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The benchmark of the Zelda community is timeline theorizing - Zelda lovers flock from far and wide to the respective community fansites and stack their evidence, game knowledge, and experience against other Zelda fans, all towards attempting to make sense of the convoluted timeline that has become one of the most popular aspects of the franchise. While some of these ideas are better justified than others, all of them arise from a personal perspective on the series. As such, with no official categorization of Zelda canon and no officially-released complete timeline, any personal view may be valid as any other view.
The theories themselves are the fruit of these personal interpretations and the conclusions reached in debate. They are the most important products of timeline discussion and as such it is important for all theorists to carefully examine them before they attempt to draw conclusions on the quality of their content.
Despite all the controversy, most Zelda fans only have a passing interest in the timeline beyond the most obvious of links between games. They care not for the endless debates, and wonder only after the final product, or, in this case, products:
(NOTE: Any of these lines may accommodate Kodai No Sekiban after A Link to the Past and the Game and Watch Zelda after Legend of Zelda)
2D Child Timelines
- Main articles: 2D Child Community Theories and Split Timeline Disciplines
- "Child" Line: SS >< (TMC) - OoT/MM - TP - (TMC) - FS/FSA - ALttP/LA - (OoS/OoA) - LoZ/AoL - (OoS/OoA)
- "Adult" Line: SS >< (TMC) - OoT - TWW/PH - ST
2D Adult Timelines
- "Child" Line: SS >< (TMC) - OoT/MM - TP
"Adult" Line: SS >< (TMC) - OoT - TWW/PH - ST - (TMC) - FS/FSA - ALttP/LA - (OoS/OoA) - LoZ/AoL - (OoS/OoA)
- "Child" Line: SS - OoT/MM - TP
"Adult" Line: SS - OoT - TWW/PH - ST - (LoZ/AoL) - OoS/OoA(/LA) - TMC - FS/FSA - ALttP(/LA) - (LoZ/AoL)
2D Split Timelines
- Main article: 2D Split Community Theories
New 3D Story Timeline
- "Child" Line: SS - OoT/MM - TP
- "Adult" Line: SS - OoT - TWW/PH - ST
- "2D" Line: TMC - FS/FSA - ALttP/LA - (OoS/OoA) - LoZ/AoL - (OoS/OoA)
- "First development" SS - OOT - ALttP/LA - (OoS/OoA) - LoZ/AoL - (OoS/OoA)
- "Second Development" SS - OOT - TWW/PH - ST
- "Third Development" SS - OOT/MM - TP
(NOTE: TMC, FS, and FSA have many possible placements within Multiple Timelines, including the possibility of a line of their own)
The Literal Legend Theory
This theory posits that the legend of Zelda is literally what it claims to be, a legend. For this reason a timeline is unnecessary. The value is in the lessons imparted to the audience, not in maintaining chronological or internal consistency. One line of evidence supporting this theory is seen in the way many games in the series appear to be re-tellings of the same story. This would reflect the natural evolution that all legends undergo. As the legend of Zelda is passed down from person to person, it changes, it evolves.
Zelda Universe, ZeldaInformer, Zelda Legends, and Zelda Dungeon conducted a joint poll in 2008 to see where the community fell in terms of timeline organization. However, new Zelda games have been released since then, and the results of these polls may no longer apply today. Because Zelda Wiki acts as an archive for the Mastermind sites and their communities, some users that participated in the polls decided to share their theories, all of which are complied below. These theories exist to help theorists reference all paradigms in respect to the Zelda timeline - they are categorized based on type (i.e. 2D Child, 2D Adult, etc), and are further subdivided in sections that note which user made the theory, and if applicable, the fansite they belong to.
