Exploring grief with The Legend of Zelda

Majora’s Mask, the sixth game in the Zelda series released in 2002 has been designed so that each stage of the game mirror the five stages of grief. Watch out, this blog contains Majora Mask small spoilers as I outline the game's settings.

In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross proposed that there are five stages of grief that are universal and are experienced by people from all walks of life. Mourning occurs in response to an individual’s own terminal illness, the loss of a close relationship, or to the death or loss of a close relationship. Majora’s Mask begins with loss, between the events of Ocarina of Time, Link has been separated from his partner Navi and he journeys from Lost Woods to find her.

 It is important to interpret the stages of grief loosely, and expect much individual variation. There is no neat progression from one stage to the next. In reality, there is much looping back, or stages can hit at the same time, or occur out of order. There is evidence that people experience grief in different ways, however the five stages of grief remains a useful guide on what to expect.

 1. Clock Down - Denial

The first place Link gets to is Clock Town, where the citizenry are preparing for their annual Carnival of Time festival in utter and complete denial of the meanest-looking moon ever leering down at them.

 Just another everyday full moon threatening to destroy earth

Just another everyday full moon threatening to destroy earth

Denial is a normal reaction to rationalise overwhelming emotions. It is a defence mechanism that buffers the immediate shock. The person is trying to shut out the reality or magnitude of his/her situation, and begins to develop a false, preferable reality that helps carry them through the first wave of pain.

2. Woodfall - Anger

The Deku King, ruler of the Deku tribe in termina is hell-bent on punishing a young innocent monkey, whom he believes has made off with his daughter and fed her to monsters in Woodfall Temple.

As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear, reality and its pain re-emerge. The intense emotion is deflected and redirected and expressed instead as anger. Often people feel guilty for being angry, and this often more cause for anger.

3. Snowhead – Bargaining
In the high, snowy mountains of Snowhead. Link encounters the ghost of the great Goron warrior Darmani. Unable to face his failure or his people in order to find closure, he turns to magic as a means of undoing his death in order to finish his battle with Goht the masked mechanical monster.

The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control or a sense of hope that the individual can somehow undo or avoid a cause of grief

4. Great Bay – Depression

Link meets the dying Mikau on the coastline of Great Bay, where he learns about the guitarist’s girlfriend, Lulu, and her missing eggs. Lulu is left in isolation, gazing out to the Great Bay Temple from the outside of Zora Hall. Her isolation and despondence reflects her depression.

The grieving person begins to understand the certainty of loss. Things begin to lose meaning to the griever. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time sullen. This process allows the grieving person to disconnect from things of love and affection, possibly in an attempt to separate and to bid their loved one farewell. 

5. Ikana Valley - Acceptance

Other regions had him encounter a plethora of characters. However, everyone in Ikana is dead. In much the same way, Link finds no new identities to assume. This leaves Link free to reflect on himself.

Individuals begin to come to terms with the tragic event. People dealing with death can enter this stage a long time before the people they leave behind, who must pass through their own individual stages of dealing with the grief. This typically comes with a calm, retrospective view of the catastrophe.

By surrendering the masks he's collected on his journey - in essence providing proof of his battles against grief - Link earns the Fierce Deity's Mask. That this mask transforms Link into an adult form in contrast to Majora’s Mask’s own child-like form signifies the maturity he has gained. That maturity gives him great power, with which he can easily vanquish the comparative weakness of grief and despair.