The Legend We Create

The courageous hero loves the wise princess, but they are bound by their fate and must put their feelings aside for the sake of a world floating above the ruins of an ancient kingdom.

…or so the legend goes, but some storytellers have a slightly different interpretation.

The Legend We Create is a tale of mutual pining and second-chance romance on the Great Sea, as well as a meditation on how each new generation heals the wounds of history by telling their own narratives about the past. You can read this short story on AO3 (here).

This story was published in Fated: A Zelink Zine. You check out the work of the other contributors on the zine’s Twitter account (here).

The Shadows of Hyrule

Honey, everyone has a murder dungeon in Kakariko Village.

The joke is that, while the “evil” Yiga Clan is characterized as violent and bloodthirsty in Breath of the Wild, the “good” Sheikah Clan is canonically just as disturbing. They’re all magical ninja assassins. What do you expect?

These two characters are Sooga and Impa from the Breath of the Wild AU melee fighting game Age of Calamity, and this is fan art of the four-part Sooga/Impa fancomic Shadow Folk by Frankiesbugs on Tumblr. You can read Shadow Folk on Tumblr starting (here), or you can donate 1€ download a PDF version (here). I have to admit that I never considered any sort of relationship between Impa and Sooga until I read this comic, but the art is stylish and beautiful and the story is a lot of fun.

On the Internet, No One Knows You’re (Not) Kris

I recently participated in the annual Yuletide fic exchange for small fandoms. More than a thousand people contribute their work to this exchange, in which each participant is anonymously matched with someone who requests a story for one of the fandoms they’ve offered to write for. The person with whom I was matched asked for fic about Deltarune, and they requested “existential horror about free will and the ethics of a player guiding characters with self-awareness.” I’m always up for existential horror, and the recipient’s description of how they view the player-character Kris really vibed with me: “A Weird Kid who’s kinda lonely but not quite knowing how to make friends/not liking many of their options in town before the game starts.”

This prompt inspired me to write a story called “On the Internet No One Knows You’re (Not) Kris,” which is an exploration of Kris’s character within a narrative meta-analysis of the game. You can find it on AO3 (here).

The person who requested the story confessed that they’ve spent countless hours diving down the rabbit hole of Deltarune theories, so I took a plunge into the internet theory maze as well. The game subtly implies that Kris isn’t in full control of their body or personality, and that what’s manipulating them is their SOUL, the red heart that represents them during battle sequences. Many Deltarune theories try to answer the question of who (or what) is controlling Kris’s SOUL. There’s also the issue of what connection Deltarune might have to Undertale, as the two games share the same metaphysics and many of the same characters.

This ended up being my favorite Deltarune theory:
https://theamazingsallyhogan.tumblr.com/post/663249972697907200/great-big-massive-spoilers-under-the-cut-part-1

What this theory posits is that Kris has made a devil’s bargain with their SOUL, exchanging their free will for the power to rescue a childhood friend who mysteriously vanished a few years before the game begins. Although this theory doesn’t explain everything that’s going on in Deltarune – which, after all, has only released its first two chapters – the essay shines light on the characters’ backstory, which is only very briefly alluded to in the game itself.

This theory led me to create an illustration (here) based on the scene from Howl’s Moving Castle in which Howl makes a pact with the fallen star Calcifer, and I drew the comic above about how the ostensible villain of the second chapter of Deltarune might have a radically different view of the concept of free will. I also created an animated illustration (here) of the secondary villain Spamton, but I ultimately decided not to include it with the story. Spamton is bizarrely beloved in a certain corner of Deltarune fandom, but I think it’s probably safe to say that he’s an acquired taste. Still, I had a lot of fun writing Spamton’s dialog in my story. Despite spending far too long on the Deltarune wiki, I regret nothing.

Growing Up with The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda series has been criticized for its formulaic writing, but one of the strengths of its archetypal characters is that they allow room for multiple interpretations. I was born in the same year as the Zelda series, and my perspective on these characters and their stories has shifted as I’ve grown older.