- Main article: Canonical Analysis and Game Grouping
Timeline theory is often accused of being a collection of irrelevant fan-fiction with no real truth to it. In actuality, a large part of our timeline knowledge is strictly canon; a good deal more consists of simple, well supported inferences based on this canon and the intentions of Zelda's creators. These principles are held to be true by almost all Timeline theorists. We can combine all this information and conceive six timeline "arcs":
- SS - OoT/MM - TP
- SS - OoT - TWW/PH - ST
- TMC - FS/FSA
- OoS/OoA (in either order)
Beyond that, all timeline theory is an attempt to combine these arcs and achieve a final chronology.
Time and the Timeline
- Main article: Hylian Cosmology
Understanding the Legend's Timeline may require an understanding of the Legend's concept of time itself. Essentially, time is sequence; first, second, third, and fourth. A very basic concept at first glance, but one that takes on a whole new dimension when "fourth" comes between "first" and "second" and stops "third" from ever occurring.
In four games, the precise nature of time has never remained constant. OOT contains at least two very different mechanics, which theorists often find irreconcilable (and downright strange). OoA's mechanics only begin to make sense when one sacrifices logic to storyline completely, and MM's Goddess of Time throws it all into chaos by drawing questions of omnipotence into the debate.
Generally, it is not an issue most theorists need worry over, and should only be explored by those with a strangely deep interest in the OOT/MM connection.
Common Points of Debate
Beyond these simple arcs, the amount of helpful canon begins to decrease. At this point, disagreements inevitably arise between various theorists who have naturally formed differing interpretations of the small amount of "truth" they have to work with.
The Split Timeline theory was a major point of contention in timeline discussion for many years, but is now generally accepted following a confirmation in an interview with Eiji Aonuma. These theories were effectively the same as what is now known: the ending of Ocarina of Time resulted in two timeline branches, depending on whether or not Link drew the Master Sword. One of these was the Child Timeline, which was created at the end of the game when Link was returned to his original time, but closed the Door of Time, preventing the original events of the game. The other was the Adult Timeline, which contained the original events of Ocarina of Time up to Link defeating Ganon and returning to his own time.
Production Related Arguments
- Main article: Timeline Quotes
Detail Related Arguments
Shapes of boats, common attributes of revered whales, the proliferation of the term 'force' throughout the series... theorists have a tendency to argue about pretty much anything. Many minor details of the series have come under scrutiny for their possible timeline relevance, and, since the release of Twilight Princess, have become the principle focus of many theorists.
Studying minor elements complicates theory greatly, both because of the enormous number of interpretations that can rise from analysis of Zelda's style (as opposed to its narrative) and the general debate as to whether such small objects have any relevance in the first place. Some theorists are critical of this approach of over interpreting possible connections, as they believe many supposed connections are random coincidences, and were not actually intended by the creators of the games.
Time Related Arguments
- Main article: Hylian Cosmology
Time travel is a principal element of the Zelda series, and is a prominent factor in three of the games. In developing the game mechanics for OoT, MM, and OoA, Nintendo was far more concerned with making the mechanics fun and interesting than being scientifically sound (or even consistent).
Some loose ends or uncertainties produced by the unclear nature of time travel were clarified by Nintendo's confirmation that the events of Majora's Mask and Twilight Princess occur on a parallel timeline to the adult portion of Ocarina of Time and The Wind Waker. Debate on these issues, once among the most common of arguments, has faded away, replaced by a general acceptance and understanding of the split timeline theory.
Ganon Related Arguments
- Main article: Ganon Conflicts
Ganon is, by and large, the most constant element in the Zelda Universe. Unlike the incarnations of Zelda, Who may not appear in every game, the King of Evil has persisted through two decades of development. As a result, tracking his personal course through Hyrule's history has provided our deepest insights and created some of the largest debates. The 'Ganon Conflicts' are a cornerstone of Zelda theory.
In order to save space and typing time, fans discussing the broader timeline issues developed a system by which to convey theorized game placements in as little text as possible. Understanding this shorthand is pivotal to understanding timeline jargon. The Timeline Abbreviations page contains a comprehensive list of this shorthand style of writing.