For as long as there have been warriors in our stories, there have been magical weapons for them to wield, and the sword is the most typical of these. Swords themselves are important symbols even without magic.
They are one of the few weapons in the world which were not developed for any other reason: axes, daggers, spears, bows, guns, these all have other purposes and applications, but the sword - it can only kill men. It is useless for hunting or cutting down trees or slicing meat for a feast.
In addition, the sword was once a very difficult craft, requiring the master swordsmiths to dedicate their entire lives to crafting even moderate quality blades. These things make the sword a foremost choice for the heroes of stories. Adding magic to that blade makes the greatest heroes nobler, and the most terrible foes viler. This series of features is covering some of the most important magic swords in literature and mythology.
Today we’re looking at The Master Sword.
The Master Sword is the ultimate weapon in many of the Legend of Zelda franchise of video games. Originally, these games seemed to be retelling the same story over and over again, but as each game passes it becomes increasingly clear that what we’re seeing is actually a case of repeated rebirth. The amount of time between entries is not made entirely clear, but all of the stories take place at different points in the history of a single world. Link, Zelda, and Gannon are reborn over and over again - though these are not always their names - to fight the same battles, and play out the same parts time after time.
In each case, Zelda is a strong young woman, a leader of her people. Gannon is a power-hungry villain, and Link is a courageous adventurer. Sometimes Link, also called The Hero of Time, must rescue Zelda from Gannon, and sometimes, he simply must defeat him to save the land from his tyranny.
The Master Sword - though it is not always called that - plays a key role in the story every time it comes around again, as it is usually the only weapon capable of defeating Gannon’s aspect, and Link must adventure into dangerous environs - finding interesting gadgets and weapons, and slowly learning to use each one - in order to locate the sword where the last incarnation of the Hero of Time left it.
The origin of the sword id difficult to pin down, partly because contradicting stories have been told of it across the franchise, and partly because some of the information is going to be in the upcoming prequel, Skyward Sword, which will be depicting the story of Link, Zelda, and Gannon at a time long before any of the previous told stories.
What seems consistent is that The Goddesses, the pantheon of the story-world, decided to place their aspects upon the world, so that their power could be known to the people of Hyrule. Together the three aspects make up the triforce, a sometimes tangible representation of the power of the world.
Each of the three pieces, which represent Power, Wisdom, and Courage are the reason for the repeating conflict among the three personalities. In the eras when Power (incarnated in Gannon) takes the upper hand, the world is in strife. In Eras when Wisdom (incarnated in Zelda) takes control, the world is in peace and abundance. Which aspect takes control is determined by the success or failure of Courage (incarnated in Link).
The goddesses wanted to give an edge to the aspect of courage, and so had the ancient Hyrulians forge a sword which had the power to repel the magic of the aspect of power. It can break any evil spell, and can defeat Gannon himself. Not only did the sword require the assistance from the goddesses, but two orders of monks, established in that ancient time, must remain in constant prayer at all times. If they don’t, the sword will lose its powers.
In the upcoming prequel, we will learn that the first resting place of the sword was in the floating cities of Skyloft. Known as the Skyward Sword, it here has two additional abilities. It can transport the wielder between Skyloft, and the kingdom of Hyrule, far below, and it can transform into a sentient, humanoid form, supposedly to inform the Hero of Time of his duty to free the world from Gannon.
Sometime either during or after the events of the upcoming game, the sword loses these two extra abilities, and it’s name, likely along with the loss of Skyloft, which doesn’t exist later in the chronology of the world.
It comes to rest in a place called the Temple of Time and gains a new ability: if a Link attempts to take the sword before he is old enough to wield it, it will freeze his soul inside for a time, releasing him when ready.
If that adult Link returns to the sword’s pedestal, and returns it later, he will be sent back to the moment he last tried to draw it. In this way, Link can move back and forth between two time periods, making changes in the past, as a child, and watching them reflect in the future.
In some of the repetitions of the story (the order of each of them is not entirely clear), during a time known as The Great Flood - when all but the highest points of Hyrule are covered in water - the sword is called The Blade of Evil’s Bane
In what seems to be the latest game (chronologically) - Twilight Princess - Link must travel deep into the dangerous wilderness to find the sword, locating it amongst the long ago destroyed ruins of the Temple of Time. That time, the sword was sought out for its curse breaking abilities, as Link had been turned into a wolf.
Judging from hints in the games, the conflict of the three aspects has played out thousands of times, each time resulting a bit differently, but with some elements, like the Master Sword, always remaining the same.
Come back for the next article in the series which will feature Callandor. If there is a magic sword which you would like to see featured in this series, let us know in the comments.