An epic novel set in 12th century England, The Pillars of the Earth is the chronicle of a man, his family, their enemies and the extraordinary dream that consumes them all. It is by far the most popular story Ken Follett, mainly an author of thrillers and various spy novels, has ever written. He followed it up with a sequel many years later: World Without End, which takes place several generations later in the same village.Tom Builder is a poor stonemason who dreams of building something that will be his legacy and which will sustain his family for the rest of their lives. Philip, the Prior of Kingsbridge, fights to build a cathedral there, against the wishes of his Bishop, his Lord and all manner of political enemies.The Gothic Cathedral at Kingsbridge, it turns out, becomes more important than anyone imagines. Woven throughout this deeply personal drama are the civil wars between King Stephen and Queen Maud, and later the machinations of King Henry II and the priest Thomas Becket.Also adapted, along with World Without End, into a popular Euro GameBoard Game.A miniseries starring Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Matthew Macfadyen, David Oakes, Eddie Redmayne as Jack and the lovely Hayley Atwell as Aliena ran on the Starz network in July and August 2010.
The original novel contains examples of:
Annoying Younger Sibling: Richard has the tendency to be a ball and chain to his big sis Aliena. He gets better as he gets older
Deconstructed with William. In the beginning, he is just an idiot who is mocked by almost everyone. However, when he finally snaps, he becomes a nightmare: raping the woman who despised him, burning Kingsbridge to ashes, generally raping and pillaging all over the place because it's fun.
Corrupt Church: The corruption of the church is occasionally shown, both in individual ministers like Waleran Bigod and in the overall system in which ministers like Waleran are raised to the top of the hierarchy.
Come to Gawk: Remigius asks this to Philip when he's wandering the streets as a beggar. Philip, being the pious man he is, offers to take him back as a novice instead. This would save him a lot of problems later.
Decoy Protagonist: Tom Builder, who dies about halfway through the book. Swapping protagonists in some fashion was probably unavoidable, since building churches was a generational undertaking, but Tom dies fairly young and suddenly.
Prior Philip, although a benevolent figure for his community, and more compassionate than most of his peers, still has the views of a 12th century monk on subjects like extra-marital sex or the respect due to his own authority.
Richard killing Alfred is considered murder, since Aliena is Alfred's wife in the eyes of the Church, making her consent a non-issue.
Dirty Coward: Alfred Builder, who torments Jack mercilessly since childhood, then comes crawling back for a job, only to use it to backstab Jack.
The Dog Bites Back: When William's abused wife helps Richard and his army to infiltrate and take over his castle and depose him as earl. Lampshaded by Waleran in the miniseries, saying, "If you kick a dog, it may someday bite you."
Domestic Abuse: Alfred beats Aliena because he is impotent. And William's brutal treatment of any female he's even mildly attracted to.
Walter to William. This is much more pronounced in the miniseries; in the novel, Walter is a Punch Clock Villain.
William to Waleran. Waleran is the evil mastermind, who uses William to carry out violent acts.
Dumbass Has a Point: For such a clod-headed oaf, William is quite cunning on a number of occasions.
Dumb Muscle: Richard is a good soldier, but is not really good at anything else. It becomes especially obvious when he becomes the Earl.
Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: William's one good act is to build a church in his mother's memory, to rescue her soul from Hell, and he's even offended when Waleran takes advantage of it for his own plans. Granted, it's strongly indicated this is more over his fear for his own soul than love for his mother, given he had pretty much no love for her previously and had watched her die.
Aliena's father in the novel, much to Aliena's dismay. In the book, she resents her father for making her swear to restore the family's lordship. Averted in the miniseries, where she's the one with the idea.
Philip is this most of the time, even if he is considered a very practical man for a monk.
Hope Springs Eternal: However the villains try to stop the construction of the cathedral, they fail. Even burning the whole town down doesn't help. There is one point in the story when Philip gives up all hope, but it only lasts until Jack returns from France and decides to build the cathedral in Gothic style.
I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: When Jack works in Toledo, his employer's daughter Aisa falls in love with him, and her father also wants to marry her to Jack. After he leaves, Aliena arrives, Aisa is the only one who is nice with her and tells her to go after him because she realized that Aliena loves him.
My Secret Pregnancy: Aliena hides her pregnancy until the day of birth. Not surprising since she never had sex with her husband.
Naughty Nuns: Ellen had shades of this when she was a novice, justified by the fact she was forced by her father and hadn't any religious vocation and after having met Jack's father she leaves the monastery.
Parental Incest: In the mini-series, Regan Hamleigh is very close with her son William
Plucky Girl: Aliena, who goes from spoiled noblewoman to resourceful wool merchant in order to avenge her family. Ellen also counts.
Punch Clock Villain: Walter in the novel. He's never shown to share William's sadism. He simply follows the orders of his lord without complaint. In the miniseries, he's a much more cruel and central villain.
Put on a Bus: After he joins the Crusade, we hear talking about Richard again only when he dies without heirs.
Sacrificial Lamb: In-universe example in the story Jack tells Aliena (see the Author Avatar entry above) - the story initially focuses on the traditional brave, strong, virtuous knight, but he is abruptly killed off very early in the story, revealing the squire as its actual protagonist.
Sadistic Choice: William gives Aliena a choice between lying still as he rapes her and watching her brother's ear get cut off.
Stalker with a Crush: After William Hamleigh seizes the Shiring Earldom, he is aware that Aliena, Richard and their servant Matthew are still living in the castle. He stalks and watches over Aliena with freakish fascination, still obsessed with her even after she disgustedly rejected him twice. As soon as he gets the chance, he rapes her.
Standard Female Grab Area: Used against Aliena during Alfred's attempted rape. Also attempted by William when he raped Aliena, but it fails there; instead, William threatens her brother to force compliance.
Thanatos Gambit: Thomas Becket doesn't run from his attackers, but lets himself killed (in a church no less) to become a martyr. This makes exactly the opposite effect than the antagonists expected.
Took a Level in Badass: Richard. Goes from being little more than a puppet for Aliena to being a fairly kickass knight.
Took a Level in Dumbass: Don't expect Richard to be much more competent at anything that doesn't involve hitting someone with a sharpened stick. He's better off dying in the Crusades than being Earl of Shiring.
Wedding Deadline: Jack tries to stop the wedding between Aliena and Alfred, but for this, he needs to escape the monastery. He ultimately fails, and while his mother actually goes there and curses the marriage, she doesn't stop it.
Wham Episode: William and his gang of soldiers attack Kingsbridge, nearly burning it to the ground and killing hundreds, including Tom Builder.
Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: For all that he fails to act like it most of the time, the very mention of Hell is usually enough to make William shake with fear.