The Secret of Kells - What is this Remarkable Animated Feature?
TM: When I was in school the stories of the Celtic and pre-Celtic people formed a big part of our fairytale tradition. We heard about them all the time. Eddie Lenihan, a fantastic storyteller, had a series on TV where he told "ten minute tales." In school we learnt about Pangur Ban, the cat in our film. Pangur was a cat that lived with an Irish monk who wrote a poem in tribute to Pangur on the side of one of the manuscripts he was transcribing.
Irish visual art took a back seat to music and storytelling, but I feel it seeps out in the Irish pubs and in the illustrations of Irish illustrators and craftspeople that are influenced by it. Hopefully our film will give an accessible way into this tradition to those who are interested. It’s cheaper than a degree in art history!
KC: Am I correct that the story seems to have been designed for universal appeal? It appears the designers were careful not to identify with a specific religious group, nor is any specific meaning given to the stone circle in the forest, nor to the magic underground world. Is the underground world part of Irish folklore?
TM: I worked with Fabrice Ziolkowski, a French-American screenwriter, who helped sculpt the story we wanted to tell, to make sure it was not esoteric and only comprehensible to an Irish audience. It was important for our French producer Didier Brunner that we make a universal story. I felt that the hero’s journey structure, which Joseph Campbell showed was central to all faiths and legends, was an appropriate way to give a universal appeal to our blend of history and legend.
We do use the Celtic cross in the film; in fact the layout of Kells is based on it. I believe the Celtic cross shows the merging of Pagan worship of the Sun God Lugh and the new Christian faith. The circle that holds the arms of the cross can be seen as the overlaying of the old gods on the new faith.
The underground world is shown in a megalithic tomb, many of which are still in Ireland. Some are believed older than the pyramids. On the winter solstice, the pre-Celtic people who built them designed them so the sun would light up the internal chamber. This showed the defeat of the darkness, the winter and the beginning of spring and better weather and hope for the harvest with the new light.”
I believe the St.Patrick legend of him banishing the serpents may have come from the legend of him defeating Crom Cruach and destroying its idols. We used Crom Cruach, a fairly obscure pagan deity, to show Brendan’s fears. His journey to Crom’s lair symbolizes his journey into his own soul, his own imagination, to conquer his fears and retrieve the eye, the new vision he needed to become a master artist, illuminator.
I always thought the term ‘illumination’ used by medieval artists to describe their calligraphic art was very symbolic.
The stone circle where Brendan meets Aisling is another common sight in the Irish landscape. Often called fairy forts, they are probably the remains of a pre-Christian religion. In folklore it’s often said that they are entrances to the fairy world. It seemed an appropriate place for Brendan to encounter Aisling. The stone he meets her at in the center of the fairy ring is the Turoe stone.