The Waiting Blade

The Master Sword’s ties to mythology and history.

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 11/22/2013 13:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

Filtered sunlight was pouring down into the chamber from the distant skylight overhead. The room was large, with a ceiling so high that craning necks could scarcely make out its rafters, enveloped in darkness as they were. Disuse had brought cold to the room, like the calming coolness of shade on a hot summer’s day. Walls and floors of heavy stone lined every inch of the chamber, stone that had bared witness to years worth of war, worship, and now, a moment of silence.

The sword was waiting.

Generations would pass, kings and queens laid to dust by the ebb of time, and through it all the sword would wait. The setting and rising sun and moon ravaged all but it, this blade of evil’s bane, its metal gleaming and edges honed as though freshly forged. Many had wielded it over the course of history. Heroes of wind, light, time, and twilight had all called on the sword in those moments of greatest blackness. When the sky turned jet and the fiercest of monsters and beasts burst from the earth, the blade was there. The sword would always be there, because the hero would always need it.

The sword was waiting, because the hero was coming.

The blade never knew what form the hero would take. Boy or man, he was always fearless, garbed in green and relentless in his quest. No matter the era, the hero was ever ready, ever willing; now would be no different. In recent days, the world beyond the chamber’s walls had begun to change again. The beast from the lowest pit was stirring, its searing eyes gazing once more from out of the void. Soon, the hero’s fretful dreams would come to an end, and he would awaken to his true self, his true destiny.

The hero will come. When he does, he will find the sword, waiting.

Night was fast approaching. The sky was a purplish wash flecked with burgeoning stars, while the moon’s light replaced the sun’s. His feet ached from the journey, from the endless fighting and bloodshed that had led him to those towering doors. It looked like a temple from the outside, its face worn by the wind, cracking, crumbling, yet still powerful in its own way. He hadn’t questioned himself even once until this point. Until those doors. There was something behind them that hushed whispers claimed would turn the tide of any war. Everything he had fought for had brought him to this place. Legend or lie, it was now his burden to bare.

As the doors pushed forward, dust and detritus swirled to life in their wake. The sword had waited years. A minute. A day. An hour. It didn’t matter. The hero was here. The beast was reborn.

The blade of evil’s bane would be unyielding.

Master and sword, as one.

The Master Sword Through History

The Master Sword first appeared in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past back in 1992. The most apparent inspiration behind the Master Sword is King Arthur’s the Sword in the Stone myth, where Arthur’s ability to draw the blade from the stone is proof of his royal lineage. Excalibur, another element of the Arthur mythology (which some argue is the same blade as the Sword in the Stone), is yet another legendary sword that is imbued with magical abilities that protect and empower its owner. The Master Sword barrows heavily from both tales, as one’s worth must be proven before wielding it and it possesses its own magical attributes. The connection to the Arthur legend is certainly thematically appropriate, given the Zelda series’ frequent medieval settings, but there are also other strong influences at play.

The Sword in the Stone tale is not exclusive to Britain, as variations of it can be found in different places and points throughout history. Sigurd, of Norse Mythology, wields the blade Gram, which was spiked by Odin into a rock to be forever hidden away. There are also tales of a powerful sword that often appears in Russian folklore. Not all of these historical parallels are consistent in Zelda games, though, as often the Master Sword has certain elements that are not constant between titles. In Irish mythology, for example, Claíomh Solais is a sword that glows like the sun, much like the Master Sword does in the Twilight Realm in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Sadly, there are no historical myths about blades that shoot beams when the barer’s heart meter is full.

Many tales of fantastical swords have been borne from the works of Masamune and Muramasa, two Japanese blade smiths who lived between the 13th and 16th centuries. While not actual contemporaries of one another, the two men’s swords are popularly contrasted in various legends, with Masamune’s work symbolic of the peaceful warrior and Muramasa’s denoting bloodlust. Clearly, the Master Sword draws from Masamune’s qualities, as it’s a weapon intended to end strife and bring peace. Twin blade’s are not commonly part of the Zelda mythology, though The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword did play with this particular dichotomy. Demise’s black blade, which is heavily implied to be an antithetical representation of the Master Sword, could be seen as the embodiment of Muramasan ideology. With Link representing good and Demise evil, the Masamune and Muramasa connection was on vivid display here.

These ties to ancient mythology and legends are part of what lends the Master Sword its sense of grandeur. Humanity is drawn to the notion of a weapon of power that bestows importance and strength. The Master Sword is a tangible connection to and representation of that ideal, making its appeal for over twenty years now so enduring. Nintendo continues to elaborate on and expand the Master Sword’s own mythology, so it will be very interesting to see what corner of history the company pulls from next.

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