Review of Twilight Princess Novelization
by Lauren Tague on December 15, 2012 at 2:23pm
I was first exposed to The Legend of Zelda video games a bit later in life than one might expect. Rather than having grown up playing them, I was already a young adult, freshly returned from college, when my brother brought home his first Zelda title, Ocarina of Time, and asked me to watch him play it. I had been an avid Nintendo gamer as a kid, but was unfamiliar with the Zelda series. (As a side note for newcomers, I’ll mention here that the series is named after its iconic princess, who is not the main protagonist but plays an important role in each game.) Although initially skeptical, I agreed to check it out—and was pleasantly surprised by what I found. I soon became captivated by the world of Hyrule, following the hero Link in a tale of compelling adventure. My brother and I had such fun that summer solving the dungeon puzzles together. That was the beginning of our journey through all of the other major LOZ titles—including, of course, Twilight Princess.
What initially piqued my interest about TP was its graphical style; it had a much more realistic look than previous titles in the series. The game’s story also sounded complex and intriguing. As I eventually discovered, Twilight Princess is unique among Zelda games because it chronicles the story of not one but two unlikely heroes, who are forced to partner together in saving both Princess Zelda and the world from the ultimate darkness.
One evening, while surfing the “Zelda Dungeon” fan website, I found an article highlighting Stephonika W. Kaye’s Twilight Princess online novelization. Curious, I looked through the novel’s website and promptly started reading. I stayed up late that night to finish the first few chapters!
I was immediately impressed by how incredibly detailed and perfectly developed this novel is. I’m a writer myself, and if something is poorly written or choppily paced, it won’t hold my interest. The TP novel kept me coming back day after day, whenever I could find some free time. In this review, I’d like to discuss a few points about the novel that make it stand out. Far from being a half-cocked piece of fan fiction, it is a professionally-written book.
Its most remarkable factor would have to be Link’s characterization. Writing about Link would be a daunting task for any author, primarily for two reasons: he does not speak in the games, and every fan has their own idea of him. (Most of the games leave Link as a fairly vague character, meant to represent the player.) I have seen fan-made movies and other attempts to portray Link, in which he is everything from immature and stupid to downright annoying. But when reading this novel, I felt as if I were gaining deeper insight into the Link I already know from the games. He doesn’t speak more than he needs to, but when he does, it feels natural. Even though he certainly has a more defined personality, I found that I still resonated with him. Stephonika exhibits an almost uncanny ability to get inside his head and express what he’s thinking. He experiences real emotions. He struggles with accepting his destiny and with his relationships with other characters. But he unquestionably remains that hero every Zelda fan loves: a humble, ordinary boy who matures into a courageous, honorable man.
The author has successfully translated the entire story into a novel that, although still fantasy, has a more realistic feel than a video game. Longtime Zelda gamers may wonder, “How in the world was she able to do that?” After all, the games are fraught with dungeons, puzzles, bosses, and items that would be tedious and decidedly unrealistic if written out line-by-line. Yet, we as fans would still want an adaptation that feels authentically “Zelda.” The answer lies in a careful balance between what needs to be there and what doesn’t. Parts of the dungeon areas have been logically condensed to keep them believable and to avoid boring readers, but the settings are still very accurate. The storyline itself is faithfully adhered to—there is no major cutting and pasting of the plot’s chronology, and all the important events are present. (And did I mention that the in-game dialogue is always used whenever possible?) The development of supporting characters is necessarily expanded, but even here, Stephonika uses what the game already indicates about each character as her baseline. She does NOT insert her own drastic “fan fiction” ideas, contrary to other so-called game adaptations. Even Link’s potential romantic connections, which are implied in the game and are very popular among fans, are hinted at but left open-ended, so that readers can choose to believe what they want.
Adding to the novel’s realism, Link does use familiar items to help him along his quest, but they don’t just pop out of thin air in a treasure chest. There’s a logical story as to how he gets each one (if such a story was already present in the game—for example, Queen Rutela and the Zora armor—Stephonika keeps it authentic; if there is no explanation for it, as with the clawshots, then she develops a way to work them in.) Additionally, there are no hearts floating around to restore Link’s health. These are serious battles, in which he does get wounded and is frequently at real risk of dying. Not to worry, though—there are enough gameplay references to keep even the most diehard fan happy! Fairies and potions, for instance, do eventually make satisfying appearances. But in all fairness, it would hardly be an interesting novel if Link carried bottles of them around as foolproof security!
As a final note on this topic, all boss and mini-boss battles are included. The only exception is the Darkhammer from Snowpeak Ruins (who, quite frankly, doesn’t need to be there for story purposes.) Each battle plays out in its own unique way. These sequences flow naturally with the story; they are not forced in solely to achieve game-to-novel accuracy. One of my favorites is the novel’s suspenseful and innovative rendition of the Argorok fight in the City in the Sky.
Another wonderful aspect of the novel is the character of Midna, Link’s initially grudging and sarcastic partner, who hides some surprising secrets of her own. Her personality, expressions, and mannerisms are depicted exactly as they are in the game. As with Link, Stephonika also gives Midna added depth, skillfully describing her conflicted thoughts and feelings. It is beautiful to see how Midna grows throughout the story. She becomes less selfish and more sensitive to the needs of others, even willing to sacrifice herself for those she cares about. Midna and Link must learn to cooperate and overcome their prejudices, and as they do, they progress from unwilling partners to the closest of friends. I actually came to appreciate Midna’s character even more as a result of reading Stephonika’s interpretation of her.
Finally, the stellar plot development of this novel must be mentioned. The story is perfectly paced; it ebbs and flows like a classic epic and builds to dramatic climaxes. Its narrative tone knows whether to be tense or peaceful, emotional or action-driven. Yet the overall story arc never loses focus. Personally, I love to find an author who is not afraid of a long book and is actually capable of organizing one—an author who will take all the time that is necessary to fully develop a multi-faceted story. This book does exactly that. There are even a few scenes which I found to be very abstract and confusing in the game, but I now understand their significance because of the way they’re described in the novel!
Everything in the story is woven together like a tapestry to create a stirring picture in the end. This is so well done, in fact, that the novel’s conclusion is probably my favorite part! It was amazing to see how the author “brings it all home.” Without spoiling anything, I will just say that the novel’s final chapters and epilogue contain multiple deeply poignant moments. Even more importantly, the finale is consistent with Nintendo’s official ending for the game.
In short, this novel cannot justifiably be labeled as “fanfic.” It rises above that genre and places itself on a level with other mainstream fantasy novels. I can honestly say, without any exaggeration, that I am a bigger and better Zelda fan because of this book. I have a richer understanding of the story of Twilight Princess precisely because of this book. I was genuinely moved and inspired by it, as I have been by a very short list of other books. And this response is coming from someone who doesn’t even play video games much anymore; I simply love good stories!
As such, I believe I represent the potential for this novel’s appeal to a wider audience. Stephonika wrote this book as a true fan’s tribute to the game, beautifying and expanding it in a way that even more people can appreciate. I think that if it were licensed and published, it would give increased exposure to the Legend of Zelda games and to Nintendo as a whole. It is quite marketable to newcomers, even those who have never played a Zelda game, as well as being a welcome addition to a longtime fan’s library.
I do realize that it would take a lot for this novelization to get published. Still, I sincerely hope it happens. Stephonika W. Kaye’s Twilight Princess novel is a truly unprecedented, epic achievement, written in the same spirit of victorious adventure that is at the core of every Zelda title. Zelda fans around the world deserve the chance to experience this extraordinary retelling for themselves.