By Chet Yarbrough
World without End
“The Pillars of the Earth” is a terrific book–“World without End”, by the same author, less so. The difference is not in the quality of its narrative but in the substance of its subject. There is more historical meaning in “The Pillars of the Earth”. “Pillars…” infers that civilization begins with urbanization and is held together by organized religion. “World without End” is primarily a love story; i.e. a romance of any time; while “Pillars…” is a love story at the birth of urban civilization.
Ken Follett writes about the evolution of the town of Kingsbridge. All original characters of “Pillars…” are dead but they are remembered by descendants that continue to live in Kingsbridge, the fictional town of Follett’s world. The descendants are genetically related and have many of the good and bad qualities of their ancestors. These new characters are more refined versions of their ancestors; the good are more conflicted and the bad are cannier.
Caris and Merthin are the good. They are the star-crossed lovers of “World without End”. Their conflicts are in growing agnosticism and a human drive for personal identity. Petranilla, and Prior Godwyn are a canny team of conspirators; i.e. a mother and son that surreptitiously use the church as a vehicle for self-promotion.
Follett also includes some villains, Ralph, the warrior/rapist and brother of Merthin, and Philemon, the thief/provocateur–Prior Godwyn’s assistant. Follett adds a secret letter buried in the forest, the black plague, and a few 14th century battles to exercise his writing skill.
At times, one feels “World without End” is the book without end. On the other hand, a reader chooses to finish what they have started because they want to know if Caris and Merthin get married, if Prior Godwyn gets his comeuppance, and if the buried letter is all that important.
“The Pillars of the Earth” is a superior story but “World without End” has its appeal.