Pillars of the Earth (Follett)

The Pillars of the Earth 
Ken Follett, 1989
Penguin Group USA
973 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780451225245

Ken Follett's most beloved and bestselling book tells the magnificent tale of a 12th-century monk driven to do the seemingly impossible: build the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has ever known.

But what makes The Pillars of the Earth extraordinary is the time—the 12th century; the place—feudal England; and the subject—the building of a glorious cathedral. Follett has re-created the crude, flamboyant England of the Middle Ages in every detail. The vast forests, the walled towns, the castles, and the monasteries become a familiar landscape. Against this richly imagined and intricately interwoven backdrop, filled with the ravages of war and the rhythms of daily life, the master storyteller draws the reader irresistibly into the intertwined lives of his characters—into their dreams, their labors, and their loves: Tom, the master builder; Aliena, the ravishingly beautiful noblewoman; Philip, the prior of Kingsbridge; Jack, the artist in stone; and Ellen, the woman of the forest who casts a terrifying curse. From humble stonemason to imperious monarch, each character is brought vividly to life.

The building of the cathedral, with the almost eerie artistry of the unschooled stonemasons, is the center of the drama. Around the site of the construction, Follett weaves a story of betrayal, revenge, and love, which begins with the public hanging of an innocent man and ends with the humiliation of a king.

At once a sensuous and endearing love story andan epic that shines with the fierce spirit of a passionate age, The Pillars of the Earth is without a doubt Ken Follett's masterpiece. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—June 5, 1949
Where—Cardiff, Wales, UK
Education—B.A., University College, London
Awards—(see below)
Currently—lives in Hertfordshire, England

Kenneth Martin Follett is a Welsh author of thrillers and historical novels who has sold more than 150 million copies of his works. Many of his books have reached number 1 on the New York Times Best Seller list, including Edge of Eternity, Fall of Giants, A Dangerous Fortune, The Key to Rebecca, Lie Down with Lions, Triple, Winter of the World, and World Without End.

Early years
Follett was born in Cardiff, Wales, the first child of four children, to Martin Follett, a tax inspector, and Lavinia (Veenie) Follett. Barred from watching films and television by his Plymouth Brethren parents, he developed an early interest in reading but remained an indifferent student until he entered his teens. His family moved to London when he was ten years old, and he began applying himself to his studies at Harrow Weald Grammar School and Poole Technical College.

He won admission in 1967 to University College London, where he studied philosophy and became involved in center-left politics. He married his wife Mary in 1968, and their son was born in the same year. After graduating in the autumn of 1970, Follett took a three-month post-graduate course in journalism, working as a trainee reporter in Cardiff on the South Wales Echo.  A daughter was born in 1973.

After three years in Cardiff, Follett returned to London as a general-assignment reporter for the Evening News. He eventually left journalism for publishing, having found it unchallenging, and by the late 1970s became deputy managing director of the small London publisher Everest Books.

During that time, Follett began writing fiction as a hobby during evenings and weekends. Later, he said he began writing books when he needed extra money to fix his car, and the publisher's advance a fellow journalist had been paid for a thriller was the sum required for the repairs. Success came gradually at first, but the 1978 publication of Eye of the Needle, became an international bestseller and sold over 10 million copies, earning Follett wealth and international fame.

Each of Follett's subsequent novels, some 30, has become a best-seller, ranking high on the New York Times Best Seller list. The first five best sellers were fictional spy thrillers. Another bestseller, On Wings of Eagles (1983), is a true story based on the rescue of two of Ross Perot's employees from Iran during the 1979 revolution.

Kingsbridge series
For the most part, Follett continued writing spy thrillers, interspersed with historical novels. But he usually returned to espionage. Then in 1989, Follett surprised his readers with his first non-spy thriller, The Pillars of the Earth (1989), a novel about building a cathedral in a small English village during the Anarchy in the 12th century.

Pillars was wildly successful, received positive reviews, and stayed on the New York Times Best Seller list for 18 weeks. All told, (internationally and domestically), it has sold 26 million copies and even inspired a 2017 computer game by Daedalic Entertainment of Germany.

Two sequels followed a number of years later — in 2007 and 2017. World Without End (2007) returns to Kingsbridge 200 years after Pillars and focuses on lives devastated by the Black Death. A Column of Fire (2017), a romance and novel of political intrigue, is set in the mid-16th century — a time when Queen Elizabeth finds herself beset by plots to dethrone her.

Century trilogy
Follett initiated his Century trilogy in 2010. The series traces five interrelated families — American, German, Russian, English and Welsh — as they move through world-shaking events, beginning with World War I and the Russian Revolution, up through the rise of the Third Reich and World War II, and into the Cold War era and civil-rights movements.

A number of Follett's novels have been made into movies and TV mini series. Eye of the Needle was made into an acclaimed film, starring Donald Sutherland. Seven novels have been adapted as mini-series: The Key to Rebecca, Lie Down with Lions, On Wings of Eagles, The Third Twin (rights were sold for a then-record price of $1,400,000), The Pillars of the Earth, World Without End, and A Dangerous Fortune.

Follett also had a cameo role as the valet in The Third Twin and later as a merchant in The Pillars of the Earth.

2013 - Grand Master at the Edgar Awards (New York)
2012 - Que Leer Prize-Best Translation (Spain) - Winter of the World
2010 - Libri Golden Book Award-Best Fiction (Hungary) - Fall of Giants
2010 - Grand Master,  Thrillerfest (New York)
2008 - Honorary Doctor of Literature - University of Exeter
2007 - Honorary Doctor of Literature - University of Glamorgan
2007 - Honorary Doctor of Literature - Saginaw Valley State University
2003 - Corine Literature Prize (Bavaria) - Jackdaws
1999 - Premio Bancarella Literary Prize (Italy) - Hammer of Eden
1979 - Edgar Award-Best Novel - Eye of the Needle

Personal life
During the late 1970s, Follett became involved in the activities of Britain's Labour Party when he met the former Barbara Broer, a Labour Party official. Broer became his second wife in 1984.

