The Pillars of the Earth
1989 | Historical Fiction | 1104 pages
A spellbinding epic tale of ambition, anarchy, and absolute power set against the sprawling medieval canvas of twelfth-century England, The Pillars of the Earth is Ken Follett’s classic historical masterpiece.
A Mason with a Dream
A Monk with a Burning Mission
A World of High Ideals and Savage Cruelty
The small boys came early to the hanging. It was still dark when the first three or four of them sidled out of the hovels, quiet as cats in their felt boots. A thin layer of fresh snow covered the little town like a new coat of paint, and theirs were the first footprints to blemish its perfect surface. they picked their way through the huddled wooden huts and along the streets of frozen mud to the silent market-place, where the gallows stood waiting.
This is my most popular book. It still sells about 100 000 copies a year in paperback in the US, it was number one in the UK and Italy and it was on the German best seller list for six years. It’s overwhelmingly the book that readers talk to me about when I meet them in bookshops. It’s becoming a cult.
When I started writing, back in the early Seventies, I found I had no vocabulary for describing buildings. I read a couple of books on architecture and developed an interest in cathedrals. I became a bit of a ‘train spotter’ on the subject. I would go to a town, like Lincoln or Winchester, check into a hotel and spend a couple of days looking around the cathedral and learning about it. Before too long, it occurred to me to channel this enthusiasm into a novel.
When I started talking about the idea, some of my friends were quite shocked. They said, “you know, you’ve had a lot of success with these thrillers, are you sure you want to write about building a church?”.
However, those of my friends who are writers saw immediately how the building of the church would be the spine of the story and the focus for the lives of all the characters. 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.
Writing The Pillars of the Earth was exhausting. It is much more difficult to write one book of 400,000 words than three or four shorter books because you have to keep making up more and more stuff about the same people. Pillars of the Earth took me three years and three months and towards the end I was working Saturdays and Sundays because I thought I was never going to get it finished.
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.
A highly enjoyable tale . . . this book evokes its period brilliantly.” – Sunday Times
“It made me think about my own life differently, reading that book, the experience of reading that book…I got to 800 pages, and I slowed myself down because I didn’t want it to end.” – Oprah Winfrey
“Enormous and brilliant . . . a great epic tale . . . crammed with characters unbelievably alive across the great gulf of centuries . . . touches all human emotion—love and hate, loyalty and treachery, hope and despair. See for yourself. This is truly a novel to get lost in.” – Cosmopolitan
A historical saga of such breadth and density . . . Follett succeeds brilliantly in combining hugeness and detail to create a novel imbued with the rawness, violence and blind faith of the era.” – Sunday Express