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The Pillars of the Earth (Kingsbridge, #1)
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Archives > Part Six (Chapter 17) - TPotE

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Meghan | 423 comments Mod
1. Compare and contrast Kingsbridge from the beginning of the novel to the end. How has it changed? What do you think the most defining events were? Who were the most influential characters?

Meghan | 423 comments Mod
2. Part Six reveals a different side of William, from his regretting the missteps that prevented him from having success and a family like Jack to his reluctant leadership in the plot to kill Thomas Becket. Do you think old age has changed William? Is he any wiser? Is he any less of an evil character or a more sympathetic one?

Meghan | 423 comments Mod
3. 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? 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?

Meghan | 423 comments Mod
4. What do you think about Waleran's confession to Jack? If you were Jack, would you have handled it another way? Have you ever been in a position where you had to tell someone a difficult truth? How about being on the receiving end of such a conversation?

Meghan | 423 comments Mod
5. 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?

message 6: by Robbie (last edited Apr 26, 2008 05:21AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Robbie Bashore | 141 comments Mod
I'm not so sure I saw a different side of William in part six. He just got older and saw that he didn't get what he wanted. He still wanted the same things, and he still looked to the same methods to get them. He was still a scared child under it all. He was older, but neither wiser nor less evil. Perhaps if I were actually at the hanging, I would have felt some compassion for William then, but when I was reading the book, I had trouble identifying with Aliena in that aspect.

I got confused by Follett's method of mixing fact and fiction. Fortunately, my knowledge of history is poor so I just ended up reading this as purely fiction.

One of the surprises for me at the end of the book was Waleran's manner during his confession. I didn't expect him to seem repentant.

I don't really think of Pillars of the Earth as a spiritual book, but there are some passages that definitely spark thinking and discussion of spiritual issues. I'm actually lifting a quote from the book in my short (60 seconds) blurb on stewardship at church tomorrow. [paraphrase: Philip had to constantly remind himself that he enjoyed the help of God in his success, without which all of his efforts would have come to nothing.] Follett did a good job of showing the human-ness in his most devout characters. Perhaps he made his "evil" characters less human until after their falls.

Robbie Bashore | 141 comments Mod
Yo! Meghan! I need some discussion here! ;)

As I was driving to work this morning, I remembered about how surprised I was to learn how Philip's "miracle" of having so many people come work on his cathedral at just the right time harmed the farming communities so much. A great example of "the butterfly effect." The whole Kingsbridge community's ebbs and flows are so like what we see in US comminities. Cases in point, the auto industry in Michigan, Steel and Mining industries in Pittsburgh, California goldrush, etc. Some of these places have made comebacks in other industries. Aliena's rise and fall and rise again in pretty much the same industry seems to be an exception to the usual pattern.

Meghan | 423 comments Mod
I know! I know! I've read your comments and I'm like, egads I need to respond! I promise. I will write something later.

However, for now, I just want to say I REALLY like your comparison to US communities. You're so right. Michigan is driven (no pun intended) by the auto industry. Lansing has the benefit of being the capitol city so when it's tanking, we don't suffer quite the same compared to Flint, when Ford pulled out. It wiped that community out (I hate Michael Moore, but he did a really good doc on Flint after the plant shut down.) Flint's coming back but it's nothing like it used to be in it's hay day.

Meghan | 423 comments Mod
Okay. I really liked your comment on the whole spirituality of this book because I NEVER saw this as a "religious" book. Which I know, it's weird considering it's all about cathedrals and monks and such. But for me it was a historical fiction book and that era just happened to have a lot of religious things going on.

But I agree, it shows you how human the Roman Catholic Church was back then. I found it incredible (and later learned it was true) when Phillip talked about how Bishops and Cardinals could marry (or take on mistresses, or I suppose, young boys, whatever) because how else would the church survive.

But I never saw this as a spiritual quest. I wonder, now that this question has been given to me, if I would approach the story differently?

Meghan | 423 comments Mod
I also want to say that while Follett may have made up towns and people, he was historically accurate in the whole cathedral layout, the attitudes, the lifestyles of the times. Mideval times, especially the Gothic period, is my favorite era. And I think while this, I believe, is earlier on in the era, goes to show you just what human beings are capable of with determination and dreams.

