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The Pillars of the Earth (Kingsbridge, #1)
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Archives > Part One (Prologue - Chapter 4) - TPotE

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Meghan | 423 comments Mod
1. "Tom had been offered the post of builder to the Exeter castellan, repairing and improving the city's fortifications. It would have been a lifetime job, barring accidents. But Tom had turned it down, for he wanted to build another cathedral" (p. 23). Do you think Tom should have taken the position? Have you ever passed up a sure thing in pursuit of your life's passion?


Meghan | 423 comments Mod
2. Compare and contrast Agnes and Ellen. Is one woman stronger than the other? How did their different styles of motherhood affect their children? Which do you think is a better complement for Tom?


Meghan | 423 comments Mod
3. Why does Prior Philip agree to take in the abandoned baby? Are his reasons altruistic, or selfish—given the fact that his own family was taken from him? How is the order like a family? What needs does it fulfill, and which ones are still lacking in the brotherhood?


Meghan | 423 comments Mod
4. What are your first impressions of Waleran Bigod? Is he a devout man at heart, or does he have something up his sleeve? Is Philip his ally or his pawn?


Meghan | 423 comments Mod
5. William acts disrespectful toward women—berating Aliena and offering to buy Ellen. But after he successfully invades Earl Bartholomew's castle, he seeks the approval of his mother. "William's heart was warmed by her praise, and he grinned foolishly" (p. 208). Why does William respect his mother, but no other woman?


message 6: by Robbie (last edited Mar 24, 2008 03:50AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Robbie Bashore | 141 comments Mod
Okay, my initial, superficial responses to these discussion questions.

1. "Tom had been offered the post of builder to the Exeter castellan, repairing and improving the city's fortifications. It would have been a lifetime job, barring accidents. But Tom had turned it down, for he wanted to build another cathedral" (p. 23). Do you think Tom should have taken the position? Have you ever passed up a sure thing in pursuit of your life's passion?

Given that he had a family (he did then, didn't he?) and his choice made him often unable to keep them fed, I think he should have taken the job. Looked at from this angle, one could compare him to the father in "The Glass Castle."

In today's world, one could almost always defer their life's passion for later. The life expectancy was shorter then, though, so it was a tougher, more either/or decision.

Already in my life, I've made each kind of decision--passed up, or left, a sure thing in pursuit of a passion, as well as chosen a safe thing in order to provide more stability for my family.

2. Compare and contrast Agnes and Ellen. Is one woman stronger than the other? How did their different styles of motherhood affect their children? Which do you think is a better complement for Tom?

At the end of this section, I'm really annoyed with Tom! Again, taken in the context of the day, Agnes was a better match for Tom. Ellen was more like the mistress, satisfying his needs of the flesh. Ellen could have been more of a complement if Tom had not been trying so hard to save face.

I was still struggling to get into the book at the beginning. How did Agnes' parenting style contribute to awful Alfred? I don't remember.

3. Why does Prior Philip agree to take in the abandoned baby? Are his reasons altruistic, or selfish—given the fact that his own family was taken from him? How is the order like a family? What needs does it fulfill, and which ones are still lacking in the brotherhood?

Taking in the baby may have been Philip's attempt to "pay it forward."

Too early for deep thought, I invite others to initiate discussion for other parts of this question.

4. What are your first impressions of Waleran Bigod? Is he a devout man at heart, or does he have something up his sleeve? Is Philip his ally or his pawn?

I felt he was genuine up until the part where we found out the (bishop was it) was already dead; I think that was only the *first* thing he had up his sleeve. I await more. Pawn.

5. William acts disrespectful toward women—berating Aliena and offering to buy Ellen. But after he successfully invades Earl Bartholomew's castle, he seeks the approval of his mother. "William's heart was warmed by her praise, and he grinned foolishly" (p. 208). Why does William respect his mother, but no other woman?

All children crave their mother's approval, at least initially. William's mother withheld hers, leaving him always longing for it and cherishing it because it's so rare. He displaces his anger toward her to other women, which is why he disrespects them.



