Authors: Ken Follett
The Modigliani Scandal
Eye of the Needle
The Key to Rebecca
The Man from St. Petersburg
On Wings of Eagles
Lie Down with Lions
The Pillars of the Earth
Night over Water
A Dangerous Fortune
A Place Called Freedom
The Third Twin
The Hammer of Eden
Code to Zero
World Without End
“Follett is a master.”
âThe Washington Post
“A towering taleâ¦a ripping readâ¦there's murder, arson, treachery, torture, love, and lust.”
âNew York Daily News
“Very goodâ¦fine detailâ¦fast-paced, engagingâan enjoyable historical thriller, well told.”
“An extraordinary epic buttressed by suspenseâ¦a mystifying puzzle involving the execution of an innocent manâ¦the erection of a magnificent cathedralâ¦romance, rivalry, and spectacle. A monumental masterpieceâ¦a towering triumph from a major talent.”
is the international bestselling author of suspense thrillers and the nonfiction
On Wings of Eagles
. He lives in England. Visit Ken Follett's official Web site at www.ken-follett.com.
New American Library
Published by New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.) Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.) Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017, India Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0745, Auckland, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.) Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Published by New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. This is an authorized reprint of a hardcover edition published by William Morrow and Company, Inc. For information address William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10019. Previously published in a Plume edition.
Copyright Â© Ken Follett, 1989
Illustrations by Petra RÃ¶hr-Rouendaal, assisted by John Wormald
All rights reserved
The Library of Congress has catalogued the hardcover edition of this title as follows:
Â Â Â Â Â The pillars of the earth/Ken Follett.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â p. cm.
Â Â Â Â Â ISBN: 978-1-1012-0905-9
Â Â Â Â Â 1. Great BritainâHistoryâStephen, 1123-1154âFiction. I. Title.
PR6056.045P55 Â Â Â Â Â 1989
823prime;.914âdc20 Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 89-9405
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To Marie-Claire, the apple of my eye
the way you plan it.
A lot of people were surprised by
The Pillars of the Earth
, including me. I was known as a thriller writer. In the book business, when you have had a success, the smart thing to do is write the same sort of thing once a year for the rest of your life. Clowns should not try to play Hamlet; pop stars should not write symphonies. I should not have risked my reputation by writing something out of character and overambitious.
What's more, I don't believe in God. I'm not what you would call a spiritual person. According to my agent, my greatest problem as a writer is that I'm not a tortured soul. The last thing anyone would have expected from me was a story about building a church.
was an unlikely book for me to writeâand I almost didn't. I started it, then dropped it, and did not look at it again for ten years.
This is how it happened.
When I was a boy, all my family belonged to a Puritan religious group called the Plymouth Brethren. For us, a church was a bare room with rows of chairs around a central table. Paintings, statues, and all forms of decoration were banned. The sect also discouraged members from visiting rival churches. So I grew up pretty much ignorant of Europe's wealth of gorgeous church architecture.
I started trying to write novels in my middle twenties, while working as a reporter on London's
. I realized then that I had never taken much interest in the cityscape around me, and I had no vocabulary to describe the buildings in which my characters had their adventures. So I bought
An Outline of European Architecture
by Nikolaus Pevsner. That book gave me eyes with which to look at buildings in general and churches in particular. Pevsner got really passionate when he wrote about Gothic cathedrals. The invention of the pointed arch, he wrote, was a rare event in history, when the solution to a technical problemâhow to build a taller churchâwas also sublimely beautiful.
Soon after I read Pevsner's book, my newspaper sent me to the East Anglian city of Peterborough. I have long forgotten what story I was covering, but I shall always remember what I did after filing it. I had to wait an hour for a train back to London, so, remembering Pevsner's fascinating and passionate descriptions of medieval architecture, I went to see Peterborough Cathedral.
It was one of those moments.
The west front of Peterborough has three huge Gothic arches, like doorways for giants. The inside is older than the faÃ§ade, with arcades of regular round Norman arches in stately procession up the aisle. Like all great churches, it is both tranquil and beautiful. But it was more than that. Because of Pevsner's book, I had some inkling of the effort that had gone into this. I knew the story of humankind's attempts to build ever taller and more beautiful churches. I understood the place of this building in history, my history.
