The Wind Waker and the Book of Kells

When I first saw designs for The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, I thought the cell animation looked terrible. That all changed when a friend of mine gave up playing videogames for Lent, giving me custody of his Gamecube for 40 days and 40 nights. After seeing the prologue and title screen for the game, I realized that the artwork in The Wind Waker may have been inspired by the Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Examine the artwork:

The Wind Waker

The Book of Kells

This artwork has a prominent feature uncommon to Japanese animation: the eye shape. The football-shaped eyes set close to the nose rarely appear in Japanese animation (or even in Western animation), but if you look at the picture, you will see the similarities.

Take a look at the posture in the next two pictures:

The Wind Waker

The Lindisfarne Gospels

Examine the profiles of Link and the right-facing angel. Both pieces show an ignorance of physical form typical of medieval artwork (the important thing was the message–nobody was interested in accurately depicting the human body).

One thing is conspicuously absent from the Wind Waker artwork: knotwork. The Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels are famous for the knotwork covering their carpet pages and bordering other pages (though the Lindisfarne Gospels have some pages with plainer borders). I can think of several reasons for The Wind Waker not depicting knotwork:

  1. The level of detail necessary was too complicated for the videogame.
  2. The swirls in the smoke and zigzags in the borders and in gameplay are intended to give the same effect.
  3. Knotwork would be too specifically Celtic.
  4. The style is based on woodcut prints, not the Book of Kells.

Point 4 requires consideration. The relatively monochromatic Wind Waker art resembles woodcuts more than richly-colored illuminated manuscripts. It is likely that both forms of art had a great influence on The Wind Waker. Woodcut art has been practiced in Japan for centuries, but still, Japanese and Western woodcuts do not have the distinct eye shape used in The Wind Waker. Thus, it is likely that woodcuts had a greater influence on the prologue art, which reveals the game’s background in book format, while the actual character design had more influence from the Book of Kells. Compare the Japanese woodcut below with the above artwork, and you’ll see that Wind Waker’s ignorance of accurate form is far closer to European than Japanese art. (I wish I could scan some pictures from The Book of Kells to help the comparison, but I think it’d be just a smidge illegal.)

European woodcut

Japanese woodcut

Link as depicted in The Wind Waker

For another Celtic influence on The Wind Waker, consider another aspect of the game: the music. The prologue music is reminiscent of what many people would consider “medieval” music before it goes into the main series theme. The title screen theme for the game begins as a slip jig, music in 9/8 time which is traditional to only Irish music, Scottish music, and Turkish music. I think I hear bagpipes, too. (Forgive me for speaking in such general terms; I’m poorly educated in music.)

Medieval Europe has had an influence on the Legend of Zelda series from its very beginnings. Link’s clothing, sword, shield, and bow hearken to European history and myth. The Wind Waker is the most specifically Celtic of them all, which was a surprise for me when I first played the game, but the scholar in me loved it.


The Wind Waker and the Book of Kells — 4 Comments

  1. Good argument, I would say that between ca. 1:15 and 2:00 in the prologue video, I see a much stronger relation with the Bayeux Tapestry in several ways, the presentation, which could obviously be any medieval tapestry, but also in the placement of text within the images.. maybe Im reading my own fascination with William The Bastard and Harold Godwinson into this, but I see some connection there as well. Maybe it’s a nod to Anglo-Norman art of the middle ages in general? Also, a very famous example of 9/8 time is Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” (though you’re right in that its not a very common time signature)

  2. The front view eye on a profile face is very Egyptian. Egyptian art often also included front facing shoulders on a profile body, but not always. The art and artifacts of Egypt remain fascinating to many people even today. The images you show do look very much like European wood cuts, but perhaps the game developers thought to bolster the mystery of the game with a hint of Egyptian aesthetics. What do you think?

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