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Literature / World Without End

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This page is for the book by Ken Follett. Not to be confused with the classic 1950s sci-fi film of the same name.

The sequel novel to Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth, set 200 years later in Kingsbridge priory and featuring the descendants of the main characters in the previous novel.

The catalyst for the tale begins when a group of children sneak away from festivities at Kingsbridge cathedral on Halloween 1327. The children witness a shocking bit of court intrigue. The main character this time is Merthin, the eldest son of a knight and descendant of Jack Builder from the original book. He's passed over by his father for knighthood and forced to become a builder. He quickly proves to be a prodigy at the trade and, like his ancestor, becomes a leading citizen in his efforts to build the small community into something greater. He must overcome many obstacles to realize his ambitions and earn the hand of his true love, Caris, who happens to be a descendant of Tom Builder from the original book. Merthin must deal with his vaguely familiar Jerkass brother, Ralph. Also featured is a peasant girl who is a good friend of Caris, Gwenda.

This novel shares many tropes with its predecessor, due to similarity in setting, plots, and themes.

A Mini Series adaptation aired in the US in November 2012 and the UK in January 2013.

Tropes associated with World Without End:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Ralph for Philippa.
  • Abusive Parents: Gwenda's dad won't win any father of the year awards.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness:
    • In the books, Caris is viewed as ordinary and Merthin rather odd-looking. In the mini-series, Caris is described as the most beautiful woman of Kingsbridge, and Merthin is played by the handsome Tom Weston-Jones.
    • Likewise, the book describes Gwenda as unattractive, with rat-like features. In the mini-series, she's played by the conventionally attractive Nora von Waldstaetten.
  • Amoral Attorney: Gregory Longfellow, Goldwyn's trusted lawyer, is totally amoral and bends the rules to do his client's bidding, no matter how questionable his actions are.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Repeatedly, sometimes to devious ends, such as when Godwin convinces the monks to leave the town.
  • The Baby Trap:
    • Subverted. Merthin thinks he impregnated Griselda, so he proposes to her, pressed also by her parents for a Shotgun Wedding, but when he finds out that the baby isn't his and everybody but him knows this, he refuses to marry a woman he despises.
    • Also subverted with Gwenda and Wulfric, though she never forces him to marry her.
    • Played straight with Philippa and Ralph, although they're already married. She seduced him by making him believe he's the father, but actually the father is his brother.
  • Bastard Understudy: Godwyn made Philemon this. Going by the ending, Philemon ended up a Dirty Coward rather than a bastard of any type.
  • Beta Couple: Gwenda and Wulfric.
  • The Black Death: Hits Kingsbridge hard — but not as hard as it might have thanks to Caris.
  • Big Little Brother: Ralph is this to Merthin.
  • "Blind Idiot" Translation: During their trip in France, Mair and Caris happen to walk along corn fields. As precised by the author, "corn" here stands for "any grain crop including wheat, barley and rye". It was nonetheless translated into French as "maïs" (maize), a cereal which originated in Mexico, that would be totally unknown in 14th century Europe.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Lolla is this at first, but she gets better.
  • Break the Haughty: Annet, an arrogant young woman who loves seeing men fighting for her and dumps a good man just because he becomes poor, gets brutally raped by Ralph; she even becomes The Woobie, despite her dickish behavior as her family is wiped out by the plague and regrets refusing a man who really loved her.
  • Bury Your Gays: Mair dies of the plague, as does Thomas's implied lover. Of course, since it was the Black Death, they were hardly the only ones killed off. Subverted by Bishop Henri, who, by the end of the book, is noted as all but married to his male lover.
  • Butter Face: Gwenda is described as having a rat like face but still being strangely alluring.
  • Career Versus Man: An unusual example with Caris and Merthin. When they reunite as adults, Merthin wishes she could leave the monastery, marry him and raise his daughter. Caris isn't impressed with his proposal since as a nun and then prioress she enjoys a lifestyle that she wouldn't enjoy as a married woman (i.e. managing a hospital, keeping the accounts of the abbey) and also as the prioress she is pretty much the ruler of Kingsbridge. She decides to leave the abbey when the power struggle with the monks leave her unable to do her job, and when Merthin helps her open a secular hospital.
  • Chick Magnet: Merthin is very popular among the ladies.
  • Christianity is Catholic: As with the first novel, appropriate, as the Reformation was yet to come.
  • Composite Character: A huge one in the miniseries, as Brother Thomas is also King Edward II.
  • Corrupt Church: The Priory under Godwyn and Philemon is rather unholy, to say the least.