Meghan | 423 comments Mod
Oh yay Robbie! So glad you're getting through this one!

I really liked your answer to question 1. I never really thought about Tom NOT pursuing his dream. It's funny, but how you put it really made me think about the whole pursuit of "happiness" concept. I feel that we are suppose to think that Tom is noble for going after his dream (of building a cathedral). Not being a master builder or the financial means to put his dream into fruition, this is a story of one man's quest to dream the impossible dream.

And yet, as he goes for it, he drags his family along with him. Is it fair to pursue YOUR dreams at the expense of others? I can think of several movies (Pursuit of Happiness being the first one that comes to mind) that also cover this theme. Is putting your children and family in poverty and homelessness so that you can "make it big" worth it in the end? Is it fair for them to make you quit your dreams for the sake of safety and stability? Is there a happy medium?

Thoughts to ponder for a rainy (or in Michigan's case, snowy/rainy) day.


Meghan | 423 comments Mod
Question 3 about Prior Phillip's motives for taking the baby is a tough one to answer right now (this early in the book).

I think in his heart, Phillip is a good man, as well as a "man of God". And he could no more leave an abandoned baby than he could ignore all the other good deeds he does on a daily basis.

However, at the same time, I do think he saw a future when he developed a relationship with that baby. For a monk, there would be no marriage, no family, and thus no children. I think it was human nature to want to leave behind a part of him through someone else.

As the story goes though, I do have to say my feelings on this question become more convoluted. It's part of why I love this book so much. The characters are extremely complex and no one person is all good or all evil (although some more one than the other). To me, it's more "human" when the characters show this complexity.


message 9: by Liz (new) - rated it 5 stars

Liz 1. "Tom had been offered the post of builder to the Exeter castellan, repairing and improving the city's fortifications. It would have been a lifetime job, barring accidents. But Tom had turned it down, for he wanted to build another cathedral" (p. 23). Do you think Tom should have taken the position? Have you ever passed up a sure thing in pursuit of your life's passion?

~ I think time was a bit selfish in his decision. He was not looking out for his family only for himself and his dreams. We all have dreams but sometimes you must put those on hold you bring children into this world and Tom jsut did not seem to get that. It seems like he almost was living in a fantasy world. Like he thought everything would always work ou no matter what.


2. Compare and contrast Agnes and Ellen. Is one woman stronger than the other? How did their different styles of motherhood affect their children? Which do you think is a better complement for Tom?

~ Agnes was more of a nurturer then Ellen. She did what was expected of her. Ellen was a free spirit. She is what I would compare today in todays world as a more liberal woman. I saw Agnes as meek. I would not say her style of motherhood affected the children as much as Tom did when he took over parenting. He did not discipline Alfred. He thought since he was the boy and the oldest he should be able to do whatever. Ellen saw the defects in this. That is why Jack grew up to become such a better man. At least in my eyes. It is funny because yes, she did bring out the carnal side in Tom but in the end Alfred turned out to be the type of man who only sought after that and not Jack.......


Sarah (goosers34) I would like to address the Agnes/Ellen question.

The two women were different sides of the same coin. Agnes, a strong wife and mother, was able to maintain a traditional family. Her husband, the bread winner, did ask her opinions and she knew when and when-not to give them. But she always put her family first, thus sacrificing her 'self'. Ellen, a strong independent woman, never fully understood the neccessity for compromise. She lived away from all conventional ways of life and when thrust back into village living, she panicked and fled. She was self-reliant almost to a fault. In the end, both women suffered not knowing their families because one(Agnes) was too selfless and the other(Ellen) too selfish.
Furthermore the scene where Tom trades one wife for the next is infuriating. This is one of many completely unbelievable scenes. To think that anyone, past or present, could satisfy their lust under such circumstance is absurd. Follett lost my "willing suspension of disbelief" at the moment.


