The following is an entry in “A Comprehensive Theory of Majora’s Mask,” a series that analyzed the storytelling of Majora’s Mask from the time its 3D remake was announced to the time the remake was released. Find the full series here.
In the first two parts of this analysis of the Song of Healing, I offered a framework for understanding the song as a mechanism of transition between states of community and individuation. Part I examined the instances of in-game healing that extricates individuals from communities, with a focus on Deku Link. I argued that this direction of healing refined the game’s model of free will / determinism by tracking Link’s instantiation into Termina through the Deku community; I also offered a take on video games as a medium that took as inspiration this mode of entering a world through forcing individuation from a community. In Part II, I examined the instances of in-game healing with reverse directionality, returning an estranged individual to their community — in particular, the cases of Darmani and Mikau. I argued that this direction of healing allowed Link, the sole source of agency within Termina, to actualize the heroic-yet-ill-fated will of Termina’s fallen native heroes; I also suggested that this model of relating disparate entities through a single focal point of agency could also allow us to meaningfully unify the multiple Links of the “Zelda” series.
I pointed out in Part I that this theory of the Song of Healing is independent of any ethical valence, which is useful for my theory because it coheres with the thesis that Termina is metaethically nihilistic. Yet an issue present in the case of the Song of Healing, as well as with regards to the game in general, is that moral valence appears to obtain even when morality fundamentally does not obtain. For example, as I mentioned in Part I, the Happy Mask Salesman describes the song to Link as “a melody that heals evil magic and troubled spirits, turning them into masks.” Likewise, Majora appears to be an evil being, in spite of the Fierce Deity’s counterpoint implying metaethical nihilism. How, then, do we make sense of this more superficial level of morality that appears in “Majora’s Mask”? I propose we engage this issue by answering the following question: given the analysis I have offered of the Song of Healing, how can we account for the fact that Link cannot use the song to heal Skull Kid / Majora? We will begin by tracing the ontology of Majora’s Mask (within the game, independent of the account of Majora presented within manga) in order to see whether it bears any relation to the masks Link acquires by using the Song of Healing.
When the Happy Mask Salesman tells Link the history of Majora’s Mask (2:34 in the video), he describes the mask as having “been used by an ancient tribe in its hexing rituals.” He goes on to say that whoever wears the mask — in the case of this game, Skull Kid — is endowed with “an evil and wicked power.” It’s interesting to note what the Happy Mask Salesman does not say: at no point in the game does he refer to any sort of spirit or sentient being living within the Mask; the closest he comes to referring to a sentient Majora is when he says at the very end of the game (after Majora’s defeat) that “the evil has left the mask.” Yet we as players are aware that the Mask is in some sense sentient independently of Skull Kid, because the Mask eventually discards Skull Kid, at which point Link must face the three forms of Majora — Majora’s Mask, Majora’s Incarnation, and Majora’s Wrath.
This matters to the ontology of Majora’s Mask because there is a difference between the Mask being sentient and a sentient being trapped within Majora’s Mask. The language of the Happy Mask Salesman suggests that the sentience belongs to the Mask itself, and that it is identical to the evil that is purged from the Mask. This is also corroborated by the fact that Link fights objects of Majora — Majora’s Mask, Incarnation, and Wrath — never fighting Majora itself. Yet a problem remains, because by the very act of naming these forms, something named Majora is instantiated. So, given the game’s framing of Majora’s Mask, just what might Majora be?
I would speculate that it is useful to think of “Majora” as identical to the game’s concept of evil. Not only can this explain the Happy Mask Salesman’s description of the force of Majora’s Mask as simply ‘evil,’ but it also accounts for the superficial moral valence present throughout Termina. The evil plaguing Termina originates from the Mask, particularly in Skull Kid’s use of the Mask to seal the spirits of the four Giants within evil bodies. Similarly, the Fierce Deity’s evilness is postulated in relation to Majora — the only time in the game when Majora is referenced independently of Majora’s Mask, Incarnation, or Wrath.
This conception of Majora has the additional benefit of framing the driving conflict of the game’s story as friction between the apparently moral and the actually amoral. The artifice of evil, on my reading, is congruent to Majora’s Mask threatening Termina, a world in which, I have argued, morality does not exist. This friction explains why the problems of Termina on a regional scale are presented as a loss of natural order: the swamp is turned toxic; the lush mountain is trapped in eternal winter; the ocean is inexplicably clouded; the desert is fraught with corruption. Just so, the instantiation of morality fundamentally clashes with the natural metaphysics of Termina, which is why the Happy Mask Salesman describes the endgame not as a triumph of good, but rather as the purgation of evil — i.e., the removal of moral valence.
If we take this attitude towards Majora, I think the explanation of the Song of Healing’s ineffectiveness in this instance is readily available to us: a mechanism without moral valence cannot functionally operate within the moral domain. Rather, we see that Link must take on the form of an evil god, the Fierce Deity, in order to defeat the evil that is Majora; that is to say, Link must moralize himself in order to defeat Majora within his own domain. We have previously identified Skull Kid and Majora’s Forms as lonely beings, and Skull Kid, at least, as returned to a community of friends after Link defeats Majora; yet even though this transition resembles our model of the Song of Healing, it is secondary to the moral game played out between the Fierce Deity and Majora’s Forms. The beings healed via the Song of Healing do not possess the same moral pretense present in the case of Majora’s Forms, and so there is no artifice preventing the engagement of them with an amoral mechanism of transition.
Another tack we can take in defending the same model is to return to an earlier discourse about the way in which music constitutes the universe of Termina. I quote the relevant section: “the mechanism for healing the spirits of Mikau and Darmani… is a song: the Song of Healing. Link heals the pain of people by recalling them to the universe of music, reminding them of their loved ones and dissolving their acute individuation and loneliness. To paraphrase Darmani, the sorrows of those who suffer melt away into the song.” What I pointed towards in this passage was a fundamental relation between the Song of Healing and the musical formulation of Termina as the Clock Tower Theme in counterpoint with the Song of Time. What follows is that the Song of Healing is in accord with the natural order of Termina, whereas morality, as I have said, is not. This further distances the case of Skull Kid and Majora’s Mask from those in which the Song of Healing obtains.
Though Skull Kid himself is arguably most in need of healing, he is immune to the mechanics of the song because he is ‘possessed’ by the influence of morality, the power that is uniquely able to wreak havoc on Termina’s natural order by virtue of its moral valence. What emerges from our analysis of the song, then, is the picture of a versatile tool for transitioning beings within Termina between community and individuation, but only as long as these beings operate within the normative constraints of the universe. What makes Skull Kid uniquely problematic is that he is moralized in a world without morality, which is why the song that in so many ways defines the pivotal moments of Link’s quest is ineffectual against the ultimate object of his quest. We might be tempted to view the Song of Healing as an instrument of moral goodness, but the limiting case of Skull Kid reinforces that, in keeping with the terror generally suggested by the game, any morality observed in using the song is ultimately ascribed by the player — the game itself rebukes moralization of the song. We are left with the model of a tool for ‘helping people’ in the absence of morality, and this is possibly the most salient feature of the song: by playing it, Link is able to help people in some way even when morality has no fundamental grounding.
- A Comprehensive Theory of Majora’s Mask series navigation: < “’If you truly can see me, then follow behind me’: Part II of III examining the Song of Healing” | “Interlude: of theoretical gaming analysis, and Majora’s Mask versus James Joyce” >