Pillars of the Earth

I’ve always like Ken Follett’s spy novels, and THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH had been recommended by my architect husband and several other people.  So I downloaded it onto my IPad mini and started reading.

I was struck initially at the rather pedestrian, workman-like quality of the prose, and the rather arm’s length almost omniscient POV despite, supposedly, being in a particular character’s POV, and I wasn’t sure I was going to actually finish the book.

But then I found myself utterly and completely immersed in these characters lives and burning for justice to be done to the two villains of the piece.  Especially William.  I so hated that violent monster.  So I found myself reading a thousand page book in only a few days.

I’m still analyzing how Follett made me care so deeply when as a modern reader I’m far more accustomed to a close third then this rather distant story telling form.  Was it just the suffering the characters endured that made me connect so deeply?  I suspect it was the utter infamy of the villains that had me thirsting for justice and ultimately captured me.

Horrible things happen to the people through no fault of their own.  They make their own misery by making choices that make you groan, but are so understandable and human.  But at the end decency, love and courage are rewarded and they come to safe harbors that left me limp and happy and satisfied.

As a history major it was interesting how Follett characterized the death of Thomas Beckett.  As a secularist and a lawyer my sympathies have always been with King Henry, but Follett sees it as the rise of an engaged citizenry and the first steps toward the creation of Constitutional government which I found very interesting.

One Response to Pillars of the Earth

  • I think it may be misleading to discuss medieval conflicts in terms of a modern concept such as “secularism.” Medieval kings were not secular; they ruled in God’s name, they were crowned in religious ceremonies, and part of their duties was religious. Really all medieval conflicts were conflicts between different religious institutions; for example, the conflict over active roles for women in societies left short of men by the Crusades was expressed largely through women joining the Franciscan movement, and conflicts over labor were mediated by guilds that had religious patronage and symbolism. Or, for a later example, Henry VIII seizing the monastic estates was nominally a religious conflict, but it also functioned as a major expropriation of wealth by the state from quasi-private owners, followed by its redistribution to a favored elite. The lack of a language for description of conflicts in purely secular terms (we owe that to Machiavelli, I think) didn’t mean that there weren’t conflicts over secular issues.

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