I’ve been an avid Zelda fan for many years, and the older I get the more I can appreciate the series. There’s a lot to delve in to for the curious player, and perhaps one of the most interesting conundrums in the series is that of the Triforce.
You see, these golden triangles each represent one of three character qualities: Courage, Wisdom, and Power. The person worthy of wielding the Triforce is supposed to have all of these things balanced together. If he or she does not, the Triforce will separate into its components and wait to be reassembled. But even though the pieces are supposed to be balanced, it certainly seems like certain pieces are better than others. Why do the Triforce pieces have different powers, and why is balancing them so important?
First, let’s look at the abilities granted by the different Triforce pieces. The most blatantly obvious abilities are granted by the Triforce of Power. Ganondorf can use this thing to transform into giant monsters, survive killing blows to the torso, emit powerful waves of darkness, and sustain his natural life across countless years. Conversely, the other two pieces don’t seem to grant these incredible abilities. There’s little evidence of the source of Zelda’s magic, but considering that Ganondorf’s Triforce glows wildly whenever he uses it to do things, the princess’s abilities likely do not originate from the Triforce of Wisdom. In the same way, Link never gets crazy new abilities whenever he obtains the Triforce of Courage – he needs its power to overcome Ganon, but it doesn’t give him any flashy, obvious abilities.
Why don’t Courage and Wisdom give new powers to their wielders, while it seems like Ganondorf always has these powerful abilities thanks to the Triforce of Power? I have a couple of different ideas of why it may work this way.
Idea one (and this is the one that I think is most likely) is that the power granted by the Triforce pieces is related to the thing that they represent. So the Triforce of Power grants these obvious, flashy magical powers because that’s what the piece is all about. Conversely, the effects of the other two Triforce pieces would be much more subtle. Perhaps the Triforce of Wisdom grants Zelda greater wisdom than she had before, and it just isn’t that noticeable to an observer because she’s already got a good head on her shoulders. Now with the Triforce of Courage, it doesn’t seem like it makes Link more courageous – after all, the spirit of the hero within him makes every Link a pretty brave guy. However, the piece resonates with something else commonly wielded by the hero – the Master Sword – and makes that work more effectively.
Now while I think idea one is probably the canon idea, I’m more drawn to my other theory on the subject. This is based on the fact that in Ocarina of Time, when Link opens the Sacred Realm, Ganondorf busts in and tries to take the Triforce for himself. When this happens, Ganondorf forcibly takes the Triforce of Power, while the other two pieces are scattered and choose their wielders based on merit. I think it would be interesting if the reason that Courage and Wisdom don’t seem to empower their wielders is because those wielders earned the pieces rather than stealing them. The Triforce of Wisdom and the Triforce of Courage are already going to the wisest and the most courageous people; why would they need to give any more of those things to the people wielding them? Conversely, because Ganondorf stole his piece, the Triforce of Power had to grant him some power because he wasn’t exactly worthy of it.
It may seem at first glance like this wouldn’t work: after all, aren’t there multiple incarnations of each character? That’s true for Link and Zelda, but not so for Ganondorf. If you’re not familiar with the Zelda timeline, allow me to explain. Ocarina of Time is a pivotal point in the timeline of the Zelda series, because all of the time-based shenanigans cause a time paradox, resulting in three different parallel worlds being formed. In one world, Ganondorf triumphed and formed the Triforce completely, turning the Sacred Realm into the Dark World. In the next world, Ganondorf was arrested and executed before he was able to bring destruction on Hyrule. And in the final world, Ganondorf ruled for seven years before he was sealed away, leaving Hyrule broken. In all three of these worlds, the Ganondorf that the heroes face is the same Ganondorf from Ocarina of Time. That means that in every game, he has the same history – he stole the Triforce of Power rather than earning it for himself. Meanwhile, every unique incarnation of Zelda and Link earns their Triforce piece for themselves.
One of my favorite aspects of Triforce lore is how the gods judge worthiness for the Triforce. The one who would wield it needs to have Courage, Wisdom, and Power in equal measure. But why should that matter? Because one without the other two is destructive, or at the very least not as effective for making a difference in the world.
This is most obvious with the Triforce of Power. Even its placement in the Triforce itself suggests this – it is the top triangle, standing upon the two cornerstones of Wisdom and Courage. Without those things as its foundation, the Triforce of Power is very destructive. Someone who is powerful but foolish will use his or her power for selfish gain, and will not have the courage to take action for themselves. If you don’t see Ganondorf as a coward, just look at his actions in the games. He doesn’t make a move on the Sacred Realm until Link opens the way for him, sneaking in while the child has been put to sleep by the gods. In every game, Ganondorf is content to wait in his castle and let his servants do the dirty work. If Ganondorf was courageous enough to face the hero himself, he could smash Link to pieces before the boy ever became powerful enough to challenge him. He’s got so much power – why not face a weak child himself? Fear and foolishness lead Ganondorf to make bad decisions with the power he wields, and it always leads to his defeat and sometimes his destruction.
Next, there’s Zelda and the Triforce of Wisdom. Zelda has a ton of knowledge and foresight. She’s able to tell what Ganondorf is up to, predict his moves, find solutions to difficult problems, and use history and lore to her advantage. However, she never has the power to put this wisdom to practical use. Her father rarely listens to her, and while she does have some magic at her disposal, she does not have the kind of power she needs to defend herself against evil forces. Zelda is another character who doesn’t necessarily seem like a coward, but this is partly because she hides her cowardice behind the veil of her wisdom. She makes hiding and forfeiting seem like strategic decisions, and these decisions make a lot of sense to us – hiding from Ganondorf as Sheik for seven years and refusing to fight the forces of Twilight seem like smart decisions. However, I can see how the goddesses of Hyrule might interpret these moves as cowardly. They want the wielder of the Triforce to be someone who will stand against evil, not “wisely” run from it.
That of course brings us to Link, the wielder of the Triforce of Courage. He is certainly brave enough to stand against evil, but what does the lack of wisdom and power mean for him? Well, he’s somewhat foolhardy and doesn’t think his decisions all the way through. This kid lets Ganondorf follow him into the Sacred Realm, jumps off of a bridge to try and save his sister, leaves the skies to bravely chase Zelda on the ground only to fail to rescue her because he’s constantly late – Link’s bravery is somewhat useless when not tempered by the knowledge of how to apply it wisely. And without the Power to affect change, Link cannot hope to defeat evil. Think of how in Ocarina of Time, he is easily cast aside by Ganondorf when he bravely refuses to tell the sorcerer where Zelda is going. Or in Wind Waker, when Link brings the Master Sword to bear against Ganondorf and is simply cast aside because the blade is powerless. Link’s power pretty much never comes from himself – he needs a gaggle of sages behind him to support him and give him the strength to overcome evil.
So the ideal hero of the gods is someone Courageous enough to stand against evil, Wise enough to understand how to face it properly, and Powerful enough to win the battle when the time comes. A person like that is the kind of person worthy of making a wish on the Triforce, and one of my favorite things about Skyward Sword is that Link becomes this person. In most games, Link is worthy only of the Triforce of Courage. But in Skyward Sword, he undergoes some serious character development. He goes from a foolhardy, powerless boy with nothing but the courage to fight evil to a wise, capable man worthy of wishing on the Triforce. It’s an awesome journey that I hope we get to see in future Zelda titles as well.
Now I turn the conversation to you, adventurers. What are some of your favorite things about the Triforce? Do you have your own theories about why the pieces don’t always seem to grant powers? Discuss it in the comments and be sure to include your Triforce-related hopes for Zelda U!
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