- The Pillars of the Earth
infobox Book |
name = The Pillars of the Earth
image_caption = The cover art of "Pillars of the Earth", US edition
country = UK (Wales)
language = English
William Morrow, New York(US edition)
pub_date = 1989
media_type = Print (Hardback &
pages = 976 (Paperback, US edition)
isbn = ISBN 0451207149 (Paperback, US edition)
followed_by = World Without End
"The Pillars of the Earth" is a
historical novelby Ken Follettpublished in 1989 about the building of a cathedralin Kingsbridge, England. It is set in the middle of the 12th century, primarily during the time known as The Anarchy, between the time of the sinking of the White Shipand the murder of Thomas Becket.
The book traces the development of
Gothic Architectureout of the preceding Romanesque Architectureand the fortunes of the Kingsbridge prioryagainst the backdrop of actual historical events of the time. Although Kingsbridgeis the name of an actual English town, the Kingsbridge in the novel is actually a fictional location representative of a typical market town of the time.
Until this novel was published, Follett had previously been known for writing in the thriller genre. "The Pillars of the Earth" became Follett's best-selling work.
The book was listed #33 on the BBC's
Big Read, a 2003 survey with the goal of finding the "Nation's Best-loved Book." The book was also selected for Oprah's Book Clubin 2007.
A sequel, titled "World Without End", was released in October 2007.
Tom Builder, a poor but honorable
stonemason, who lost his job as a builder because the cruel, sadistic lord William Hamleigh was turned down by young countess Aliena when he proposed marriage. Starving and destitute, Tom's wife Agnes dies in the forest while giving birth to their third child; Tom cannot feed the baby boy, and in his grief he leaves the child on Agnes's grave, takes his remaining two children, shy Martha and cruel Alfred, and becomes companion of Ellen and her odd, red-haired son Jack, whom Tom meets accidentally when he thinks that he is going to die away in the forest himself. Alfred immediately despises Jack, which takes on a grave form later on . After many hardships, the family settles down in Kingsbridge, where Prior Philip wants to build a cathedral. Jack also meets Aliena and falls in love with her.
Then, William Hamleigh discovers that Aliena's father Earl Bartholomew has taken the side of the Empress Maud and is therefore disloyal to King Stephen. He takes his castle by force, arrests the earl, and rapes Aliena while her younger brother Richard is forced to watch. Fleeing the castle penniless and alone except for Richard, Aliena takes up buying and selling wool, and in a twist of fate meets Prior Philip, who agrees to buy her wool for a fair price. In the process they invent the wool
futuresmarket. Both go to live in Kingsbridge, where all fight against Waleran Bigod, a selfish, power-driven priest, but eventually the Crown approves the building of the cathedral. Ellen and Tom marry, and Jack is thrilled to see Aliena again.
In the next parts of the book, Prior Philip is working hard to turn Kingsbridge into a successful, respectable town, but it is difficult to do so with the civil war raging through England and the battles between Queen Maud and King Stephen, fighting for the throne. Jack and Aliena fall in love, but when William burns Kingsbridge (and her fortune in wool) - killing Tom in the process, Aliena settles for a marriage with wealthy Alfred, making love with Jack exactly once just before her wedding with Alfred,and Jack leaves England heartbroken. The marriage is cold and abusive (Alfred is impotent). Alfred then persuades Phillip to let him replace the cathedral's wooden roof with a stone vault. Since the walls were not designed for the enormous weight of a stone vault, the church collapses, killing 79 people. In the rubble, Aliena gives birth to a baby with bright red hair, and Alfred throws her out. Ellen arrives from the forest to see her grandson and advises Aliena to seek out Jack, who was heading for Compostela to look for work. During his pilgrimage, Jack meets Moorish scholars and mathematicians in Toledo and helps build
Saint Denis Basilica, thus learning how to build rib vaulting and pointed arches. He is reunited with Aliena in St.Denis. By chance, Jack learns that his father comes from Cherbourg(which explains the name "Jack Shareburg"), but when he comes back to Kingsbridge, Philip denies the two a proper marriage, stating Alfred and Aliena are still married.
Years later, the cathedral is being built and Alfred suddenly returns to Kingsbridge. Bishop Waleran Bigod and the Hamleighs have teamed together, aiming for the downfall of Kingsbridge, Philip, and Aliena. (They had attempted to build a cathedral at Shiring, but they ran out of money.) Aliena befriends William Hamleigh's miserable young wife and takes the castle of Shiring from within. Later, Alfred succumbs to his envy for his stepbrother and lust for his own wife and attempts to rape Aliena and gets killed by Richard. Prior Philip decides that the best thing to do is for Richard to go to fight in the
Holy Wars, the Crusades in Jerusalem. Richard escapes William Hamleigh and leaves the earldom to be run by Aliena, who can finally, at long last, marry Jack.
Many years pass. The Kingsbridge cathedral is finally completed, in the "French Style", famous around England for its beauty: it is the first Gothic cathedral in England. Jack has solved a vexing problem — transverse stresses from wind, which causes hairline cracks in the
clerestory— by independently inventing the flying buttress. In a sudden plan of attack, the bitter Bishop Waleran Bigod publicly accuses Prior Philip of breaking the clerical law of chastity; Waleran claims that the monk Jonathan (Tom Builder's son, now grown, whom he had raised in the monastery) was really Philip's secret child. Jack connects Jonathan with Tom Builder's lost baby, and Ellen swears in court that Jonathan is indeed Tom Builder's son. When Bishop Waleran accuses her of lying under oath, she accuses Waleran of perjury, resulting in the death of her lover, Jack's father. It is revealed that Percy Hamleigh (William's father), Waleran Bigod, and the former Kingsbridge Prior James conspired to kill the only survivor of the White Ship—namely, Jack Shareburg—to cover up the fact that the sinking of the White Ship was an assassination. Bigod is ruined by this scandal, and lives out the rest of his days as a humble monk.
Meanwhile, William Hamleigh has gone on leading a miserable, wasteful life, weaving in and out of the political web. His ultimate downfall occurs when he joins a group, under the flag of King Henry, who plot to assassinate the Archbishop of Canterbury,
Thomas Becket. Prior Philip happens to be with Becket when the assassination occurs, witnessing everything, and he uses the rage and injustice felt by the people to lead a protest against Hamleigh and the King, claiming Becket as a saint and a martyr. Hamleigh is arrested by Aliena's son, charged with sacrilege and convicted, and hanged. The Pope lays an Interdict on Henry's Norman possessions until King Henry repents and gets symbolically whipped by Prior Philip. At the ending, the author concludes that royal authority is no longer absolute.
In the 1999 Preface to "Pillars of the Earth", Follet informs readers that:"When I was a boy, all my family belonged to a Puritan religious group called the
Plymouth Brethren. For us a church was a bare room with rows of chairs around a central table... So I grew up pretty much ignorant of Europe's wealth of gorgeous church architecture."
When Follet embarked on the task of writing "Pillars of the Earth", he notes that he "read a couple of books on architecture and developed an interest in cathedrals. Before too long, it occurred to me to channel this enthusiasm into a novel. I knew it had to be a long book. It took at least thirty years to build a cathedral and most took longer because they would run out of money, or be attacked or invaded. So the story covers the entire lives of the main characters. My publishers were a little nervous about such a very unlikely subject but paradoxically, it is my most popular book. It's also the book I'm most proud of. It recreates, quite vividly, the entire life of the village and the people who live there. You feel you know the place and the people as intimately as if you yourself were living there in the Middle Ages." [ [http://www.ken-follett.com/bibliography/pillars.html Ken Follett | Bibliography | The Pillars of the Earth ] ]
*Jack Jackson (also known as Jack Fitzjack, and later Jack Builder): Son of Jack Cherbourg and Ellen; a clever young architect and skilled stonemason who has spent his life loving Aliena and dreaming of building a cathedral; learns mathematics in Spain and the techniques of
Gothic Architecturein France, then builds a new Kingsbridge Cathedral, the first Gothic Cathedral in England. His lifelong curiosity about his father is finally satisfied at the end by revelations by Ellen, Remigius, and Waleran.
