- Compare and contrast Kingsbridge from the beginning of the novel to the end. How has it changed? What do you think the most defining events were? Who were the most influential characters?
- Two of Philip's rivals—Ellen and Remigius—come to his defense at his ecclesiastical trial. What does it take for both of them to speak up? Why did they decide to defend a man who has caused them difficulty in the past? What do their actions say about Philip as a person?
- In Chapter 17, Ken Follett writes: "Philip had made Jonathan cellarer at a young age, and had now promoted him to sub-prior. Did I do that for my own pride and pleasure? he asked himself. Well, yes, he thought" (p. 911). In Chapter 18, Philip discusses King Henry and Thomas Becket's disagreement with his brother, Francis. Their conflict has escalated because, Francis says, "It's become a question of pride, now" (p. 939). Why is pride so important to these men of God? How has pride created conflict throughout the novel?
- Part 6 reveals a different side of William, from his regretting the missteps that prevented him from having success and a family like Jack to his reluctant leadership in the plot to kill Thomas Becket. Do you think old age has changed William? Is he any wiser? