Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Most Controversial Phenomena of Our Time

Sorry for being out of commission all week but I've been in a crazy funk. I can't say why, exactly. But for whatever reason, I've been in a strange place. A place where the usual laws of reality don't abide. All of which, of course, has moved me to remember the series of ads for such Time-Life book series as "Mystic Places", "Mysteries of the Unknown" and "The Enchanted World" that were a television staple throughout the '80s and early '90s. These ads were always a comforting presence to me - at the time I was too old to find them scary but yet I was still young enough to enjoy their hokey eeriness.

These series seemed like they'd be part of America's book shelves forever but apparently after the AOL-Time Warner merger, Time-Life decided that their book line was no longer profitable in the US. I was just entering my twenties when these ads stopped appearing and being busy with new demands and spending less time in front of the TV, I didn't notice this until months later.

Looking back, it seems appropriate that the world of arcane possibilities these books promised would evaporate from my life as I moved into adulthood and no longer had time for such things (and just as appropriate is the fact that I wouldn't immediately notice their absence). Life became more sensible, as it always has to at some point. Until we realize that being sensible doesn't always get us to the places we need to go.

I realize now how much I miss these evocative invitations to "a darker time when the world was young". In their place, late-night TV viewers are eternally browbeaten by come-ons for credit unions, used car lots, affordable health insurance, and real estate rackets. These ads all prey on material worries while Time-Life promoted a sense of wonder - or just simple curiosity - about a world of spirits, magic, chance and uncanny coincidence.

It wasn't pragmatic, of course, to look to acquire a library about legends, tall tales, and superstitions. But what I miss most - what the magic of these ads really were - is the belief that these books, and the fabricated mysteries they endorsed, were a luxury that the average person was able to afford.


Anonymous said...

I have fond memories of those as well! I was never allowed to subscribe to the books but I did track some of them down at garage sales and I still have them.

Jeff Allard said...

I'm always tempted to take a look on ebay to see if I can find a copy or two but that thought always goes on the back burner. Oh, of these days.

Timmy Crabcakes said...

I loved this stuff... my dad was into UFOs and other conspiracy stuff so we had a sizeable library of the weird...
The ones I always wanted were the 'Man, Myth, and Magic' series... which I've seen cheap at swap meets ever time I've got no money in my pocket.