The Secret Of Kells

Posted on 11. Nov, 2010 by in Cel Animation Cat Films

Pangur Ban, as a cat, was a peripheral character at best in the medieval human society in which he lived.
He is only remembered in history because his owner (presumably a monk or copyist) wrote a poem comparing Pangur Ban’s mouse-hunting to his acquisition of knowledge by studying at night.

In The Secret of Kells however, Pangur Ban is an essential part of the tale, albeit his role is fictionalized.

It is unknown as to whether Pangur Ban and/or his owner had any connection to the Book Of Kells. The true designer(s) of the Book Of Kells as well as the exact date and circumstances under which it was produced are unknown to history, but in this movie, Pangur Ban is brought to the Abbey of Kells by an older monk by the name of Aidan, who had previously lived on the Irish coastal island of Iona, and had started the writing and illumination of the Book Of Kells.

Though this monastery contains an established community of monks, none of them owns a cat, and Pangur Ban is a fascinating creature to pre-teen postulant monk Brendan. Brendan has spent his early life living in the Abbey of Kells, surrounding which is a tall, thick wall under construction because of the danger posed by the “Northmen”, a.k.a. Vikings, and thus (it is implied) Brendan may never have previously seen a cat.

Both the cat and the human characters are animated in an extremely stylized fashion. The filmmakers have deliberately conflated Pangur Ban with the cat image in the Book of Kells to provide a visual relationship, as well as a relationship between the two in the plot of this picture.

Pangur Ban as he appears in The Secret Of Kells

Model sheet for Pangur Ban as he appears in The Secret Of Kells

White Cat and Mice, image from The Book Of Kells

White cat and mice image from The Book Of Kells

After Brendan illicitly leaves the monastery to get oak gall for ink, having met a nature spirit and encountered the cave of Crom Cruach in the forest, The Abbot tries to put a stop to Aidan’s apprenticeship of Brendan in the illuminated book venture.
The Abbot then locks Brendan in his room, but Brendan’s new-found friendship with Aisling the nature spirit, inspires her to come to his rescue by putting a spell on Panguar Ban which makes the cat turn into a white mist, which enables him to get past the Abbot’s locked door, steal the key, and bring it to Brandon. An original song in which Aisling pets Pangur and tells him to go where she cannot is one of the musical sequences in this movie.

This is a case where a cat is associated with the supernatural, but in this instance, the cat serves as an initially passive participant in the supernatural doings (the soothing tones of the spell/song used to make Pangur Ban into a misty creature suggest a form of hypnosis was used to accomplish this transformation). Conferring the ability to pass through walls upon Pangur Ban was a bit gratuitous in light of the fact that the being who did so was herself a shape-shifter, and it is not explained why she herself could not accomplish a similar feat.

The ending credits are accompanied by the poem Pangur Ban recited in Gaelic.

Pangur Ban

I and Pangur Ban, my cat,
‘Tis a like task we are at;
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
‘Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill will;
He, too, plies his simple skill.

‘Tis a merry thing to see
At our task how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
Into the hero Pangur’s way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.

‘Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
‘Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.

When a mouse darts from its den.
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!

So in peace our tasks we ply,
Pangur Ban, my cat and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine, and he has his.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade ;
I get wisdom day and night,
Turning Darkness into light.’

Translation by Robin Flowers (we think)

(Note: “Pangur Ban” was recognizable to the people of early medieval Ireland as a cat’s name, the literal translation being “white fuller” referring not only to the white color of his coat, but to the “kneading” behavior cats engage in with their claws.)

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2 Responses to “The Secret Of Kells”

  1. Chaenne

    29. Mar, 2012

    Nowhere have i been able to find the words to the reciting of “pangur ban” spoken at the ending credits; they don’t seem to be the same as any version of pangur ban i can find online. do you know where i could find the words to it as it was spoken at the end of the movie? i would love to memorize it….

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  2. Laura

    28. Nov, 2013

    The following link has a side-by-side translation of the English and the Gaelic versions of the Pangur Ban poem:

    Reply to this comment

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