I will admit that videos like Veggie Tales have a certain place in the process, and some of them do provide a helpful tool for biblical literacy, but past preschool and kindergarten they are a fairly shallow educational resource for faith development.I hope to provide here periodic suggestions for movies and other resources – some overtly religious and some with more subtle religious messages. I can’t help but start with my most recent favorite animated feature – The Secret of Kells (Academy Award Nominee 2010).
While it may not seem like a traditional or attractive theme for a children’s movie, this imaginative account of the creation of the Irish Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript of the Bible from the 8th century, is beautiful, poignant and magical.
Here is just a peek: In this scene Brendon, a young monk in training, has snuck out of the fortified monastery to seek out berries for an esteemed illuminator (Brother Aiden) that will brighten his inks. In the forest he meets a wood fairy, Ashling, who becomes his muse and companion.
Here are just some of the themes that make this a worthwhile film to share with your children:
· Turning Darkness to Light: this is a theme throughout the film and is how the monks describe both the Book of Kells and the hope that they have for the world. Faced with invading Vikings and the struggle to maintain the great books of western civilization, the monks declare repeatedly that the Book will be their salvation. Hope lies beyond the book as well, as the brothers and the community provide a glimpse of the light through their caring for one another. It is a dark time in which they live (some would say in which we live as well), but the Book has the potential to change all of that.
Obviously this connects intrinsically with the biblical theme of God’s Word and that Word bringing light to the world – a light that the darkness could not overcome.
· Being Called by God: Brendon’s calling to complete the Book of Kells expands throughout the film. First bubbling up in his interest and fascination with the work of the illuminators, it then takes flesh in his irresistible urges to sneak inside the book. When Brother Aiden tells him that it will be his responsibility to complete the book, he shies away from the task just as so many biblical figures did when called to do God’s work. But ultimately Brendon answers that call and does the hard work that it takes to live up to it. By the end of the film we see him as an adult who who has completed his life’s work and has lived into who God has created him to be.
· Regret and Reconciliation: This theme plays out in many ways, most obviously in Brendon’s relationship with his uncle the Abbot of Kells. The Abbot thinks only of protecting the community by building a defensive wall against the Vikings. Brendon thinks only of the Book and how he can spend more time becoming a master illuminator. It is a classic conflict between passion and practicality, optimism and pessimism, fear and innocence. At the climax of the film we come to believe that there will be no chance for reconciliation between the two, when they are separated in the inevitable Viking attack, yet reconciliation does come at the end. Both Brendon, now a grown man, and his uncle confess to the other their inability to understand in the moment what drove the other. In their reunion we see the potential for restored relationships, for growth and change (even in adults) and for new life where it had seemed hope had been lost.
I would love to be able to tell you that my son (in the ten times that he has watched this movie already) has learned all of these important lessons. Probably they have not yet sunk in. Most likely the thing that brings him back to the film again and again is the magic of Ashling and the beauty of the illustrations. If it means I don’t have to watch a zucchini save the Jews, that is good enough for me.
I can't help but include one more clip...this is our favorite part, as Ashling and Aiden's cat Pangur Ban (Gaelic for mist) help to sneak Brendon out of his confinement.