Saturday, April 05, 2008

Book 14, Pillars of the Earth

I'm reading this book again for about the sixth or seventh time. I don't know about you, but any book that bears the additional read for me does so for some profound reason.

This is certainly the case for The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.

This has got to be one of my top ten ever. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand is up there as well.

I teach Art History and that means that I'm a twisted anal-retentive individual who loves a minutia of detail. Because of the architectural information in this novel I offer up 5 points added to an average for a six weeks for reading it and talking to me about it. It's 983 pages and a student would have to want the extra credit BIG time to undertake it. I've had a couple of kids over the years who read it and told me that I didn't have to give them the extra credit. They loved the book so much.

I'm also one who was raised on H.G. Wells and Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs. I love a good story.

Pillars of the Earth gives me both. The characters are very detailed and strongly written. They are poor/rich, starving/gluttons, peasant/nobility, sac religious/religious and just about every permutation of human station that one can imagine in between. The poor have substinence issues. The religious and nobles draw together for their own issues of advancement.

All through the thread of machinations is the life of Tom Mason, a builder. The central character, his one goal is to build a cathedral, because it is "beautiful." His life is complicated by several events. Early in the novel, he abandons his newborn child on the grave of his beloved wife who has died in the birthing effort. Feeling remorse he goes back to find that the child has been found and taken to a priory and left to the care of monks. In this period of a day he unites with a strange forest woman who in effect becomes his wife. Tom is tormented by the desire to reclaim his infant and his passion for the strange woman Ellen. Tom seeks a position as a builder near the priory where his infant son resides.

This is just a minor portion of this story that includes politically active maneuverings that involve the highest members of the church, the squabbles among local barony and the quest for the throne of England itself. Included is the martyrdom of Thomas a Becket.

One does not build a cathedral in a day. Such undertakings were generally multigenerational. Ken Follett has chosen to set his story in the period of the architectural change from Romanesque to Gothic and with his narration describes the building formats of the churches and the engineering changes necessary for the transition of style. The author wraps up these solidly researched engineering and artistic issues with the lives and dilemmas of very compelling and human characters. We look at the lives of the characters over time and see how their life experiences alter their perspectives.

There is drama, there is love, there is lust for passion and for power. In this story, there is the love of God and description of how so many different kinds of people come to related to God. The plot has so many twists and turns it will leave you spinning and make you wonder how one author could see so many personal agendas and points of view.

This novel is well crafted. It's a great story that takes my breath away every time I read it. As I tell my students, one gets to the point where there are a hundred pages left and we think "OH NO, there's not much left. . . " We want the story to go on and on and on.

Once again, I finished this book and wanted even more. I hear now there is a sequel and I'm betting that one comes up before the year is out!

I'm already started on book fifteen. I've not counted the weeks so far, but I think I'm on schedule!