When I was a kid, I loved Link. I had no innate skill as a gamer, but I enjoyed the thrill of running wild in Hyrule. I may not have fully understood the game mechanics, but this meant I was always discovering new things. Despite my many deaths, I reveled in the certainty that I was a force of good fighting for justice, and it was comforting to know that all I had to do in order to succeed was to follow the marks on my map.  

In my late teens, I began to identify more with Princess Zelda. As my view of the world became wider, I realized that it wasn’t always the best course of action to charge forward with an unsheathed sword. I also came to understand that it was impossible for me to be a lone hero. There were times when I would be at the mercy of forces beyond my control, and sometimes I would need to rely on the strength of other people to achieve my goals.  

Now that I’m an adult, I can’t help but sympathize with Ganondorf. The world is infinitely complicated and filled with impossible decisions. Even though you may have the best of intentions, it’s inevitable that some people will see you as a villain when you challenge the status quo. If you want the power to change the world, you have to forge your own path, and no one will give you a map marked with signposted quests to complete. Still, as long as you’re making your own rules, you might as well be stylish and have gorgeous hair.

The Legend of Zelda series has become a type of modern mythology. The games continue to be relevant not just because of the strength of their gameplay, but also because of the resonance of their archetypes in the lives of the people who grow up with their stories. Instead of growing out of the Zelda series, I’ve found that I’ve grown to appreciate it more now that I can relate to the characters through multiple levels of lived experience.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This essay and its accompanying illustration were originally published in Coin-Operated Press’s Nerd! Zine anthology. You can check out the zine on the press’s website (here).

Flowerblight Ganon

I posted a short story on AO3 (here) about a minor character in Breath of the Wild named Magda, who is affectionately known by the fandom as “Flowerblight Ganon.”

In Breath of the Wild, Malice is a tangible substance that infests objects and locations controlled by Ganon, including the four Divine Beasts, Hyrule Castle, and the Akkala Citadel Ruins. It also infects the dragon spirit Lanayru who guards the Spring of Wisdom.

While writing this story, I wondered if it were possible for Malice to infect regular people. If so, the woman who zealously guards the garden of flowers surrounding Hila Rao Shrine is as good of a candidate as anyone.

The story illustration is by Clara Kay, whose gorgeously monstrous horror art can be found on Twitter (here) and on Instagram (here). I really enjoyed working with Clara, and I also want to give a shout-out to her store (here), which has all sorts of cool Legend of Zelda merch!

I’d like to share a bit of the artist’s description of this piece, because it’s fascinating:

There’s a lot of symbolism packed into the flowers here. The petunias (pink) represent anger and resentment, the devil’s trumpet (the tall white one) represents power and caution, the spider lily (big spiny red one) represents death and reincarnation, and the carnation (white with red ring) is considered the ‘flower of the gods’ and represents admiration, passion, and love.

Carnations represent “passion and love” because they’re thought to be white flowers dyed red with blood, which is entirely appropriate for this story. “Flowerblight Ganon” is my first foray into botanical horror, and I don’t think it’s necessary to be familiar with Breath of the Wild to understand what’s going on. Magda is a regular woman enjoying gardening, quiet living, and occasional tea with friends in a dying postapocalyptic world, and if she lives her best life by indulging in murder every once in a while, then at least her flowers are well fertilized.

Wanderers

This comic was written by me and drawn by LunaArtGallery, whose work can be found on Tumblr, on Instagram, and on Twitter. You can read their commentary on the piece on their Tumblr post (here).