*Tom Builder: A penniless architect whose lifelong dream is to build a cathedral; stepfather to Jack. Loyal and diligent, has a love for building and family, though he is blind to Alfred's cruelty. Was notable for his great height. He was later killed by William Hamleigh in a raid that burnt down Kingsbridge.
*Ellen: Daughter of a landed knight, she was unusual in knowing English, French, and Latin and in being literate. The lover of Jack Shareburg and the mother of Jack Jackson, she lives in the woods and was considered by some to be a witch after she cursed the men responsible for her lover's execution; eventually her curse destroys Percy Hamleigh and his odious son, William;Prior James; and Waleran Bigod. She later becomes the wife of Tom Builder. She later curses the marriage of Aliena and Alfred: the curse effectively destroys Alfred.
PriorPhilip: A resourceful and dedicated monk, whose dream is to see Kingsbridge rise to greatness. He becomes the benevolent ruler of Kingsbridge—allocating resources, organizing commerce, resolving disputes, meting out justice—essentially without armed force. His moral strictness frustrated several sympathetic characters, but it was completely devoid of malice.
*William Hamleigh: The son of a minor lord, with a sadistic streak and an obsession with Aliena—who, by refusing to marry him, had blocked his rise from the country
landed gentryto the nobility. He temporarily gains the earldomof Shiring but eventually loses it. He lives for power and revenge, but fears Hell, which often gives both his adversaries and his allies an advantage over him. In the end, his ambitions destroy him.
*Aliena: Daughter to the Earl of Shiring, the intended bride of William Hamleigh, who refuses to marry him and is raped because of it, after her father loses the earldom; later, she becomes the lover/wife of Jack. She is very beautiful and haughty. Makes an ill-considered vow to her dying father that she would help her brother regain the earldom, then becomes a wealthy wool merchant to support her brother's knightly ambitions. Unwisely marries Alfred and after a long struggle is finally reunited with Jack.
*Richard (Richard of Kingsbridge): Aliena's younger brother, a knight who as a young boy had witnessed his sister's rape by William Hamleigh. Becomes a skilled soldier and leader, although he is completely dependent on Aliena for money. Organizes the town defenses before William's attempted second raid on Kingsbridge. Becomes the Earl of Shiring, temporarily, but is obliged to join a
Crusadeafter killing Alfred. Eventually, his family regains the earldom, although he dies in exile, and Aliena runs the Earldom until her son Tommy can take over.
*Alfred Builder: Tom's son, a dimwitted and often cruel builder who later marries Aliena. As a youth, he repeatedly beats Jack up; as a man, he marries Aliena for spite, to keep Jack from having her, and is consistently impotent with her; He builds a stone vault on the Kingsbridge Cathedral, which collapses, killing dozens, the day it is dedicated. He is eventually killed by Richard when he tries to rape Aliena.
*Agnes: first wife of Tom Builder and mother to Martha and Alfred; dies in the woods while giving birth to Jonathan.
*Martha: daughter of Tom, sister to Alfred, stepsister to Jack. Timid and mild-mannered, often bullied by Alfred.
*Waleran Bigod: A cunning, devious, morally bankrupt cleric, who constantly schemes his way into more power. Allies himself with the Hamleighs and often plots with William to bring about Philip's and Aliena's downfall. Eventually outwits himself: he accuses Philip of fornication and being Jonathan's father, but Ellen exposes his perjury (which had condemned Jacques Cherbourg for theft) and ends his career.
*Jonathan: infant son of Tom and Agnes Builder but raised by Prior Philip and the Kingsbridge monks when Tom abandons him on Agnes's grave. Grows up to be even taller than Tom. Eventually follows Philip as Prior of Kingsbridge.
