- Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
The first time I ever sat down to write anything concerning Zelda, I did so in a completely natural state (rather, a state not overly-burdened by forethought); there was no preparation, little training (but in general principles of grammar, rhetoric, and logic), and no formula. It is safe to say that my process has grown since then, but I cannot ever recall having constructed general outlines or comprehensive checklists to guide my writing. I also do not know if this has been for good or ill; clearly, many of my articles relate to one another in style and material, but not always are their structures alike, nor do they all cover the same ground. Yet, there are certain aspects that seem to be perennial in my writing, and hopefully I can expound upon them here.
My first article concerned the Water Temple from Ocarina of Time, and was written in the summer of 2013, scarcely a few months after I had returned from abroad, and during a period in which my life was in almost complete disarray. I like to think that my writing gave some sort of shape, some order, to the complexity of that time. But why did I choose the Water Temple? Was the palliative nature of water an unconscious desire of my stressed and uncertain mind? This is an excellent question, because not even I know the answer; I can speculate, but sadly this is outside my knowledge. What I do remember is, as I was propped up in bed on a late summer's day, I reflected on the meaning of the name of the temple, and its primarily elemental nature. What did the creators intend when they created a sanctuary which embodied and housed one element above all the others? And, intended meaning or not, I forged ahead.
At first, and many times after that, I was not even principally concerned with architecture, the stated purpose of my writings; I was more interested in theme, an interest which should be more than self-evident in light of nearly everything I have yet written. Indeed, themes are written into architecture itself, and through analysis of the latter do we proceed to understand the former. Without one or the other, our experience would be undoubtedly diminished. So, chief among all things, theme sits the throne. But what else attends it? What are its hand-maidens?
Usually, my second period of thought is spent on those that built a given temple, why they built it, and how it was constructed. Context is not always necessary in art, but in historical analysis, it is imperative. The Zora quite evidently thought something important enough to warrant the creation of a multi-storied complex beneath a lake bed, and it is our job to strive to understand their intentions. And this is not to say that we always find our answers; indeed, a large part of any Zelda experience is a healthy dose of the unknown, and rarely are answers freely given. Rather, through dialogue and plot, we must actively dig for information. Once the culture, history, and purposes have been contemplated (insofar as it is possible - places like Snowpeak Ruins are, for better or for worse, completely shrouded in mystery), the actual structure itself should be ready to yield its secrets; only through a thematic lens, and after a thorough cultural reading, are we able to truly view a temple. Of course, it is possible to simply look at a building, but what a deeply unjust way of approaching any piece of art! Art is communication, and so it seems logical to say that, as with a good book, there are manifold layers of meaning behind any given work, and our personal readings can be vastly enriched by having a fair amount of background knowledge and an inquisitive eye.
As we walk down hallways, up staircases, through doorways, and across open floors, what then do we see? What things present themselves to us? What do the designs tell us about natural environment, culture, or history? Are there real-world influences at work here, or are the motifs elaborate creations that exist solely within the in-game universe? Here, it proves useful to have a few books on hand, for even if one vaguely recognizes something that exists here on earth, one may not know exactly what it is, or the precise people or culture that made it, or to what end. And without this correct cultural placement, deriving meaning therefore becomes misguided at best, and misleading at worst. Yet, when done correctly, atop the layer of meaning already constructed from the cultural symbols of the in-game universe, another entire system of belief can be inserted into the analysis - this time, one of the real world. And this augments our understanding of a building immeasurably.
In writing, these are the stars to which I align my sails. Theme comes first, in order to set a mood and invoke an appropriate sense of the symbolic, which is then bolstered by the in-universe history, culture, and intentions of a given people; reflecting all of these aspects of analysis is, of course, the architecture itself: how the internal (in-game) and external designs and symbols shape our experience of a given structure. This list is not in any way exhaustive. I am positive that myriad other things shape my writing of an article, not least among them music, characters, dialogue, landscape, or the reasons for being in a temple in the first place. But, insofar as I know, I have listed the major conscious influences here, and hope that such an enumeration proves useful to someone, in some place, in some way.