What may be my most glittering childhood memory consists of me sitting, enraptured, before a television show called The Mysterious Cities of Gold. I was seven. With no effort at all, I can still recall the theme song, the chorus of which went, “Someday we will find the cities of gold.” I found that beautiful, and still do, although I understand if you do not—nostalgia, like light, changes everything.
The plot I’ve nearly forgotten. There was a young boy, and there were temples. Our hero had a powerful amulet, an amulet that, to my memory, was somehow linked to a giant mechanical bird, a vehicle in which our hero, I’m nearly certain, flew. (The show was a cartoon. You may have intuited this). I also remember a hauntingly lovely older girl; at any rate, she was older than me. She was mute, I think, but maybe I wasn’t listening.
It was easily my favorite show, so I assumed it was everybody’s. I don’t ever remember encountering anyone else who had seen it, though. As the years passed, cartoons went from essential to embarrassing; I swore them off at an early age, determined to seek out more adult fare. Later, in less anxious years, I’d find myself reminiscing with friends over cartoons we had once loved. Only once did I ever find a fellow fan of the show. I could have hugged him. Otherwise, the show seemed to have disappeared into the past, concealing its treasures, and it became for me a sort of private legend.
Omnia mutantur, nihil interit, as the optimists have it. Everything did change—I’m 32, engaged to a hauntingly lovely younger girl. And perhaps nothing truly perishes after all; a few birthdays ago, a good friend of mine gave me the complete series on DVD. I’ve resisted watching it until now. The show was one of the biggest meteors to alter the landscape of my moon, so to speak…what if it sucked?
Almost anybody, who’s made it to anything approaching adulthood, has had the experience of returning somewhere only to find it changed. My hometown is no longer the place it once was. The trees were bigger, and the days were longer—to suggest that I was smaller, and that time seemed to pass more slowly because I was younger…that would be ridiculous, fantastic. I used to listen to Rush and no longer do, not because my tastes changed, but because the songs have.
I gave in to my curiosity this week and watched again the first seven episodes of the series. It turns out to be a much more adventure-driven show than I remember, if a leisurely one. Kidnapping, storms, shark attacks…the creators must have wanted to throw everything the sixteenth century had to offer at our hero (and then some, considering the golden mechanical bird, a condor. The first seven episodes afford only a glimpse of this, in the opening credits. It’s a grand glimpse, though). It’s still remarkably entertaining.
I had completely forgotten all the comic relief, the stuttering and fumbling. I’m not sure children need it; if there were jokes in the Hardy Boys novels, I can’t remember them. But then, we’re mercenary with the past. We take what we need from it. It wasn’t until I left home for college that I noticed how much my cadence resembles my mother’s. And my fiancee has pointed out more than once things I do that my father also does.
The show doesn’t suck. There are things that scratch at me that wouldn’t have then, like the syllables our boy sometimes chooses to emphasize (“We’ll soon be UNderway!”). But some of it seems even more impressive and strange (a gunfight with a gila monster? In an Incan temple?). The music goes from peppy stuff that veers close to disco, to ambient strains that could have emanated from ancient, dying computers. The slow unfolding of mysteries creates real suspense, the way the early seasons of Lost did.
I suppose we lose everything, in the end. Still, I’m glad to have had the chance to revisit the moment in which our Esteban, our boy, sees what seems to be liquid gold, in the ocean, but what turns out to be an incredible number of butterflies. They rise into the sky, retrieving for me, momentarily, some of the wonder which my jaded self had assumed was irrevocably lost. But look: There.
About the author: John Kissane lives in sunny Michigan with his cat, Remus, a professional rapper whose bass-heavy tributes to treats and balls of yarn have hugely endeared him to the gelled-hair clubgoing set, unless this isn’t true, which — how could it be. John works in banking. He writes about books at buenogato.wordpress.com