Robbie Bashore | 141 comments Mod
It actually is pretty common for someone to take comfort from someone else during a time of loss such as this. I think some movie comedies have been based on this premise. Also, Tom may have been abstaining from sex for quite some time during Agnes' pregnancy. I may have found Tom's behavior distasteful, but not necessarily unbelievable.


message 12: by Liz (new) - rated it 5 stars

Liz I agree with you Robbie. You have to remember also that he did truly love Ellen almsot form the moment he met her. It was not like he was a priest and forbidden the flesh of a woman. Tom was grieving a huge loss with Agnes and coming to the realization that his dreams of the cathedral had ruined his future for his family. He was seeking comfort in a warm body and she happened to be one with whom he felt a closeness. If anything it was merely human.


Meghan | 423 comments Mod
From my art history classes, this is very common practice in the day. Survival was #1 still and Tom had two children to think about and very few job prospects. A new wife and mother would be top priority for most men, despite their personal grief.

I think Tom cared about Agnes because they were compatible and because Agnes was the type of wife that a man "needed" in those days. She was able to help him with some of the manual labor as well as take care of the house and home and children. She was dependable, hard working, and cared deeply for her family.

However, she did not fully understand Tom on an intellectual or creative level. I think this is where Tom's attraction to Ellen came in. Ellen was wild and untraditional. I think because Tom had such a passion for his dream of building a cathedral that he felt a kindred spirit in her. Both were bucking the "safe" and "secure" route that most of their peers would have gone.

Plus, let's be honest. Agnes, for all her wonderful qualities, probably was rather plain. And while Ellen certainly wasn't a conventional beauty, there was probably a certain sensuality to her to which most men would be attracted. Tom, if anything, has proven and will prove, he is every bit human and prone to making very human choices.


message 14: by Robbie (last edited Mar 30, 2008 03:31PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Robbie Bashore | 141 comments Mod
I think it did say explicitly in the book that Agnes was plain, or it may have even said things more like homely in meaning. Sorry, I don't have the book right here to reference.


message 15: by Liz (new) - rated it 5 stars

Liz 3. Why does Prior Philip agree to take in the abandoned baby? Are his reasons altruistic, or selfish—given the fact that his own family was taken from him? How is the order like a family? What needs does it fulfill, and which ones are still lacking in the brotherhood?


~ My thoughts on Prior Phillips taking in the abandoned baby are that he felt partly like it was his duty . Also though he felt a bit sorry for the baby. He immediately could see he would have that kindred bond with the baby knowing what it was like to grow up in practically the same situation.

I don't get the feeling that he felt like he had missed out on being a father and wanted a son or anything like that but I do see like Robbie said how he may see to "Pay it Forward."


message 16: by Sarah (last edited Feb 28, 2009 03:16PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sarah (songgirl7) | 284 comments Mod
It's interesting reading these comments because I think most of you commented after you'd finished the whole book. I think seeing what some of the characters will become shaped your views of them as they were at the end of part one.

I am just now at the end of part one, so I think my opinions might be different from yours...


Sarah (songgirl7) | 284 comments Mod
Meghan wrote: "1. "Tom had been offered the post of builder to the Exeter castellan, repairing and improving the city's fortifications. It would have been a lifetime job, barring accidents. But Tom had turned it ..."

I think at this point it's clear from the reader's perspective that Tom should have taken the steady job, in light of what we know will become of him (he'll be starving, wandering the forest in search of work). But Tom didn't know, when he decided to turn down that job, that he'd end up destitute. He didn't know that he'd lose the job building the house for William and Aliena or that his pig would be stolen or that Agnes would die in childbirth and he'd have no way to feed the baby. Hindsight is always 20/20.

In light of the current economic climate, this is an interesting subject to consider. Some of you are aware that my husband lost his job in December when AT&T laid of 12,000 people. It is now the last day of February and he still is unemployed. When he got the news that he was losing his job, we never dreamed that it would take this long for him to find work. Now we are faced with a dire financial situation and we have some tough decisions to make. Does he take the first job that comes along, regardless of salary, because even a small salary with benefits is better than no salary with benefits? Or does he continue to hold out for something that pays close to what he made at AT&T and will allow us to stay in the same house, and for me to remain in school rather than getting a full time job, etc.? It's impossible to know what's going to happen in the future. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut, and it might not always turn out to be the right decision.




