The Pillars of the Earth

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “That Stings!.”

“Nevertheless, the book gave Jack a feeling he had never had before, that the past was like a story, in which one thing led to another, and the world was not a boundless mystery, but a finite thing that could be comprehended.” – Ken Follett, The Pillars of the Earth

(also, spoilers!)

The very last book I read was one I’ve read now six times. It’s a story I continue to read and lust after, hoping each chapter might return the bits that have stung my fingers like paper cuts when I turned the pages. Ken Follett wrote The Pillars of the Earth in 1989 – I wasn’t even born yet – but I only recently discovered his tale three years ago. Those three years have tormented me. Since reading the chapters and falling in love with his characters, I’ve yet to read books that have truly taken breath from my writer’s block like his work. Simply, he illustrates the life of a poor mason, an inspired prior, and the love of a lady of the land based around the building of a cathedral.

From what I understand, Follett is known more for his thrillers. Pillars is an exceptional piece of adventure for the author. I commend him because I always think a good writer is capable of executing more than one type of writing style. It’s not the fact that Pillars is so well-written, though. Honestly, Follett uses familiar phrases and primary diction, a style that most anyone can replicate. It’s a simple book. His novel is brilliant because has a beautifully thought-out plot. It’s unexpected, raw, and at times challenging to read. He depicts his characters from a fair 3rd party point-of-view, showing even the gross parts of people in characters you love.

What stings about this book is the way life in the 1100s is not so different from now. I sympathize with every emotion. I love the characters and ache for them in their sorrow. I use their quotes to speak to my own loves and enemies. It even shows me how life will continue. It may not be what I expect, or what I like, or even what I think I can handle. Still, it proves that life happens and that I, as a small part of the world, should not interfere. I can barely control what will happen if it’s not willed to be so, but yet I still try and pray and bargain anyway I can. The Pillars of the Earth is a stunning detailing of human nature that has been captured in ink. We humans are not the pillars. We are the people, holding the balance of life and death and hardships and prosperity for Fate or Destiny, the fortifications of the universe.

I cried for twenty minutes, staining the pages with little drops of mascara, when the mason was killed. I felt it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t what I wanted, or how I pictured Tom’s character resolving. That plot development gave me a whole lot of grief to digest. I mourned for him, for his wife, for the town, and for myself because I actually felt true loss for the end of his story. Jabbing my fist into the book, I cursed at the blurred lines of his death through my tears. I gritted my teeth when I realized the point of his death – that it hardly meant a thing in the grand scheme of things. A life is a life, and the building of the cathedral would still continue, just as life for everyone else. The tragic thing is that Tom’s death was not the first to jolt me, or the first injustice to draw a horrified reaction from myself, the reader. It’s just the realization of the theme.

When the prior began to gain the proper equipment to fulfill his dreams, I was overcome with pride. I held the book close as if I could hug him. “Go you!” I wanted to encourage him. “Yes! Show them what we can do, Phillip!” As if his accomplishments were my own, and as if anything I could say could help, but I really felt for those characters. I imagine we’ve all read the book that made us turn into reality TV show activists. I was elated that someone was finally getting somewhere in their life, that evil wasn’t destined to prevail.

Yet, my favorite milestone in the novel was when love was established within the pages once again. I cried when Jack fell for Aliena, because I knew what that would mean for their story. Yearning for their happy ending tore me quickly towards the end of the book, sobbing when she confessed: “I love you like a thunderstorm, like a lion, like a helpless rage” and then gasping after reading the sentence immediately after. Poetry was written in the hearts of Follett’s characters, and I’m sure those delicate words could captivate even the hardest of hearts, such as William Hamleigh, one of the antagonists. It was an alluring account of attraction that kept my heart. I learned that during a lifetime, you’re either happy or sad, but often it’s a mixture of both. Take a dose of love but keep an antidote nearby. Maybe you’ll argue that precociously is no way to live, but I’ll tell you that it is one hundred precent better to be safe than sorry. Enjoy yourself in moderation. Love fiercely, but not fearlessly. Have trust, but in good faith.

The Pillars of the Earth is a ineffable tale of life. It never ceases to bring tears to my eyes, even after the worn pages have searched my fingertips all the times that they have. I still get reader’s anxiety starting the next chapter, and I still discover exciting things that give clues toward the plot each time I read it. I have a grudge against this book, because I’m determined that I will never read another better book, but I’m also so thankful for the pieces of me that Follett has allowed his book to ravish. I am so thankful for the pieces of this book that I will take with me in my own journey.

I’m just a simple writer, but Pillars lets me see how that will be okay. Like Tom, the mason, said, “When things are simple, fewer mistakes are made.”


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