  • Daddy's Girl: Caris is very close to her father.
  • Death of the Hypotenuse: After Caris joins the nunnery, Merthin marries another woman, and Caris gets involved in a relationship with another nun. Then The Black Death happens, and they're both single again.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Given the Same Story, Different Names nature of the plot, you might expect Godwyn to fill Prior Philip's shoes as the zealous priory reformer. It turns out he's got more in common with Waleran, and his POV sections fade away as he grows more villainous.
  • Despair Event Horizon: When it seems to Caris that she lost everything, she starts to fall into apathy. This is when people realize how badly they need her, leading her to earn her happy ending after all.
  • Distant Sequel: The novel is set two centuries after The Pillars of the Earth, and some of the characters are descendants of characters in that novel.
  • Door Stopper: Even longer than The Pillars of the Earth.
  • Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: Gwenda's plan to make Wulfric love her? Drug him so he's horny, then have sex with him. He resists this, but then she seduces him when he's half-asleep and crazy with grief. The irony is not lost among the characters, as Merthin calls Caris out for helping Gwenda in tricking a man that is clearly not into her. Gwenda isn't given nearly the bad treatment that Ralph gets for behaving similarly towards her and gets away with seducing Wulfric.
  • Dramatic Thunder: When Godwyn appears in the cemetery, only to die moments later.
  • The Dung Ages: Although the earlier period in The Pillars of the Earth was presented as grimy but livable, this trope is in full force here. The church uses medical practices taken from ancient Greek scholars that include putting dung on open wounds, and refuse not only to consider that they might be wrong, but even that they might be in any way incomplete or possible to improve upon, and much is made of how dirty everyone is. And then the Black Death rolls around...
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: After decades of troubles, the war and the plague, everyone gets richer or gets married, or both.
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex: The characters keep themselves very busy.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Queen Isabel, the She-Wolf of France; although she's only mentioned, she's a bright example and her actions have a significant impact on the plot.
  • Good Is Dumb: Wulfric's not a genius, but he's one of the nicest people in the novel.
  • Historical Fiction: Sir Thomas Langley knows a secret about the real-life murder of King Edward II. Ralph fights at Crecy and saves the life of Edward, the Black Prince. Caris pleads her case to the Black Prince's father, King Edward III. Also Historical Domain Character.
  • Holier Than Thou: Godwyn, to the point of being utterly obnoxious.
  • Hospital Hottie: Caris, Mair and the youngest nuns, who serve as proto-field nurses.
  • Hotter and Sexier: Pretty much, compared to The Pillars of the Earth there's definitely more sex.
  • Hypocrite: Caris freely admits, at least to herself, that she is a hypocrite and that she sees nothing wrong with it — in her view, some people turn into degenerates without strict rules holding them at bay, whereas other people (like herself, needless to say) not only don't need them, but are held back by them from expressing their true free-thinking greatness. Unfortunately, the latter need to at least pretend to follow the rules, or else the former will see them as this trope and consequently refuse to do as they are told.
  • The Immune: It is stated several times that those who catch the plague and recover never catch it again. Examples include Merthin, Brother Thomas and Merthin's daughter Lolla. Then there are some people who seem to be naturally immune, such as Caris and Madge Webber, who sadly survives her husband and children.
  • Kicked Upstairs: Philemon is kicked out of Kingsbridge on the pretense of being ambassador to Avignone.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Ralph, during an attempt of Luke, I Am Your Father to Sam.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility:
    • Caris gets pregnant once, gets an abortion and never conceives again to her sorrow;
    • Philippa end up pregnant by Merthin well into her forties, which at the time was definitely out of her biological clock.
  • Love Dodecahedron: It gets even messier than The Pillars of the Earth.
    • Merthin loves Caris, but Caris doesn't like marriages. Merthin then has a relationship with Elizabeth Clerk, marries Silvia, and impregnates Philippa, his brother's second wife.
    • Gwenda love Wulfric, Wulfric is engaged to Annet, Annet leave Wulfric when he ends up penniless and marries someone else. Annet and Gwenda are raped by Ralph, who is married first to Tilly then to Philippa.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Rather abruptly subverted with Ralph, leading to Killed Mid-Sentence.
  • Luke, You Are My Father: Gwenda tells Ralph that Sam is his son to avoid him being hanged.
  • Moral Myopia: Caris doesn’t see anything wrong with ordering Merthin around while constantly rejecting his marriage proposals but gets into a hissy fit whenever Merthin gets involved with another woman.
