When all was chaos, the goddesses descended and gave order and life to the world. They granted power equally to all who dwelt in the light, and then returned to the heavens. The lands where the goddesses descended came to be known as the Sacred Realm.
For ages, the people lived at ease, content in mind and body... But soon, word of the Sacred Realm spread through Hyrule, and a great battle ensued... Among those living in the light, interlopers who excelled at magic appeared. Wielding powerful sorcery, they tried to establish dominion over the Sacred Realm.
It was then that the goddesses ordered us three light spirits to intervene. We sealed away the great magic those individuals had mastered. You know this magic... It is the dark power you seek...the Fused Shadow. - Lanayru, The Light Spirit, Twilight Princess
The story above has created confusion among many Zelda fans and triggered many debates throughout online communities all in an attempt to understand where exactly these interlopers came from and what the Fused Shadow that they wield really is. The cutscene accompanying the story is a popular one, but nevertheless a confusing one, raising even more questions. Many ideas have appeared that attempt to explain it, yet none are sufficient enough to answer all the questions proposed by fans.
Since the creation of the world by the three Golden Goddesses there was an age of peace in Hyrule. Over time word spread of the Triforce contained within the Sacred Realm and its power to grant the wishes of the beholder. A great war began in Hyrule as people quarreled and fought to obtain the Triforce. The interlopers arose from among the people of Hyrule during this great bloodshed which predates Ocarina of Time, likely being a part of the prolonged wars.
They joined the race for the Triforce, however their exact reasoning for doing so is uncertain. These interlopers mastered the brute magical force of the Fused Shadow and appeared unstoppable, so the goddesses themselves had to stop the interlopers by sending the three Light Spirits of Hyrule. They drove the interlopers out of the lands blessed by the goddesses and imprisoned them in the realm of twilight. They have now become known as the Twili.
Interlopers is the name given to these magic bearers by Nintendo of America, which may be a fitting title as an interloper is defined as an unwanted being or intruder to a place, situation or affair, who is there solely for selfish purposes. This sounds befitting of the dark interlopers as they are clearly unwanted intruders. Interlopers is not, however, the original title given to this group.
The Japanese text refers to them as ‘magic wielders’ and ‘sorcerers’ because of the power they possessed. The question is, though, where did these magic wielders come from in the first place? Many suggestions have surfaced, indicating specific races or a combination of races. We often hear mention of the Sheikah in discussions on the interloper’s origins; however, backing evidence seems to be lacking as to why the emissaries of the Goddess would betray Hylia. One idea that hasn’t received great attention is that the interlopers were literally the shadows of the people of Hyrule.
As word of the Triforce spread throughout Hyrule’s citizens the shadows were bound to hear it, and once they had, they were moved in an attempt to claim the Triforce of legend. Lanayru says the interlopers ‘appeared ... in the midst of the people’ (literal Japanese translation), as shadows would. Another point to note from the cutscene of Lanayru is that it seems to imply the interlopers were the ‘dark side’ of each person coming into a physical manifestation. The representation of these interlopers was the group of ‘Dark Links’ in this story, which heavily suggests a dark side or shadow of each person.
With war being fought across Hyrule and the land being in turmoil, there was no better time for the shadows to spring into action. They joined in the war and immediately seemed to dominate, vanquishing opposition, as shown in Lanayru’s story. The interlopers unexpectedly appeared and literally vaporized Link as he ran towards the Triforce. Here Link represents all of Hyrule’s citizens.
The citizens of Hyrule started the riot as they are seen running towards the Triforce first. The interlopers arose and joined in the war. Nobody could stand against the interlopers with their dark magic and some citizens may have even attempted to join the ranks of the interlopers, seeing no other way to survive, hence Link can also be seen among them in this story. The interlopers also seem confident and cocky that they will succeed, as their laughing suggests.
This idea of a living being existing as a shadow is not farfetched in The Legend of Zelda series. Twilight Princess gives us an example of this as throughout majority of the game the Twili, Midna, hides completely unnoticed in Link’s shadow, showing that it is actually possible to exist as a shadow. Midna would often come out of Link’s shadow to speak to him in Hyrule. She showed herself both as an imp, resultant from Zant’s curse, and as a glowing shadow figure.
