly — can elicit feelings of excitement, reverence, trepidation, or fear.

The moment when Link accidentally turned on the big light instead of the reading lamp when he went to the bathroom at 2am
The moment when Link accidentally turned on the big light instead of the reading lamp when he went to the bathroom at 2am

It can be a place in time — a sunset, for example, which is a liminal space between night and day — or a literal place, like a waiting room, a car park, or a hallway. It can even be a feeling that’s hard to pin down, a feeling as though you’re stepping from the past into the future, like when you take your final exam in university and you think to yourself, “wow, I’ll never have to write another essay ever again,” and then you write 2,000 words on liminality in video games even though no one asked you to. Something like that, you know.

Zelda games are full of liminal spaces. The Temple of Time is a big one — the threshold between child and adult, mortal and divine, loud and quiet — but the smaller, less obvious ones are just as beautiful. There’s the Kokiri Forest, the last monster-free area in Hyrule, where the Kokiri remain in the perpetual state of childhood, like Peter Pan. Later on in Ocarina of Time, Dampé mans the creepy graveyard, and eventually even crosses the threshold between life and death himself, becoming a ghost like those he guards.

Bird hats: a liminal space between bird, and hat
Bird hats: a liminal space between bird, and hat

In Minish Cap, the portals to the world of the Picori are perfect liminal spaces: hollowed-out stumps and pots that shrink Link into mini-Link, a transformation which takes place in a perfect sunbeam, almost like a temple. And then there’s Majora’s Mask, a game so dang obsessed with liminality that it would be easier to find an example within of a non-liminal space.

But we’re not talking about Majora’s Mask today. We’re talking about Skyward Sword, and you already know my feelings on it (it’s good, actually), so rather than making an impassioned case for the game that we’ll all presumably be replaying this summer, I want to talk instead about how Skyward Sword uses liminal spaces to kickstart the legend of Zelda that we all know so well.

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