The main character of Alberto Alvaro Rios’ The Secret Lion is not a huge fan of change, however inevitable it is. He and his best friend, Sergio, are quite content having one teacher who cares for them and the same friends year after year. Unfortunately for them, junior high is extremely different from the simplicity of elementary school. The changes that occur in the main character and Sergio’s lives develop into personal growth and deep insight for both of them, but specifically the main character. The discovery and subsequent loosing of the grinding ball, the encounter at the golf course over the mountains, and the truth of the “secret lion” lead the narrator to the realization that change and growing up is difficult and unavoidable.
A grinding ball is a part of a ball mill, which is used to blend and grind materials to be used in things such as paint and ceramics. The main character narrates a time when he and Sergio find one of these, saying “One Thursday we were walking along shouting this way, and the railroad, the Southern Pacific, which ran above and along the far side of the arroyo, had dropped a grinding ball down there…” (Rios 181). This ball is an object of wonder to the innocent boys, who play with it and hold it until, when it’s time for them to leave, they bury for only them to find again. However, to their surprise they discover that they hid it so well that even they could not find it. The narrator reminisces, saying “Sergio and I talked about that ball or whatever it was when we couldn’t find it. All we used were small words, neat, good. Kid words” (Rios 182). He goes on to explain how the ball is an example of something in his and Sergio’s lives that they loved dearly but could not explain why. The boys discover that a part of growing up is learning how to explain yourself with words, which often results in the loss of child-like innocence.
The narrator and Sergio are young boys who thrive on adventure and excitement, which is exactly what they get when they find the golf course over the mountain. When speaking of adventures and danger, the narrator remarks: “We wanted them. So we were going out to get them. We went back that morning into the kitchen and said, “We’re going out there, we’re going into the hills, we’re going for three days, don’t worry” (Rios 183). The boys live in the moment; they live in their feelings. After crossing the mountain in the search of a place to eat, they find a golf course, or what they consider “heaven”, a lush green paradise with its own soda-cup holders. Yet, the main character discovers that they have thought wrong when “suddenly these two men came, from around a corner of trees and the tallest grass we had ever seen. They had bags on their backs, leather bags, bags with sticks” (Rios 184). This event chips away pieces of the boys’ innocence, teaching them that life isn’t just about heaven, adventures, and excitment. It is much more serious.
Lastly, the “lion” symbolizes the creeping sense and feeling of adulthood that slowly “hunts down” the boys. The narrator starts off the story explaining how in junior high “…something happened that we didn’t have a name for, but it was there nonetheless like a lion, and roaring, roaring that way the biggest things do. Everything changed” (Rios 180). The boys did not have a name for what transpired because they were too young to process and comprehend what had truly happened, but at the time the narrator knows that this event triggered the beginning of adulthood and the realization behind it. The story ends with the narrator saying that he and Sergio “…buried it (the grinding ball) because it was perfect. We didn’t tell my mother, but together it was all we talked about, til we forgot. It was the lion” (Rios 184). These events were the tipping point that shaped the narrator into who he is at the time of this narration via the lessons he learned from his slow ascent into adulthood.
The unearthing of the grinding ball, the discovery of the “green heaven”, and the “secret lion” himself all lead the main character in Alberto Alvaro Rios’ The Secret Lion, as well as his best friend, Sergio, to the realization that life cannot be lived in their elementary existence forever; they must grow up, change, and move on in life as they get older. These scenarios help the narrator grow as a person and develop characteristics which can be seen through his tone and speech. He finds out that growing up and the loss of innocence is unavoidable, and must be embraced so he can learn.