Furthermore, she could leave Link’s shadow without him noticing, such as when first entering Gerudo Desert. Once again this is strong support for the idea that the interlopers arose from shadows. Midna distinctly shows that the Twili have at least three different forms. Firstly, inhabiting the shadow of someone else. Secondly, the natural Twili form, and thirdly, the independent shadow being, which is separate from a body. This third form is depicted by ‘Dark Links’ in the Spirit’s story. Hence, this form is the form of the interlopers after they arose from being mere shadows and before they took on their Twili form.
Players will observe other forms taken on by the Twili, resultant from the curses of Zant, which aren’t natural forms. These include the imp curse placed on Midna and the mutant curse placed on the Twili within the Twilight Realm, which Link breaks with the power of the sols. People who believe the interlopers were humans theorize that they evolved into the Twili once in the Twilight Realm, possibly because of light deprivation. More probably, they look different to humans because they never actually were humans. The Twili form is likely to be their natural form, when they aren’t in a shadow form.
Furthermore, in The Adventure of Link backstory there is an intriguing image showing a mysterious magician arising from the shadow of the Prince.
Throughout the gameplay of Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess you will notice that everyone still has a shadow. Though the Twili were banished to the Twilight Realm, their shadows remain in Hyrule. For us to understand how this works Zelda shares her wisdom.
“Shadow and light are two sides of the same coin. One cannot exist without the other.” - Princess Zelda
The shadows were driven to the Twilight Realm and cannot return to Hyrule, but they are on the other side of the coin. Each Hylian citizen retains their shadow, but it is on the coin’s underside. The shadows are imprisoned, trapped, and unable to come out of the Twilight Realm, but they are still portrayed as the shadows of those in the world of light.
A shadow is a dark shape on a surface that falls behind an object blocking the light. Each of Hyrule’s citizens is symbolically blocking the light from the light world to their respective Twili shadow. This implication may suggest that Hyrule and the Twilight Realm are parallel worlds with counterparts. Princess Zelda and Midna may be counterparts as they are both the rightful female rulers of their worlds, being young and lonesome. Ganondorf and Zant may also be considerable as counterparts.
Even this ‘coin’ idea isn’t something completely new to the series. Ben Lamoreux discussed the many similarities between Four Swords Adventures and Twilight Princess in his article, ‘The Building Blocks of Twilight Princess’, where he shows the ideas in Four Swords Adventures are what built the storyline for Twilight Princess. One of those similarities is the Dark World of Four Swords Adventures and the Twilight Realm of Twilight Princess.
The exact connection between the two realms is unknown, but regardless of this, the Dark World displays the coin properties. In Four Swords Adventures it is shown when somebody enters the Dark World, as they remain visible as a shadow in Hyrule. This same property could very well apply to the Twilight Realm.
Although Link has a shadow while in the Twilight Realm, as the Twili do, this by no means suggests the banished Twili can’t also be a shadow in Hyrule. Whilst in the Dark World of Four Swords Adventures people still have a shadow, even though they appear as a shadow in the world of light. Again this could apply to the Twilight Realm, showing that its inhabitants can still have shadows themselves, whilst appearing as a shadow in Hyrule.
This ‘coin’ representation is probably best shown with a diagram:
From the mouth of Midna come a number of quotes which support the idea that the Twili remain the shadows of those in Hyrule, even despite being in the Twilight Realm.
“Some call our realm a world of shadows, but that makes it sound unpleasant.” - Midna
“Since that territory could never mingle with the light, it was referred to as Shadow. And the people who were dumped into the Shadow World were not permitted to return to the original world. They were forever doomed to live as shadows of Hyrule amidst the gloom.” - Midna (Literal Japanese Translation)
This second quote implies that they became shadows who couldn’t ever return to the light. It doesn’t say they became shadows, but says they lost their connection with the light. They were trapped in the Twilight Realm as mere shadows. Notice that the original Japanese calls it the Shadow World, not the Twilight Realm. Elsewhere, the Twili are referred to as the Shadow Clan and never the Twili in the original Japanese text.
The Fused Shadow is the ‘dark power’ wielded by the interlopers, which is the source of their power, referred to as ‘our old magic’ by Zant. Alike to the interlopers themselves, one has to wonder about the origins of this artifact. The title ‘Fused Shadow’ implies that it is literally the power of shadow, or the power of the shadows, combined into a physical object.
