Breaking Glass

The Lost Secret of Kells

When I tell you that I was recently shocked by the treatment of history in a children’s cartoon, you may wonder what kind of pompous buffoon I might be.  (“I cannot begin to list the fundamental errors in marine biology that The Little Mermaid parades before our vulnerable children . . . ”)  Yet watching the 2009 Irish/French/Belgian film The Secret of Kells, I was genuinely surprised by the very powerful statement it made about the role of religion in history—or rather, the total absence of such a role.

I confess right away that I was expecting a different kind of film, something more on the lines of David Macaulay’s illustrated books and animated features.  If you do not know David Macaulay’s work, you should.  For 40 years, he has been producing some of the finest works of education and entertainment aimed at children and teenagers.  Typically, Macaulay creates a fictional setting in which a community chooses to build a monumental structure, whether an Egyptian pyramid, a Gothic cathedral, a Roman city, a Welsh castle, or an Ottoman mosque.  He then explains in intricate detail just how the structure was created, so that by the end the reader has become a near expert on the architecture of the given period, with all its specialized vocabulary, not to mention the surrounding society.  Macaulay, in short, is a national treasure.

My error: I thought The Secret...

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