*Lord Percy Hamleigh, Earl of Shiring: Power-driven and greedy father of William. After disposing of the traitor, Earl Bartholomew, Percy is given the earldom by King Stephen. He is an effective ruler, who is influenced largely by his wife, Regan. He dislikes sharing the Shiring stone-quarry with Kingsbridge Priory and impedes the building of the cathedral. He dies of a seizure in the novel, leaving a weakened and indebted earldom. He was one of the perjurors who had Jack Cherbourg hanged
*Lady Regan Hamleigh, Countess of Shiring: William Hamleigh's mother. She is physically hideous, but is smart and manipulative and effectively has control over her husband and son. She influences many of the decisions made by William and is the one person he truly loves. She instills in him a fear of Hell and dies of a heart attack at about the age of 60. William has a church built in her memory.
*Jack Shareburg (Jacques Cherbourg): a
jongleurwho is the only survivor of the wreck of the White Ship, lover of Ellen and father of Jack Jackson; hanged in the Prologue.
*Francis, of Welsh descent: Phillip's brother, orphaned with him in Wales and raised by monks; chooses to become a priest rather than a monk. Becomes the secretary of Robert of Gloucester and later Empress Maud. More worldly than Phillip, he saves his brother when he is taken prisoner after a battle; he gives him valuable political insight and inside information.
*Tommy (later called Thomas): son of Jack and Aliena. With no talent for building but a talent for administration and command, he becomes the Earl of Shiring and orders William's hanging for his involvement in the assassination of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
*Sally: daughter of Jack and Aliena. She takes after Jack and works on the Kingsbridge Cathedral, designing and making the stained-glass windows.
*Raschid Alharoun: Jack's friend in Toledo, a Christian Arab merchant, who introduces Jack to many scholars, scientists, and mathematicians (who are engaged in translating
Euclidfrom Arabicinto Latin). Jack comes close to marrying Raschid's daughter, but he decides he'd rather build a cathedral in Kingsbridge than rich merchant's houses in Toledo; he resumes his travels and is found by Aliena.
*Walter: William Hamleigh's groom/squire. Accompanies him through much of the novel, and assists in the memorable attack on Aliena and Richard.
*Johnny Eightpence: A dimwitted, yet resourceful monk who nurses baby Jonathan by dipping a rag in goats' milk. This act prompts Philip to take Johnny with him to Kingsbridge to assist in young Jonathan's upbringing.
*Remigius: The former Sub-Prior of Kingsbridge under the old Prior James. He attempts to secure the position of Prior, however Philip's appearance and election usurps Remigius's ambitions. He then serves as Philip's Sub-Prior, and serves also as an ally to Waleran Bigod. After leaving the Abby, then subsequently falling from Waleran's favor, he is forced to beg until being invited back by Philip, to live out his days as a mere monk.
*Cuthbert Whitehead: Kingsbridge Priory's cellarer. An early ally of Philip after his arrival in Kingsbridge.
*Milius Bursar: Kingsbridge Priory's former kitchener and later bursar, responsible for the accounts of the Priory, he is also an early ally of Phillip's and aids him in becoming Prior and running the priory.
German style board gamebased on the novel by Michael Rieneck and Stefan Stadler was published in 2006bgg|24480] at the Spielgame fair. The game sold out long before the fair ended. It has been awarded with the 2007 Deutscher Spiele Preis, the Spanish "Game of the Year 2007"cite web|title=JESS: Los Pilares de la Tierra - JdA 2007|url=http://www.boardgamenews.com/index.php/boardgamenews/comments/jess_los_pilares_de_la_tierra_jda_2007/|work=Boardgame News|author=Castro, Jesús Torres|date=2007-12-24|accessdate=2007-12-24] and the Norwegian "Best Family Game of 2007"cite web|title=Pillars of the Earth Wins, and Wins Again
work=Boardgame news|author=Martin, W. Eric|date=2007-11-01|accessdate=2007-12-24] and the
GAMES Magazine"Game of the Year 2007".
* [http://www.ken-follett.com/bibliography/pillars.html The Pillars of the Earth] on Ken Follett's website
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.