I was enraptured by Peterborough Cathedral.
Cathedral visiting became a hobby for me. Every few months I would drive to one of England's old cities, check into a hotel, and study the church. This way I saw Canterbury, Salisbury, Winchester, Gloucester, and Lincoln, each one unique, each with an intriguing story to tell. Most people take an hour or two to “do” a cathedral, but I like to have a couple of days.
The stones themselves reveal the construction history: stops and starts, damage and rebuilding, extensions in times of prosperity, and stained-glass tributes to the wealthy men who generally paid the bills. Another story is told by the way the church is sited in the town. Lincoln faces the castle across the street, religious and military power nose to nose. Winchester stands amid a neat grid of streets, laid out by a medieval bishop who fancied himself a town planner. Salisbury moved, in the thirteenth century, from a defensive hilltop siteâwhere the ruins of the old cathedral are still visibleâto an open meadow, showing that permanent peace had arrived.
But all the while a question nagged at me: Why were these churches built?
There are simple answersâfor the glory of God, the vanity of bishops, and so onâbut those were not enough for me. The building of the medieval cathedrals is an astonishing European phenomenon. The builders had no power tools, they did not understand the mathematics of structural engineering, and they were poor: the richest of princes did not live as well as, say, a prisoner in a modern jail. Yet they put up the most beautiful buildings that have ever existed, and they built them so well that they are still here, hundreds of years later, for us to study and marvel at.
I began to read about these churches, but I found the books unsatisfactory. There was a great deal of aesthetic guff about elevations, but not much about the living buildings. Then I came across
The Cathedral Builders
by Jean Gimpel. Gimpel, the black sheep of a family of French art dealers, was as impatient as I with discussions about whether a clerestory “worked” aesthetically. His book was about the dirt-poor hovel dwellers who actually put up these fabulous buildings. He read the payroll records of French monasteries and took an interest in who the builders were and how much money they made. He was the first person to notice, for example, that a significant minority of the names were female. The medieval church was sexist, but women as well as men built the cathedrals.
Another work of Gimpel's,
The Medieval Machine
, taught me that the Middle Ages were a time of rapid high-tech innovation, during which the power of water mills was harnessed for a wide variety of industrial applications. Soon I was taking an interest in medieval life in general. And I began to get a picture of how the building of the great cathedrals must have seemed like the right thing to do for medieval people.
The explanation is not simple. It is a little like trying to understand why twentieth-century people spent so much money exploring outer space. In both cases, a whole network of influences operated: scientific curiosity, commercial interests, political rivalries, and the spiritual aspirations of earthbound people. And it seemed to me there was only one way to map that network: by writing a novel.
Sometime in 1976 I wrote an outline and about four chapters of the novel. I sent it to my agent, Al Zuckerman, who wrote, “You have created a tapestry. What you need is a series of linked melodramas.”
Looking back, I can see that at the age of twenty-seven I was not capable of writing such a novel. I was like an apprentice watercolor painter planning a vast canvas in oils. To do justice to its subject, the book would have to be very long, cover a period of several decades, and bring alive the great sweep of medieval Europe. I was writing much less ambitious books, and even so, I had not yet mastered the craft.
I dropped the cathedral book and came up with another idea, a thriller about a German spy in wartime England. Happily, that was within my powers, and under the title
Eye of the Needle
, it became my first bestseller.
For the next decade I wrote thrillers, but I continued to visit cathedrals, and the idea of my cathedral novel never went away. I resurrected it in January 1986, having finished my sixth thriller,
Lie Down with Lions
My publishers were nervous. They wanted another spy story. My friends were also apprehensive. They know that I enjoy success. I'm not the kind of writer who would deal with a failure by saying that the book was good but the readers were inadequate. I write to entertain, and I'm happy doing so. A failure would make me miserable. No one tried to talk me out of it, but lots of people expressed anxious reservations.
However, I did not plan a “difficult” book. I would write an adventure story, full of colorful characters who were ambitious, wicked, sexy, heroic, and smart. I wanted ordinary readers to be as enraptured as I was by the romance of the medieval cathedrals.