Given that the universe of the Legend of Zelda games is characterized by its disparate timelines, I’d like to think that there’s at least one timeline in which Zelda and Ganondorf work out their differences peacefully instead of enacting the cycle of destruction brought about by a war between two ancient gods. Every game in the series is filled with abandoned ruins that Link explores but never questions, so it might be interesting for Zelda and Ganondorf to seek out the truth underlying the legends that have shaped their lives. This idea was inspired by the game Journey, which is about bearing witness to the mistakes of the past in a quest for atonement and enlightenment. If we ever get to play as Zelda, it would be lovely for her adventure to take her in a similarly compelling direction.

A Noble Pursuit

None of the lessons from the Gerudo Classroom have prepared Rhondson for married life with Hudson, who has grown restless and disappeared from Tarrey Town a year after its founding. She travels to the Akkala Citadel Ruins to hunt for her husband while reflecting on the bridges that will need to be rebuilt in order for Hyrule to embrace a peaceful future.

“A Noble Pursuit” is a short story that explores the theme of cultural differences, including different attitudes regarding the preservation of historic sites, via the Akkala Citadel Ruins.

As the Gerudo tailor Rhondson crosses the Sokkala Bridges, she’s impressed by how sturdy and practical they are; and, at the end of the story, she considers how building more bridges – both literal and cultural – might help make the Akkala Citadel habitable once more.

At the end of the story, Rhondson finds that her missing husband Hudson has made friends with the monstrous Hinox who’s always snoozing away on the citadel’s parade grounds. She realizes that both the Hinox and her husband need a renewed sense of purpose, and she encourages Hudson to direct his energy into rebuilding the ruins of the Akkala Citadel into a place better suited to cultural exchange.  

This story about archaeology, castles, ruins, giant monster friends, and what it means “to live happily ever after” was written for Memorabilia, a Breath of the Wild fanzine​ that you can check out on Twitter (here) and on Tumblr (here). The accompanying illustrations are by the stylish scholar Pocketwei, whose art of handsome characters and beautiful landscapes can be found on Twitter (here) and on Instagram (here).

You can read “A Noble Pursuit” on AO3 (here).

Malice

Malice is an urban fantasy AU of Breath of the Wild starring Zelda, a scientist researching ancient technology, and Ganondorf, a tech investor who takes an intense interest in her work. Ganondorf is more than he seems, however, and Zelda is about to learn just how real her nightmares of calamity might become…

The complete illustrated story is on AO3.

Re: #PitMad for Social Media Introverts

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think a lot of people…

…especially people born in the 1980s and 1990s, who had this sort of neoliberal ideology drilled into them at every single step of education and employment…

…may have the impression that creative success operates according to a meritocracy, meaning that the quality of the work you create will speak for itself.

As someone with a PhD in Comparative Literature, and as someone with a decent number of creative friends who watches creative economies play out in real time on social media, I just don’t think that’s the case. Instead, I think success is primarily based on three factors:

(1) Money
(2) Connections
(3) Luck

Or, to be more specific:

(1) Having wealthy parents
(2) Belonging to a strong and supportive network
(3) Being at exactly the right place at exactly the right time

You can’t control money or luck; and, for the most part, you can’t really control your network of connections either. Still, much more than inherited wealth and serendipity, you can take the initiative to support your friends and ask your friends to support you in turn. If anyone is successful outside of a literal PR campaign, it’s because of their friends. This isn’t just about mutual aid; it’s also about generating an aura of belonging to an interesting and special group that other people want to join, if only by association.

As I wrote in my previous post, it can be exhausting to be around people who are constantly hustling, and it can be a headache to be the person trying to hustle, but creative success happens because it’s organized. You have to ask people for help and support, especially at the beginning of your career, and you have to be willing to give it in turn. I think this actually benefits introverted people, as it’s the group that will collectively perform the bulk of the necessary emotional labor, while at the same time providing greater rewards to each individual for investing their limited emotional energy.

To be honest, I think the same principle should apply even to nonprofessional work like fanfiction. Like, I may not have the time and energy to read your 150k-word fanfic novel about a game I’ve never played or a show I’ve never watched, and I may not be interested in reading the porn you wrote about characters I don’t ship or that I’m not familiar with, but I will still leave kudos on AO3 because I want to support you and your work.