Follett, an amateur musician, plays bass guitar for Damn Right I Got the Blues. He occasionally plays a bass balalaika with the folk group Clog Iron. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 10/4/2017.)

Book Reviews 
For roughly 500 pages, half the book, cathedrals and rapine are enough. Mr. Follett's male characters are chess pieces, clearly labeled Good Guy and Bad Guy. There is a saintly churchman and a bad one; the saint plays politics just as much as the sinner, but we know which one is the villain because he wears black. Mr. Follett's female characters are virtually indistinguishable from one another, plucky types whom men must nonetheless rescue from any real danger.... Like a cathedral built too high, Mr. Follett's story develops cracks, and chunks of it fall into the crypt. The plot, which theoretically centers on the building of a cathedral, spills off into too many different directions, including a whirlwind tour of Europe and a completely obvious mystery. The characters never grow, and without some deepening emotional discovery, the world of the novel becomes trite, the incidentsThe vigor and intensity of the first half of the book may bring The Pillars of the Earth popular success. But half a book isn't good enough, especially at these prices. Repetitious.
Cecilla Holland - New York Times

With this book, Follett risks all and comes out a clear winner, escaping the narrow genre of suspense thrillers to take credit for a historical novel of gripping readability, authentic atmosphere and detail and memorable characterization. Set in 12th-century England, the narrative concerns the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge. The ambitions of three men merge, conflict and collide through four decades during which social and political upheaval and the internal politics of the church affect the progress of the cathedral and the fortunes of the protagonists. The insightful portrayals of an idealistic master builder, a pious, dogmatic but compassionate prior and an unscrupulous, ruthless bishop are balanced by those of a trio of independent, resourceful women (one of them quite loathesome) who can stand on their own as memorable characters in any genre. Beginning with a mystery that casts its shadow on ensuing events, the narrative is a seesaw of tension in which circumstances change with shocking but true-to-life unpredictability. Follett's impeccable pacing builds suspense in a balanced narrative that offers action, intrigue, violence and passion as well as the step-by-step description of an edifice rising in slow stages, its progress tied to the vicissitudes of fortune and the permutations of evolving architectural style. Follett's depiction of the precarious balance of power between monarchy and religion in the Middle Ages, and of the effects of social upheavals and the forces of nature (storms, famines) on political events; his ability to convey the fine points of architecture so that the cathedral becomes clearly visualized in the reader's mind; and above all, his portrayals of the enduring human emotions of ambition, greed, bravery, dedication, revenge and love, result in a highly engrossing narrative. Manipulating a complex plot in which the characters interact against a broad canvas of medieval life, Follett has written a novel that entertains, instructs and satisfies on a grand scale.
Publishers Weekly

A radical departure from Follett's novels of international suspense and intrigue, this chronicles the vicissitudes of a prior, his master builder, and their community as they struggle to build a cathedral and protect themselves during the tumultuous 12th century, when the empress Maud and Stephen are fighting for the crown of England after the death of Henry I. The plot is less tightly controlled than those in Follett's contemporary works, and despite the wealth of historical detail, especially concerning architecture and construction, much of the language as well as the psychology of the characters and their relationships remains firmly rooted in the 20th century. This will appeal more to lovers of exciting adventure stories than true devotees of historical fiction. Literary Guild dual main selection. —Cynthia Johnson Whealler, Cary Memorial Lib., Lexington, Mass.
Library Journal

Discussion Questions 
1. How does the building of the cathedral satisfy the ambitions of the main characters—Tom Builder, Prior Philip, Aliena and Jack? How does it affect the lives of other important characters in the story?

2. Read the first scene in Chapter 10 and think about the prose style. Why do you think the author writes this way? Compare the last scene of the same chapter.

3. The number of words of one syllable; the length of sentences; the length of paragraphs; the adjectives used. What is different about the author’s purpose in these two scenes?

4. Although The Pillars of the Earth is fiction, it includes some real-life characters and incidents from history, such as King Stephen at the battle of Lincoln, and the murder of Thomas Becket. Why does the author mix fact and fiction like this?

5. Are the factual scenes told from the point of view of the real-life characters, or the fictional ones? Are the fictional characters major or minor players in the big historical events of the time?

6. Women were second-class citizens in medieval society and the church. Is this accurately reflected in The Pillars of the Earth?

7. What attitudes to women are shown by Prior Philip and William Hamleigh? How do Agnes, Ellen and Aliena respond to society’s expectations?

8. Some readers have said that they look at medieval churches with new eyes after reading The Pillars of the Earth. Do you think you will do the same?

9. In the book, churches are usually viewed through the eyes of a builder. How does this affect your understanding of the architecture?

10. Ken Follett has said: “I’m not a very spiritual person. I’m more interested in the material problems of building a cathedral.” Is The Pillars of the Earth a spiritual book?

11. What motivates Prior Philip? What does Tom say at the beginning of Chapter 5, when Philip asks him why he wants to be master builder? In Chapter 16, why does Philip ask Remigius to come back to the priory?

12. Ken Follett has said: “When I started to look at cathedrals, I wondered: Who built them, and why? The book is my answer to that question.” Why do you think the great medieval cathedrals were built? 
(Questions from Penguin Publishers.)

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