I finally got around to watching “The Secret of Kells,” the animated feature from Cartoon Saloon. It was recently added to the Netflix Instant Queue and several Druid friends were recommending it on the ADF mailing list.
The story is about Brendan, a young brother in the Abbey of Kells in Ireland. His uncle, the Abbot, forbids Brendan from leaving the abbey and insists that he helps fortify the walls in preparation for the impending Viking raids. When the illuminator, Brother Aidan, arrives with his cat and unfinished manuscript, Brendan is suddenly encouraged to explore his more creative side and pay more attention to the natural world – which Aidan claims can teach more than any book. When asked to fetch an ingredient for ink, Brendan encounters the wolf spirit Aisling who befriends and helps him throughout the story.
Despite the presence of Christianity, the Pagan world is still alive in “The Secret of Kells.” The Vikings are referred to as Pagans (which they were at this time). On some levels, the portrayal of the Vikings was unfortunate as they were shown as dark, almost infernal monsters. As they invade, one of them slashes through a cross – a scene that even made me sit up. One must remember, though, that the Irish probably saw the invaders as monstrous. Cromm Crúaich, a dubious Irish deity, is also in the film. There is mention of him in Irish lore – mostly in association with St. Patrick. Cromm is known for demanding the sacrifice of children for a good harvest. He is a very negative, demonic being in “The Secret of Kells.” He’s portrayed as a snake who, once dealt with, is drawn as an ouroboros – one of many spiraling symbols in the movie. What could be a negative portrayal of Paganism is balanced by the sidhe Aisling. She is the protector of the forest, a shape-shifter who, while friendly with Brendan, is also a hunter and a killer as a wolf. Aisling, to me, represents one of the best portrayals of a Pagan deity in modern culture. She is mischievous, powerful, and ageless yet benevolent to the deserving, and possessing of her own faults and weaknesses.
The animation was stunning. You will see triquetras and spirals in the forest that will make you gasp. The Celtic knots are just amazing. The cat, Pangur Bán, is transformed into a spirit that looks like a feline Celtic knot. The Book of Kells is brought to life at the end with exquisite detail and love.
I highly recommend this movie to anyone who loves Ireland, mythology, or a good story. There are possibly some frightening scenes for children, so I recommend that parents watch it first if you’re uncertain. If your child wasn’t bothered by Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog,” he or she will probably love “The Secret of Kells.” If you’re concerned that your son or daughter will come away from the film with a poor impression of the Vikings, make sure to expose them to “How to Train Your Dragon” for a more positive representation.
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