Sarah (songgirl7) | 284 comments Mod
Meghan wrote: "2. Compare and contrast Agnes and Ellen. Is one woman stronger than the other? How did their different styles of motherhood affect their children? Which do you think is a better complement for Tom? "

Again, I think answering this question from the point of view of someone who's finished the book is pretty different than someone who's just finished Part One. At this point, I don't know. I don't know enough about either woman. Agnes died so early into the story that it's hard to really know her, and I don't feel like I've gotten to know enough about Ellen either. I assume because you asked this question, I am going to learn more about both women later on in the book.




Sarah (songgirl7) | 284 comments Mod
Meghan wrote: "3. Why does Prior Philip agree to take in the abandoned baby? Are his reasons altruistic, or selfish—given the fact that his own family was taken from him? How is the order like a family? What need..."

I think mainly it was because of Philip's piety. He couldn't let a baby die. It's not like there were many well-to-do families around to adopt the baby. He did what he had to do. But I think a better wuestion would be, why did he take the baby with him when he took over the priory of Kingsbridge? He could have left the baby at St. John-in-the-Forest and he'd have been safe and cared for. I agree with Meghan's message #8 where she said that taking in this baby was the one chance he had for progeny.



Sarah (songgirl7) | 284 comments Mod
Meghan wrote: "4. What are your first impressions of Waleran Bigod? Is he a devout man at heart, or does he have something up his sleeve? Is Philip his ally or his pawn?"

Pawn. For sure. Even his physical description is typical of a fairy tale villain. I don't trust him for a second.



Sarah (songgirl7) | 284 comments Mod
Meghan wrote: "5. William acts disrespectful toward women—berating Aliena and offering to buy Ellen. But after he successfully invades Earl Bartholomew's castle, he seeks the approval of his mother. "William's he..."

I really like Robbie's answer to this. William and his father are morons and his mother is disdainful of them. He isn't good enough for her, so he instead tries to force women to see how wonderful he thinks he should be. That's why he talks about himself so much to Aliena and why he gets off on raping women. He feels powerless at home and so he wants to show power over other women.




Robbie Bashore | 141 comments Mod
Thanks, Sarah :)
BTW, I'm pretty sure I answered these questions as I went along. It just took me so long to get through the first part, that I had some trouble remembering the book in order to answer some of the questions!




Sarah (songgirl7) | 284 comments Mod
OK, not sure if this is a spoiler I've figured out or something that's obvious on purpose and you're supposed to know....


Is Waleran the priest Ellen cursed in the prologue?


Robbie Bashore | 141 comments Mod
I forget exactly who was in the prologue, but they do come in to play eventually, and it's made quite clear who they are at that time. I don't remember anybody's name. Maybe I'll have to get the book out again for this discussion!


Sarah (songgirl7) | 284 comments Mod
Waleran's the bad dude who tricked Philip into making him bishop. He's scared of Ellen, and his description matches that of the priest in the prologue. So I'm thinking he was a priest at that time, and had become the archdeacon since then.


Meghan | 423 comments Mod
Spoiler??



Sarah, to answer your question, yes. But you don't find out until much later the whole story.


Meghan | 423 comments Mod
Bringing back your answer to question 1...financially, I would say you could say he made the "wrong" decision. But for an artist, it's questionable. But it doesn't even have to apply solely to artists. It's a question of do you choose to own your own business or work for someone else. There's a reason why the percentage of successful entrepenuers is small. But you look at the successful ones and they're so disproportionally successful that it does inspire people to keep trying. Whereas you look at the people who work for the same company for 30 years, retire on a pension, and for some, they think that's the definition of success.

And also, what appears to be right or wrong now, isn't necessarily so later on. It'll be interesting to see what your opinion is at the end of the book.


Sarah (songgirl7) | 284 comments Mod
Spoiler??






And is Percy Hamleigh the knight that was cursed?


Meghan | 423 comments Mod
Answer to spoiler:







Yes.


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