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.
I begin by wishing readers a Happy New Year, and all the best in the year to come. Though I see it as more of personal sentiment, I would take a moment before diving into our next series of analysis to reflect upon New Year’s resolutions, and to make an appeal to “Majora’s Mask.” If you find yourself wondering how to approach resolving to change in the New Year, a practice that is commonplace to so many, consider perhaps seeing it as a Dawn of the First Day: society has framed the celebration of New Year’s as a transformation of the self in light of what has transpired in the prior year, just as players of “Majora” are encouraged to chart each three-day cycle in light of what progress and mistakes they made in the prior cycle. By meditating on Link in this way, we might just learn how to see New Year’s celebrations as a set of transformative milestones over multiple years, a perspective which could allow us to approach resolutions as steps towards self-evolution, rather than barriers that will inevitably defeat us. With that in mind and a toast to new beginnings, I turn to the next subject in our growing aesthetic and philosophical model of what “Majora’s Mask” is.
Before the last interlude in With a Terrible Fate, I undertook a three-part analysis of the Song of Healing, a central game mechanic taught to Link early on by the Happy Mask Salesman. But in spite of arising several times so far in our discourse, I have yet to ask the question of precisely what the Happy Mask Salesman is, or what he is doing in Termina. In spite of existing on the outskirts of Termina’s world, some of the most memorable quotes from the game are uttered by the Salesman: “You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?” and “Wherever there is a meeting, a parting is sure to follow” bookend Link’s entire adventure, and the Salesman says both of them. I begin by providing background of the Happy Mask Salesman from “Ocarina of Time”; next, I assess the relation he bears to the world of Termina in “Majora’s Mask”; lastly, I turn once more to the Song of Healing to see what our new perspective on the Salesman can reveal about the sequence in which he teaches Link the song. This post aims to argue a thesis as to what exactly the Happy Mask Salesman is in relation to Termina; what bearing his more famous lines have in the game will be treated individually hereafter.
When Link arrives in Hyrule’s Castle Town in “Ocarina of Time,” he finds the Happy Mask Salesman running a storefront in the town square. He invites Link to be a “happiness salesman,” which involves finding people in the world of Hyrule who want to purchase the masks available at the shop, and giving them the mask in exchange for however many rupees they think it’s worth. Link must sell four different masks to particular characters — the Keaton Mask to the Hylian Soldier guarding the Death Mountain trail, the Skull Mask to Skull Kid in the Lost Wood, the Spooky Mask to the boy in Kakariko Graveyard, and the Bunny Hood to the Running Man — after which the Happy Mask Salesman will also allow him to loan out the Gerudo Mask, Goron Mask, Zora Mask, and Mask of Truth. Each character to whom Link gives a mask has some desire fulfilled: the solider believes “[his] boy will be very happy with [the Keaton Mask]”; Skull Kid thinks the Skull Mask will make him “look a bit tougher”; the Boy in the Graveyard thinks he will be “just like Dampe” with the Spooky Mask; the Running Man believes the Bunny Hood will allow him to “[return] to the wild life.”
The personal wishes of each character reinforce the Happy Mask Salesman’s statement to Link that “[somewhere in the world], somebody is waiting for these masks.” Moreover, the microcosm of the Happy Mask Shop quests recapitulate the fatalistic framework of “Ocarina of Time,” which I outlined in my analysis of Kaepora Gaebora: just as the overarching course of “Ocarina” is constituted by Link’s destiny of the Hero of Time, so too are each of the initial four masks in the shop destined for particular NPC’s. So we see that the Happy Mask Salesman operates here in accordance with the deterministic metaphysics of Hyrule: when he tells Link to “have faith” that he will find the destined owners of the masks, it is a coherent imperative because the player and Link can both rationally appeal to the design of the game’s world in order to seek out a particular NPC for each mask. This invites the question: if the Happy Mask Salesman of “Ocarina” is contiguous with the metaphysics of Hyrule, then how does the ostensibly same character relate to the universe of Termina?
I think the best way into our analysis here is the observation that the way in which the Happy Mask Salesman exists relative to Termina is not obvious. Link meets the Salesman inside the Clock Tower, which constitutes the exact center of Termina and the target of the moon’s descent, prior to the start of any three-day cycle: time only begins to “count” after Link exits the Tower and enters Clock Town (time also stops whenever Link later reenters the Happy Mask Salesman’s location within the Tower). Moreover, at the game’s end (13:10 in the video), the Salesman famously “fades out” of the world of Termina, disappearing without a trace. Both of these facts suggest that the Salesman, as opposed to existing within Termina, exists beside it in some way. Two more observations will help explain what I mean.
First, when we consider how to frame the three-day cycle of Termina, we find that the game actually offers us two options. The first way, which I have used in analysis thus far, is that Skull Kid / Majora’s Mask will bring down the moon and destroy Termina three days after Link’s arrival. But the other way is actually presented to Link before time even begins to pass: upon first meeting the Happy Mask Salesman, Link learns that the Salesman is leaving Termina in three days. “I’m a very busy fellow,” the Salesman says, “And I must leave this place in three days. How grateful I would be if you could bring [Majora’s Mask] back to me before my time here is up.” So, curiously, in spite of the framework we have been analyzing of Link embarking on a quest to save Termina, an argument can also be made for the game very explicitly defining itself as an enormous fetchquest, in which Link must procure a particular item (Majora’s Mask) for a particular NPC (the Salesman).