‘Fused Shadow’ however is the name given by Nintendo of America. In the original Japanese it is called the Crystal Stone of Shadow and specifies that it made the interlopers ‘enormously huge’. When Midna dons the complete fused shadow to break the barrier enclosing Hyrule Castle we observe the full extent of this, as Midna transforms painfully into an enormous monster.
The Fused Shadow may be a fusing together of the shadow’s powers, but it remains uncertain. The Japanese name, Crystal Stone of Shadow, gives more insight into the carven stone appearance of the artifact. Crystals are known to house forces and powers, and in this case it is the shadow’s power which is housed within the Fused Shadow. Interestingly enough, both localizations chose to involve the word ‘shadow’.
The concluding remarks of Lanayru’s story, which refer to the Fused Shadow, raise further questions: “Those who do not know the danger of wielding power will, before long, be ruled by it.” Did the interlopers control the Fused Shadow, or were the interlopers being ruled by the dark power itself?
Around the same time the interlopers became known, the Sheikah severely decreased in numbers. This is highlighted in Twilight Princess, by Gor Coron, when he states: “I heard that tribe dwindled in the prolonged wars.” As this is also the time the interlopers appeared, people have made a connection between the Sheikah and the interlopers, suggesting that the Sheikah themselves became the interlopers, hence their disappearance.
Though the timing here is appropriate, it seems unlikely that the Sheikah were the ones referred to as the interlopers. The Sheikah were close to the Royal Family, and are said to have sworn allegiance to guard them. It was one of the duties of the Royal Family to protect the Sacred Realm and the Triforce contained within. This could lead us to three assumptions. Firstly that the Sheikah used the Royal Family in an attempt to gain the Triforce, making them the interlopers. However, the Sheikah race is nowhere portrayed as villainous, and indeed are servants to Hylia herself, making this idea unlikely.
The second, and more likely assumption, is that the Sheikah would have encountered the interlopers in a battle as they protected the Royal Family, and by extension, the Triforce. It may even be that the interlopers are the ones who caused the thinning of the Sheikah numbers with the power of their Fused Shadow. Thirdly the Sheikah may have sided with the interlopers, as Lanayru’s story suggests people did. A combination of ideas two and three is also possible, with the interlopers forcing the Sheikah into a join them or perish situation.
One of the inhabitants of Hyrule Market is fascinated with the Sheikah:
“Have you heard the legend of the ‘Shadow Folk’? They are the Sheikah…the shadows of the Hylians.” - Inhabitant of Hyrule Castle Market
Here the excited Hylian citizen describes the Sheikah as the shadows of the Hylians. With no further clarification of this statement, it is likely it has a symbolic meaning, referring to the secretive nature of the Sheikah, who lurked in the background or the shadows, such as the Shadow Temple. Their work was done in secret and little was known about them. It seems logical that the Twili were the shadows of the Hylians, as Midna directly demonstrates they have that ability.
Another piece of evidence used to support the Sheikah being the interlopers is the ambiguous eye hidden behind Zant’s throne in the Twilight Realm, which resembles the Sheikah logo without a tear. With no other further clarification, this eye remains a inscrutable figure. Though a possibility, more evidence points towards shadows being the interlopers than the Sheikah
Of course, because the Sheikah are a tribe of Hyrule, the interlopers could have come from their shadows, amongst others. However there seems to be some sort of deeper, more mysterious relationship between the two, which may indicate the Sheikah joining the interlopers or being defeated by them.
Both the idea of beings coming from a shadow and the idea of the coin aren’t new to the Zelda series, as is shown in The Adventure of Link and Four Swords Adventures. Although this topic will still be debated and the exact answer will remain uncertain, it is highly probable that the interlopers did originally arise from the shadows of those in Hyrule. Likewise, it is definitely a possibility that those in the Twilight Realm remain portrayed as shadows in the world of Light.
Twilight Princess suggests, through quotes, scenes and themes, that the interlopers were indeed shadows, more so than evidence suggests they were human or a specific race. It is unlikely that the Sheikah race are who became the interlopers, even though a deeper connection may exist between the two. One must ponder the motives of the interlopers in gaining the Triforce and wonder whether they ruled the Fused Shadow, or whether it ruled them.
Nintendo has left numerous hints about the interloper’s past, but none decisive enough to supply an absolute answer. As with an abundance of topics in the Zelda universe, the underlying meaning of Lanayru’s story and the true origin of the interlopers will likely remain a mystery, left to the imagination of the individual players.