  • Medieval Morons: Largely averted. While many characters are shown to be resistant to new ideas, it is far from a universal trait, and often the people opposing any changes or reforms have something to gain by upholding the status quo.
  • Missed the Call: Saul Whitehead would have been the Prior Philip expy... if Godwyn hadn't gotten to him.
  • Missing Mom: Caris' mother died in the early chapters of an unknown illness (probably cancer) and it's what triggers Caris' devotion to study illnesses and how to cure them.
  • Morality Chain: Merthin is a downplayed version of this to Ralph. Ralph only feels shame when he thinks of how his brother would disapprove of his behavior, but this never actually stops him from committing any evil acts.
  • Naughty Nuns/Sexy Priest: Many of the priests, monks, and nuns still have sexual relations despite their vows of chastity.
  • Noble Tongue: Norman French is often spoken by members of the nobility and clergy in England; at one point, when a senior clergyman speaks Norman French with an odd intonation, someone else realizes that he's a non-native speaker and one of the relative handful of English-speaking clergy to have risen through the ranks of the Norman-dominated church.
  • Nun Too Holy: Caris is essentially an agnostic, and not good at following her vows of chastity and obedience.
  • Parental Substitute: Aunt Petranilla tried to be this to Caris, but Caris rejects her obnoxious authority.
  • Personal Mook: Godwyn has Philemon, and Ralph has Alan Fernhill.
  • The Plague: The Black Death, no less.
  • Politically Correct History: Averted with the town of Kingsbridge as a whole, but Caris's views on anything would be standard for a twenty first century agnostic liberal.
  • Rags to Riches: Merthin fills this trope.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: William, Bishop Henri, Mother Cecilia, and generally neutral characters who are not personally involved in the conflicts. Nathan Reeve also has elements of this.
  • Retired Badass: Brother Thomas was a knight. He had good reasons for becoming a monk. But comes back to badassery when needed.
  • Right-Hand Cat: Godwyn's cat Archbishop. Later, Philemon also has one.
  • Romancing the Widow: Ralph's first approach to Philippa. She doesn't even want to hear about it, so he switches to And Now You Must Marry Me.
  • Same Story, Different Names: This novel and its predecessor share a great many plot points. Both are about a genius architect in Kingsbridge who invents the next stage of architecture, but must overcome countless obstacles impeding his building project and love life. They also both feature a court secret that is introduced in the very beginning and not revealed until close to the end of the story. They both feature a battle scene in which a sympathetic POV character observes and an antagonist POV character fights. Both involve the POV characters asking the king for favors. Both feature as antagonists an evil knight who's fond of rape and a ruthless, power-hungry cleric.
  • Scarpia Ultimatum: Done by Ralph to Gwenda. Several times. Until he gets killed for it.
  • Sexual Karma: Ralph is the bad guy. Every sex scene with Ralph is rape. Merthin and Caris are the heroes. Merthin and Caris have good and loving sex.
  • Shovel Strike: Sam uses one as an Improvised Weapon and actually kills his target with it.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Merthin and Ralph, Philemon and Gwenda, Caris and Alice.
  • Sinister Minister: Godwyn is not a positive influence on Kingsbridge, in stark contrast with Prior Philip in the precedent novel.
  • Situational Sexuality: After becoming a novice nun, our heroine Caris has a fling with another nun. There also several other side-character monks/priests or nuns who have similar relationships, though some of them are indicated to be outright homosexuals rather than situational ones.
  • Smug Snake: Godwyn fancies himself a Magnificent Bastard, but the plague proves otherwise.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Caris and Merthin can't catch a break.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Caris' nightmare and main reason for refusing marriage.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Mair and Caris when they go to France. Justified by their fear of what could happen to a pair of unaccompanied women in a warzone.
  • Time Skip: A 10-year skip happens 3 times during the story.
  • Title Drop: During one of Godwyn's prayers.note 
  • The Unfavorite: Merthin designed a full safe bridge, became a wealthy builder, and made riches unfathomable by most in the town. His father only cares about whether or not Ralph becomes a knight again.
  • Villainous Crush: Ralph Fitzgerald has been obsessed since his teens with Lady Philippa, the Countess of Shiring and older than him, a poor squire. He murders his first wife as soon as she's widowed and forces her to marry him. But as Ralph now lives with a woman who's not so young anymore and utterly despises him, the crush lasts as long as you'd expect.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Elizabeth Clerk, being set up as a villain, loses the prioress election to Caris... and is never heard from again.
  • Witch Hunt: Literally. Caris is forced to become a nun to avoid execution for witchcraft.
  • Woman Scorned: Elizabeth Clerk, one of Merthin's many romantic false leads, actively supported Godwyn in destroying Caris, Methin's One True Love.