One criticism that really surprised me was how many people were put off by the "violent sex". I mean in that they felt it was gratuitous. I assume they've never read a Follett book (as most of his books include graphic sex scenes). But I wanted to say that for this book, it was accurate to the period. It was a scary time to be a woman. Rape was common and it wasn't just for the "common" folk. These were violent times, with power struggles happening every where. Men weren't men unless they showed it in every aspect of their lives.

Whether he had to go into quite the detail that he did could be debated. But that he put the thoughts in his book was not wrong. I think it helped give you the mood of the era.

Meghan | 423 comments Mod
Part of me wondered if Waleran was a good man gone wrong? And that in the end he does feel sorry for the wrongs he committed but that his power hungriness overcomes his desire to be truly holy.

Robbie Bashore | 141 comments Mod
Do you think Waleran was still power hungry at the end? Yeah, I guess maybe he was. I was so blown over by his confession to Jack that I didn't notice much. Well he did get very ruffled about a look of pity...
Didn't Philip say that Waleran was basically a very pious man gone bad? (I think he meant pious in a good way.) I didn't really see that, did you? I mean, I thought he was good for about one paragraph when he was first introduced, but then his scheming was apparant.

I, too, enjoyed the details about the construction and planning of the cathedrals. To some degree, that was mostly all I expected from the book. I also didn't expect much spiritual insight. I think the little spirituality/theology that was worked in showed some good research on Follett's part.

I wonder how this cathedral/church/city/power interplay in the book (era) compares with what happens with churches today? We mentioned earlier about the auto industry and steel industry influencing development in the US. Seems like churches tend to follow development here--even to the extent of abandoning (being abandoned by?) the poorer communities.

I agree that the sex in the book was appropriate for painting a picture of the times, as well as for contrasting between different kinds of relationships. And, for showing how horrible William was in comparison to the "normal" warriors. Follett has certainly written sex scenes in other books that were more shocking to me--primarily because they occurred in a book I had given to my father. I really enjoyed Eye of the Needle when I read it many years ago. So, when A Dangerous Fortune came out, I bought it for my father, who likes mysteries. I didn't read it beforehand. D'oh!

Meghan | 423 comments Mod
LOL. Well, my father is the one who introduced me to Follett and had all his books for me to read. So maybe Dads just don't notice that thing so much. But ADF was a little risque wasn't it?

Deborah | 12 comments I realize I'm coming to this discussion late, but I just read "Pillars" and the sequel, "World Without End." I can't help comparing them to a book called "Sarum" that I read years ago and may reread. I think for the most part that Follet is historically true to place and period, without letting historical accuracy get in the way of the story. I think his characters are just complex enough to keep the readers interest. However, the question of sprituality is a thorny one. Perhaps it is difficult to portray true spiritual seeking in fiction. (Although not impossible, look at "Life of Pi.") So his "good" charcters tend to be secular humanists (or even pagans) and his "bad" characters grasping churchmen and nobles. And God gets comfortably left out of the catherdral building. Hmmm ...

Robbie Bashore | 141 comments Mod
Well, I think Follett is admittedly non-religious, so I thought he did pretty well, considering. He caught the complexity of faith and the struggle to distinguish between God's will and man's will. Maybe I just read a lot between the lines. Is it my Calvinist lens? I'm still impressed with the quote I referenced earlier in this thread--the one about his efforts yielding nothing without God.

I kind of got the sense that William was only really solidly "bad" character.

Deborah | 12 comments Robbie - the more I think about this book, the more I think that one of the underlying themes is self-interest. The admirable characters (Philip, Tom Builder, Aliena, Jack, even Elen) were still motivated by self-interest, but they were also "other directed" by love, faith, obligation and/or community. The less than admirable characters (Waleran, the royal contenders for the throne, Richard, Alfred, and of course the despicable William and the Mom from Hell) let themselves be governed by self-interest while, to varying degrees, rationalizing their selfishness as being for the common good. Much like the Bush administration. (Sorry, couldn't help it!)
One of the things that I found fascinating was William's fear of Hell. I think it spoke volumes about the evangelical credo of "scaring" people into the Christian life. William was obviously a believer, at least in God's retribution, but could never make the connection of "justice, kindness, humility" and God's grace.

