The first paragraph of Alberto Alvaro Rios's "The Secret Lion" presents a twelve-year-old's view of growing up and how everything changes. When a magician pulls a tablecloth out from under objects on a table, the child is amazed at the "staying-the-same part" (43); adults focus on the tablecloth. As adults, we have the benefit of experience; we know the trick will work as long as the technique is correct. We gain confidence, but we lose our innocence, and we lose our sense of wonder. The price we pay for knowledge is a permanent loss, and this tradeoff is central to "The Secret Lion," a story whose key symbols reinforce its central theme: that change can not be avoided and it is always accompanied by loss. The main symbols of the story include the golf course, the arroyo, the grinding ball, and the title secret lion. .
The golf course is one symbol that helps convey this theme. When the boys first see the golf course, it is "heaven " (46). Lush and green and carefully tended, it was a complete opposite of the dry, brown Arizona landscape and the polluted arroyo. To the boys it is another world, as exotic as Oz and ultimately as unreal. But before long their Emerald City becomes black and white again. They learn that there is no such thing as a "Coke-holder," that their acting rich is just an act, and that their heaven is only a golf course. As the narrator acknowledges, "Something got taken away from us that moment, Heaven" (46). .
The arroyo, or river, is another symbol that reflects the idea of the inevitability of change and of the loss that accompanies change. It is a special place for the boys "a place where they can rebel by shouting forbidden words and by swimming in forbidden waters. Although it is a retreat from the disillusionment of the golf course, it is still their "personal Mississippi" (43), full of possibilities. Eventually, though, the arroyo too disappoints the boys, and they stop going there.