This is a tale from the Dark Ages, when Ireland was beginning to grasp Christianity, and was often plagued by invading Vikings from the north. Brendan (Evan McGuire), a boy whom is fostered by his uncle, Abbot Cellach (Brendan Gleeson) of Kells, had a gift for finding trouble, even when the scope of his world is not larger than the walls that surround the abbey and the village that is protected by it. Brendan also has a gift for art, but rarely gets to indulge in the illumination of the books in the scriptorium because he had other far more mundane duties to attend to in helping the men of the abbey build the walls to protect Kells. One day as Brendan is chasing down a wild goose, he runs into the illuminators, Brother Tang (Liam Hourican), Assoua (Paul Tylack), and Square (Paul Young), and they help him catch the goose. The lucky goose is not going to be roasted, but simply is going to lose a few tail feathers. The brothers are going to use them for quills. They go to the scriptorium and tell Brendan about Aidan, the man who seems like he must be the superhero of illuminators. They also tell Brendan of the project Aidan has been working on in the island of Iona. A secret book that is like none that has even been seen before. What the brothers do not know is that the unguarded island fell prey to viking raids, and Brother Aidan (Mick Lally) is on the run. Another thing they do not know is that he carries the Book of Iona with him.
When Aidan and his cat, Pangur Bán, come to Kells, he takes a liking to Brendan, because he recognizes the boy’s talent and love of illumination. Brendan still has to attend to his mundane tasks of helping the builders with the wall, but comes to visit with Aidan to learn new things. One evening, Aidan tells him of a certain nut that grows in the forest outside of the abbey walls that produces an emerald green ink, and asks Brendan to collect some for him. Brendan is forbidden to go outside the walls of the abbey, but his curiosity and desire to learn are far greater. He is still a kid, and is going to rebel when it comes to getting what he wants. He sneaks out of the abbey to the forest with Pangur Bán following him, and starts to hunt for the oaks that have the gall nuts Aidan needs. He and the cat are soon pursued by wolves, and find themselves surrounded as they climb to the top of a boulder. The cat gets away, but soon comes back as a shining white wolf calms the others. This is no ordinary wolf. The white wolf is a fairy, Aisling (Christen Mooney), and though she is suspicious of Brendan at first she becomes Brendan’s guide and friend in the forest.
The Abbot learns of Brendan’s little outing, and forbids him to leave the confines of the abbey, but he goes out and learns about the ways of the forest from Aisling, as well as learning the nuance of illumination from Aidan. Aidan soon confesses that his age and eyesight are slowing him down, and that he might never be able to finish the Book of Iona. He had lost a special magnifying glass, the Eye of Collum-Cille, and without it, the details of his work cannot be done. The lens was taken from Crom Cruach, which is an evil serpant that lives near Aisling’s forest, is feared by her and her kind. Brendan attempts to go to the forest to get the glass, but is stopped, and confined to his room by the Abbot. Aisling uses her spirit magic to turn Pangur Bán into a spirit to help get the keys from the abbot’s chambers to help Brendan escape. Brendan comes up with a brave and creative plan to get the glass, but that won’t stop the Vikings from reaching and taking Kells. That takes Brendan’s game to a whole new level, but he never stops doing what he feels is his true purpose in life, to finish what Aidan started. Therefore The Book of Iona becomes The Book of Kells.
While there are many great movies out there featuring Irish folklore and legends, they are still made of some fluff. While The Secret of Kells has somewhat of a fluffiness to it, it is a serious story to be considered, even though it is an animated film. The lines are simple, and the colours bright, and there is enough mystery to keep everyone enthralled. The Brendan in this story is not the Saint Brendan of Clonfert, even though the stories come from about the same time period. Someday, maybe Cartoon Salon could treat us to this story, too. This tale has a wonderful mix of paganism and Christian legend, and it works well. No wonder it was nominated for Best Animated Picture in 2009. Sadly, it lost to Up, but that’s not so bad.
I give this film a Musing review of