Robbie Bashore | 141 comments Mod
I, too, was struck by William's fear of Hell. I think I commented on it somewhere...

Ah...from Part II

2. What do you make of William Hamleigh's penchant for violence, yet fear of hell? Is character a result of his upbringing and situation, or is he pure evil?

Robbie Said:
I think William's violent nature combined with a
fear of hell is not all that surprising. We certainly continue to see that today in people with all kinds of religious beliefs. Many people will report a belief in God or Jesus/Heaven and Hell, yet do not conform to the behavior others might equate with those beliefs.

As for the nature vs. nurture thing, I suggest referring to the Wicked thread from the RGBC, before the discussion degenerated to fries with mayonaise :)

Meghan said:
As for William, I don't think he was pure evil. I think he was a very insecure boy, raised by a tyranical mother who struck the fear of God in him. I think in modern times, he would be a bully with borderline pyschotic tendancies.

Robbie said:
Hmmm...I would say William has Anti-social Personality Disorder, maybe some obsessive-compulsive disorder. So far, I haven't noticed any hallucinations or delusions to suggest psychosis. (sorry, couldn't resist) In any case, your response would suggest you lean toward the "nurture" explanation.
As I was reading the early part of part III this morning, it occurred to me that William's violence/fear of hell, is a manifestation of his adolescent stage of moral development.

Meghan said:
William just reminded me of an overgrown bully. And I was trying to think of the word I just read that described another guy, but I couldn't and was too lazy to go get the book to find out what it was. Well, maybe later today I'll figure out what I really meant. heh

I find his relationship with his mother really interesting in a very scary way. Just thinking of all the different stories where there are women-hating men, you can pretty much trace it back to their relationship to the dominant woman in their life (normally their mother, sometimes their grandmother).

On the other hand, do you think that Regen used this "power" because she knew physically she would never be able stand up to William? And his preference towards violence (as the period itself was just a violent time) might overwhelm her some day.

Sorry if you've already read these comments, Deb!

Meghan | 423 comments Mod
Deborah - great comments and keep them coming! If you haven't figured it out by now, Pillars is one of my top 5 fave books of all time. I have the sequel, just haven't had time to read it. But I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

Also, William's belief in God make me think of the "fire and brimstone" brand of religion that is popular in certain circles. It makes me think that people believe only because they're afraid to NOT believe rather than out of any pure desire to have a relationship with that higher being.

I often found Philip to be exceeding frustrating at times because of his constant righteousness beliefs but acts in self-righteousness. His motives were in a good place but too often I felt they were misplaced.

In the same respect, I had issues with Ellen because I felt sometimes she deliberately went out of her way to be confrontational and difficult just to spite the church. You knew she cared about Tom, but there were times I wondered if she truly loved him.

But these are also examples of why I love this book but it makes me so passionate about the characters and forces me to think about things well after I've finished the book.

Deborah | 12 comments Meghan - I had the same problems with Phillip, it was frustrating that he had so much trouble stepping outside of the dogma of the Church when it seemed that his faith would almost require him to do so. As in when he couldn't see that Jack was not cut out to be a cleric.

I found Ellen more sympathetic, representing the cultural and spiritual struggle between the old (pre-Roman)Britain and the England that grew out of it. I think she loved Tom, but she loved her own autonomy more. I find that to be a recurring theme in both books, women who value themselves above and outside of what men and/or society see as their value. 30 years ago it was practically unheard of for a woman to want to place value on herself outside the context of family. Think how revolutionary that idea must have been during the time periods in question. And yet history tells us that there were women merchants, hostelers, even pirates. I wonder what they found it necessary to pee on?

Meghan | 423 comments Mod
Phillip sort of reminded me of those movie-type military/50s dads, who only see their sons as following their footsteps (or into a "respectable" career like medical or something). In so many ways, he proved himself human and father-like. It made me wonder what he would have been like had he NOT had the constraints of the priesthood.

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