By then I had developed the method of working that I continue to use to this day. I begin by writing an outline of the story, saying what happens in each chapter, and giving thumbnail sketches of the characters. But this book was not like my others. The beginning came easily, but, as the story unwound over the decades and the people grew from youth to maturity, I found it more and more difficult to invent new twists and turns in their lives. I realized that one long book is much more of a challenge than three short ones.
The hero of the story had to be some kind of man of God. This was difficult for me. I would find it hard to get interested in a character who was focused on the afterlife (and so would many readers). To make Prior Philip more sympathetic, I gave him a very practical, down-to-earth religious belief, a concern for people's souls here on earth, not just in heaven.
Philip's sexuality was also a problem. All monks and priests were supposed to be celibate in the Middle Ages. The obvious drama would be that of a man fighting a terrible battle with his lusts. But I could not work up any enthusiasm for that theme. I grew up in the 1960s, and my heart is always with those who deal with temptation by giving in to it. In the end I made him one of that minority of people for whom sex really is no big deal. He is the only cheerfully celibate character I have ever created.
I got in contact with Jean Gimpel, who had inspired me a decade earlier, and was astonished to learn that not only did he live in London but on my street. I hired him as a consultant, and we became friends and table-tennis opponents until his death.
By March of the following year, 1987, I had outlined only the first two thirds of the book. I decided that would have to be sufficient. I began to write.
By December I had a couple hundred pages.
This was pretty disastrous. I had been working on the story for two years, and all I had was an incomplete outline and a few chapters. I couldn't spend the rest of my life on this book. But what was to be done? Well, I could drop it and write another thriller. Or I could work harder. In those days I used to write Monday to Friday, then deal with my business correspondence on Saturday morning. From around January 1988, I began to write Monday through Saturday, and do letters on Sunday. My output increased dramatically, partly because of the extra day, but mainly because of the intensity I was bringing to my work. The problem of the end of the book, which I had not outlined, was solved by a flash of inspiration, when I thought of involving the principal characters in the notorious real-life murder of Thomas Becket.
As I recall, I finished a first draft around the middle of that year. A combination of excitement and impatience impelled me to work even harder on the rewrite, and I began to work seven days a week. My business correspondence was neglected, but I finished the book in March 1989, three years and three months after starting it.
I was exhausted but happy. I felt I had written something special, not just another bestseller, but maybe a great popular novel.
Not many people agreed.
My American hardcover publisher, William Morrow & Co., printed around the same number of copies as they had of
Lie Down with Lions
, and when they sold the same number they were content. My London publishers were more excited, and
sold better there than any of my previous books. But the initial reaction among publishers worldwide was a sigh of relief that Follett had completed his crazy project and got away with it. The book won no prizesâit was not even nominated. A few critics adored it, but most were unimpressed. It was a No. 1 bestseller in Italy, where readers have always been kind to me. The paperback was No. 1 for a week in Britain.
I began to think I had been wrong. Maybe the book
just another page-tuner, good but not great.
However, one person believed passionately that this book was special. My German editor, Walter Fritzsche, at Gustav Luebbe Verlag, had long dreamed of publishing a novel about the building of a cathedral. He had even spoken to some of his German authors about the idea, but nothing ever came of it. So he was very excited about what I was writing, and when the typescript came in he felt his hopes had been fulfilled.
Until this point, my work had been only modestly successful in Germany. (The villains in my books were often Germans, so I could hardly complain.) Fritzsche was so enthusiastic that he thought
could be a breakthrough book, one that would make me the single most popular writer in Germany.
Even I didn't believe that.
But he was right.
Luebbe published the book brilliantly. They hired a young artist, Achim Kiel, to do the cover, but when he insisted on designing the whole book, treating it as an art object, Luebbe had the courage to go with his concept. He was expensive, but he succeeded in communicating to the buyer Fritzsche's feeling that there was something special about this book. (He went on to design all my German editions for many years, creating a look that Luebbe used again and again.)
The first intimation I had that
saw the book as something special came when Luebbe took an advertisement to celebrate the sale of 100,000 copies. I had never sold that many hardcovers in any country other than the United States (which has three times as many people as Germany).