I used to do this all the time – meaning that I would leave kudos on my friends’ work when they posted stories for fandoms I didn’t know anything about or characters and ships that I wasn’t interested in – but I stopped because I received very little support in return. It takes all of fifteen seconds to click on a story and leave kudos, but a lot of people in fandom just aren’t willing to do this for some reason. I mean, we’re all familiar with stories that have hundreds and thousands of kudos, but the vast majority of stories on AO3 barely have any kudos at all, even when they’re written by authors with an established following.

And that’s a damn shame, because the emerging writers who contribute to fandom as they discover and refine their voices deserve so much more support and positive feedback than they’re receiving.

I guess the moral of the story is that successful creative people are people who not only support their friends, but ask their friends to support them in turn. This can be awkward, especially for shy and introverted writers, but it’s definitely worth it!

Words of Wisdom

Ask Polly: How Am I Supposed to Make Friends in My Late 20s?
https://www.thecut.com/2014/08/ask-polly-how-do-i-make-friends-in-my-late-20s.html

So the first thing you have to do is accept that, despite appearances, you’re not all that different than most people your age. The mid- to late-20s are often an apex of friendless desperation. To make matters worse, people feel very self-conscious about their friendlessness at that age, as if everything should’ve fallen into place a long time ago. Considering how often urban, career-focused Americans move around and turn their lives upside down in their 20s, you’d think most of us would know better.

This is a long essay, but every single word is golden.

I’ve been seeing a lot of posts on Tumblr recently (like this one) setting 25 as an arbitrary cut-off age for tolerance of bad behavior. The underlying message seems to be that, by 25 years old, you should have your shit together and shouldn’t be messing around in fandom.

Dangerous and toxic behavior shouldn’t be tolerated or excused at any age, of course. Saying that young people (or neurodiverse people, or differently abled people) have no control over their behavior is basically saying that they’re subhuman animals with no capacity for rational judgment, which is both offensive and untrue. Putting that aside.

The idea that you have to have your shit together by the time you’re 25 years old is wild. I feel like 25 is actually the age when a lot of people’s shit starts to fall apart, honestly.

While you’re in high school and college, you have a structured set of milestones and multiple ready-made groups of peers. For the first few years out of school, you likely still have structured career goals and probably still keep in touch with many of your friends. By the time you hit 25, however, things start to get weird. A lot of your friends are pairing off and getting married, and some are even buying houses and having kids, which can create subtle conflicts and a lot of pressure. You’re probably also, for the first time in your life, surrounded by people who aren’t your age and don’t share your values and life experiences. Your relationship with your family will probably change as you start being expected to pay for expensive things you formerly took for granted (like insurance) while you begin to take on a larger burden of financial and emotional support. After working in entry-level positions for a few years, you might be considering a career change. You might have even been fired. You might make a terrible life decision and apply to grad school. You might move to another city, or to the suburbs, or to a different timezone.

25 is an incredibly awkward age, and it takes time to figure out how to be an emotionally mature and self-sufficient adult. Some people are innately blessed with wisdom (and money, and a supportive family), but most of us need about ten years or so to get our shit together.

Again, I’m not excusing the behavior of anyone who is creepy or hateful online, but to suggest that 25 is the age when you should stop being in fandom and stop trying to make friends with people who share your interests doesn’t make sense. And “discrimination” is a strong word, but I really do feel like giving 25 as a cut-off point is ignoring the realities of a lot of people coming from marginalized communities who just don’t have the time or money or emotional energy to devote to their interests and hobbies (or to social media in general) until they’re a bit older.

I can totally understand why teenagers might not want to interact with older people online, and that’s fair. Still, I think it’s important to emphasize that there’s no deadline for meeting new people, exploring new interests, picking up new skills, and making mistakes as you gradually learn how to communicate and exist in society as an adult.