My BFF and The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

November 15, 2012 Historical Fiction 17

Bookworms, let’s talk. You know how when you were in middle school you would occasionally tire of age appropriate fare and steal things from your parents’ bookshelves? No? I find that hard to believe. While you’re coming to terms with honesty, I’m going to tell you a story.

When I was in middle school I met my BFF. She’s my best friend to this day, so it’s not weird AT ALL that we refer to each other as “besties” or “BFF.” We’re entitled, we’ve put in the years, yo. Anyway. When I was in middle school, our language arts teachers encouraged us to read outside of assignments… By “encouraged,” I really mean “required,” but it was so much more fun than algebra I didn’t mind in the slightest. Anyhoodle, my BFF started reading The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. It is a fabulous book, but WILDLY inappropriate for 12-year-old girls. Really though, 12 is about the age you get away with reading Forever because it’s Judy Blume and your mom doesn’t realize it’s about S-E-X. So. No harm done. After several giggly slumber parties spent reading the scandalous bits of The Pillars of the Earth, my BFF finished the book and we continued on with our glittery eyelidded, lip smackery adolescence.

Me, BFF, and my “nephew” on my wedding day, nearly three years ago. I’m much too lazy to dig through shoe boxes to locate and scan photos of our 12-year-old selves.

Then came Oprah. Oprah added Pillars of the Earth to her book club in 2007, and I found it in my mom’s stack of books (a double copy, no less! Read more about my mom’s incessant double purchasing HERE.) It all came flooding back. The middle school scandal… My BFF’s assurance there was a great story underneath the smut… I’d discovered my love of historical fiction by this time, so I snagged Mom’s spare copy (and a few others) and was on my way.

The Pillars of The Earth takes place in the middle ages from 1123-1174. This book predates even the bubonic plague- it’s SUPER old school! The story is centered around the building of a cathedral in England and all the folks involved in the building, the town, the government, the clergy, and the scandal. It’s actually kind of rare to find a lot of historical fiction about “normal” people. It’s a lot more appealing to a mass audience to incorporate major historical figures into their fiction to grab a little extra recognition. (Note the PLETHORA of historical fiction starring the Tudors and Renaissance Florence…) Name recognition aside, life for the rank and file was pretty stinky, dirty, and hungry. However, I happen to want to know what it would have been like for ME to live way back when.

Let’s face it, my current existence is not that of a high society lady. I have to scrub my own toilets and save up for things I want. I shop at Wal-Mart. So… If I were living in the 1100s, I would have been living in a one room hut snuggling the family sheep for warmth. Appealing, no? Whatever, the grit is where it’s at!

The Pillars of the Earth is way too long to give a play by play, but I will tell you it’s a whole lot of awesome. I highly recommend it to any historical fiction buffs out there! There is also a “sequel” which is amazing as well called World Without End but since it’s set a full 200 years after the end of Pillars of the Earth you won’t miss anything by only reading one or the other.

So, Bookworms, what do you think YOUR life would have been like “once upon a time”? Do you like to imagine yourself as old school royalty, or do you prefer to indulge in the lives of the regular folk? Tell me about it!

17 Responses to “My BFF and The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett”

  1. Marianne Crowe Loes

    I loved this book, though I would read it at night before bed and then fall asleep thinking of ways to kill William. That guy needed to die. I’d like to think I could be hard-core enough to live as peasant during that time, but I know I’m really too much of a wimp to handle it. Then I think I’d like to be royalty, but I’m sure I’d be ostracized or some offense or another. When ever I’m reading historical fiction I wish I could shake the characters and make them see modern views on women, morality, etc. But it’s still my favorite genre!

    • Words for Worms

      Oh I totally agree! I’m like “why are you all freaking out that Aliena is kicking butt and selling wool?!” Oh and yes. William was AWFUL! I spent a good amount of time scowling at a stranger’s wedding reception as a direct result of his antics. Well, that and the Bride and Groom kept dilly-dallying and wasting our time even though they had ordered the cheapo video package… Plus it was the third wedding that weekend. Hostility isn’t a good color on me. I know my pampered self would FAIL at peasanthood, but it serves to make me grateful for indoor plumbing! 🙂

    • Words for Worms

      LOL I know, right? My BFF was always the rebel. You’ll notice in the wedding photo a subtle pink hue to her bangs? She was sweet enough to agree to bleach the hot pink from her hair for me and my bridezilla-ness, but it didn’t entirely work. Sigh. Good times. Really though, now that I think back on our shenanigans they seem pretty tame. We weren’t like crack whores or whatever the youngins do these days. We just got our rebellion on, literary style.

  2. Quirky Chrissy

    I like to think that I would be exactly like Miss Eliza Bennet. Middle class but borderline poor who dates a douche or two before finding Mr. tall quiet and brilliant with a whole lot of sweetness perfect. 🙂 God. I make myself want to throw up in my mouth a little bit…

    • Words for Worms

      It’s funny that you mention Pride and Prejudice! I once read a book called Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict (I have it if you’re interested in borrowing.) Anyway, the heroine is modern day and is somehow swept back in time and lives out an Austen-esque novel. Only, she talks a lot about how gross chamber pots are and how much everyone stinks because they don’t bathe often and deodorant isn’t a thing. It’s not the best book I’ve ever read or anything, but you know. Appropriate name drop for this particular conversation :).

  3. Lyssapants

    Regular folks, dude. For me, “once upon a time” was the 60s. I was born in the wrong decade, my friend. And in history class (and in Sunday school for that matter) I was the little feminist asking, “So while all these men were killing each other and making laws, what the frick were the women doing??” I jive with the movers and shakers who are regular, everyday folk.

    • Words for Worms

      It somehow comes as no surprise to me that you’re a bit of a hippie. Speaking of feminists, have you read Tales of the Lavender Menace? It’s about the early feminist movement and the gay rights movement all sort of smooshing together. It’s a memoir of a lesbian feminist that we read in Women’s Studies and it’s super interesting how early feminists were kind of homophobic… Good educational stuff. A little dry, but good educational stuff, if you’re so inclined.

  4. Morag Warren

    Oof. My son is 10 and found ‘Never’ in Tesco and fancied it so I bought it for him. He loved it and so I bought him Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. He is absolutely obsessed. I’m not sure I may have made a poor parental choice here! He is very bright and quite naive – doesn’t play Roblox by choice as finds it scary – and happily watches preschooler programmes with his younger siblings. But loves Ken Follett! I’m hoping it’s fiiiine.

Talk to me, Bookworms!

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