The Pillars of the Earth!

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I have finished thoroughly skimming The Pillars of the Earth. It was a wonderful story — exactly what it promises to be — an epic tale. I liked the characters, I liked all of the different storylines blending in and blending back out. (Who would have thought that they would have brought back Peter?) Around Page 900 I did grow tired of things never working out for long. It seemed as though William and Waleran always had something at their disposal to fling at their enemies, and I just wanted Right to prevail once and for all.

Throughout the book there was a great deal of violence, but I have thought about it a great deal and I am not sure how Ken Follett could have written a tale about a time when everyone raped and pilaged without having his characters, well, rape and pillage.

Here are some review questions for book club discussions from the author’s website:

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?
Some things to think about:
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?

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.
Some things to think about:
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?

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?
Some things to think about:
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?

Women were second-class citizens in medieval society and the church. Is this accurately reflected in ‘The Pillars of the Earth’?
Some things to think about:
What attitudes to women are shown by Prior Philip and William Hamleigh? How do Agnes, Ellen and Aliena respond to society’s expectations?

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?
Some things to think about:
In the book, churches are usually viewed through the eyes of a builder. How does this affect your understanding of the architecture?

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?
Some things to think about:
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?

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