Second, the Happy Mask Salesman appears to possess some form of limited omniscience when it comes to masks. Link can return to the Salesman wearing any mask (except the Fierce Deity’s Mask), and the salesman will remark on the mask in a way that reflects knowledge of its history. For example, he acknowledges Link’s Goron and Zora forms as possessing the spirits of Darmani and Mikau, “the [Goron and Zora] who could not be healed.” So in spite of apparently remaining in the Clock Tower during the entire three-day cycle, the Salesman has an intimate knowledge of the ontology of masks acquired by Link.
What these two facts suggest is that the Happy Mask Salesman observes Termina from an independent vantage point — think, to use an aptly named example from another game, of The Outsider in Bethesda’s “Dishonored.” The Outsider exists tangentially to the world of “Dishonored,” only engaging it through those whom he brands, such as Corvo Attano (the player’s character). Analogously, the Salesman possesses no agency or apparent connection within the world of Termina, but interfaces with Link and “brands” him, as it were, by teaching him the Song of Healing, thereby granting him an ability to be extended by his own agency.
And what of the Song of Healing? In my analysis of the game’s musical metaphysics, I framed the Song of Healing as a mechanism whereby characters could be recalled to the fundamental nature of Termina’s universe. In my first pass at the temporal structure of Termina, I referred to the masks of “Majora” as ‘temporal afterimages’ linking its manifold timelines together, which implies that the Song of Healing has the capacity, by generating masks, to generate temporal afterimages and fix points on subsequent timelines. The Happy Mask Salesman is the progenitor of this song within the game; combined with the thesis of his tangential relation to Termina, this suggests that the Salesman’s relationship to Termina is architectural in nature.
I will try to take care in explaining this claim, because it is easy to overstate it as saying something like ‘the Salesman is Termina’s God,’ and this is not what I mean. In the course of my analysis, I have spent a great deal of time discussing what Termina is without discussing much of how it came to be — that is, its ontology. What I have in mind by framing the Salesman as an architectural constituent of Termina is the beginnings of synthesizing an ontological explanation of precisely how the bizarre world of Termina came to be, and the Salesman is a major nexus of this account. I offer this preliminary thesis in the form of a threefold statement of the Salesman’s influence on Termina as a universe.
1. The Salesman is the imminent origin of fatalism in Termina. This horn of the thesis is fairly straightforward. The Skull Kid imposes existential threat and irrevocable disaster upon the universe of “Majora’s Mask” is contingent upon his possession of Majora’s Mask, and it was the Salesman from whom Skull Kid stole the Mask. If we don’t want to pin responsibility on the Salesman for having the Mask stolen from him, consider this: from his account of the Mask’s history (2:30 in the video), it is apparent that he understands the Mask’s potential, yet he chose to possess it rather than to destroy it.
2. The Salesman is the source of Link’s agency within the set of Termina’s timelines. In Part I of my analysis of the Song of Healing, I expanded my thesis of free will and determinism in Termina to include the observation that Link’s intra-timeline agency is contingent upon the Song of Healing vis-a-vis his being restored from the Deku Curse — and, of course, the Song of Healing is later needed to progress by healing Darmani et al. As I just mentioned, the Salesman is the progenitor of this song; therefore, if we accept the free will / determinism thesis I argued in my earlier analysis, it must now follow that the Salesman is the furthest-back traceable source of Link’s agency within Termina. And, since I have also argued that Link is the only strictly understood agent within Termina, it follows that, within the framework of the game, the Salesman is the ultimate source of agency within Termina.
3. The Salesman is the cause of the apparent artifice of evil within Termina. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, it is the Salesman who ascribes the qualities of ‘evilness’ and ‘wickedness’ to Majora’s Mask, and it is also he who describes the Song of Healing as a song that can heal “evil magic.” He is the one who frames the quest against Majora as a quest against evil — an ironic fact, seeing as we have just seen that he also frames the entire game as a fetchquest. So at the same time as we previously identified Majora as the entity constituting that which is perceived as evil within Termina, we also see that it is the Salesman who has lead to the perceived evil which takes Majora as its object. He is also partially responsible for the ultimate metaethical nihilism of Termina, but this is only by extensions of  and ; metaethical nihilism results from the friction between these, the Fierce Deity, and the Song of Time. It does not appear that either of the latter two bears immediate relation to the Salesman.
By this paradigm, it becomes apparent that the Salesman is crucial to the architecture of Termina and “Majora’s Mask” as the player conceives of them. Yet besides being such a haunting and important entity, the Happy Mask Salesman’s nature invites one particular question, with which I close: why does the Salesman impart the artifice of evil to Link (and, indirectly, to the player)? I would offer that it has to do with the history inherited from “Ocarina of Time”: we would not be motivated to embark on the journey of “Majora’s Mask” if we initially perceived it as a mere fetchquest; therefore, the Salesman injects morality into the exposition early on, hearkening back to the strictly moralized framework of the previous games. At the same time, we find embedded in this explanation an account of what the Salesman is up to when he tells Link to “believe in [his] strengths”: to motivate Link is to encourage him, and, in a world lacking the Triforce of Courage to appeal to in order to grant Link courage, the Salesman must offer his own motivational laudations to the child. The Salesman is the source of decay in Termina, but he is also the impetus for Link to bravely proceed in the face of futility, through timeline after timeline, ad infinitum.
- A Comprehensive Theory of Majora’s Mask series navigation: < “Interlude: of theoretical gaming analysis, and Majora’s Mask versus James Joyce” | “Line Analysis: ‘You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?’” >