Link is rescued from the open ocean by a small sailboat called “King of Red Lions” (Aka Shishi no Ō), which is appropriately painted red and adorned with the head of a shishi. A shishi is less of a “lion” in the traditional Western sense and more of stylized representation of a mythological creature that is sometimes called a “Foo dog” – which is actually supposed to be a lion but doesn’t much look like one.
Shishi are most often seen in Japan at the gateways to Buddhist temples, with the one on the right having an open mouth (making the sound “ah,” which comes first in the Japanese syllabary) and the one on the left having a closed mouth (making the sound “un,” which comes last). Their manes and fierce faces are modeled on those of the Deva (or Heavenly) Kings, the fierce guardians of the Buddha realms. This is interesting, because Ganondorf also seems to be modeled on a representation of these kings – specifically the two Niō warriors, which often serve the same function as shishi.
The King of Red Lions and Ganondorf have a strange relationship. See, for example, the first speech the King of Red Lions delivers to Link:
Did I startle you? I suppose that is only natural. As wide as the world is, I am the only boat upon it who can speak the words of men. I am the King of Red Lions. Do not fear… I am not your enemy.
I have been watching you since you went to the Forsaken Fortress to rescue your sister. I understand how your desire to protect your sister could give you the courage to fearlessly stand up to anything… But such a bold attempt was foolhardy!
I suppose you saw him… The shadow that commands that monstrous bird…
His name is… Ganon…
…He who obtained the power of the gods, attempted to cover the land in darkness, and was ultimately sealed away by the very power he hoped to command. He is the very same Ganon… The emperor of the dark realm the ancient legends speak of… I do not know why the seal of the gods has failed, but now that Ganon has returned, the world is once again being threatened by evil magic.
Tell me, Link… Do you still wish to save your sister from him? And will you do anything to save her?
…I see. In that case, I shall guide you as we go forward…advising you on what you should do and where you must go. Ganon cannot be defeated by human hands, let alone what little strength you possess. The key to defeating Ganon is locked away in a great power that you can wield only after much toil and hardship. Do you understand?
If you think about it, this speech is somewhat strange:
“Hello, I am a talking boat. LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THIS GUY I HATE.”
Since this game is more than ten years old, I suppose it’s not a spoiler to reveal that the King of Red Lions is actually the physical manifestation of Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule, the former king of Hyrule who is responsible for sealing Ganondorf away by covering his entire kingdom in water (as one does).
There are two extremely weird things going on in this speech.
First, Daphnes refers to Ganondorf as “Ganon,” which is not how he refers to himself later in the game. In other words, the king is dehumanizing Ganondorf by calling him by the name of the mythical demon in the mythology of the Zelda games.
Second, Daphnes tells Link that Ganondorf is “the emperor of the dark realm the ancient legends speak of,” which further dehumanizes him. Later on in the game, this is what Ganondorf himself says…
In other words, Ganondorf is an actual person with an actual story, but Daphnes is at pains to demonize him immediately upon meeting Link. Considering that Daphnes and the Hylians are fair-skinned and Ganondorf and the Gerudo are dark-skinned, I’m totally going to pull the race card here.
Daphnes, don’t be racist. Just saying.
I have more thoughts about this, but this is still early in the story, so I’ll refrain for now.
Before Link and the King of Red Lions can set sail onto the Great Sea, they need a sail. Presumably Link can acquire one on Windfall Island, where he now finds himself.
( Header image by Skull the Kid on DeviantArt )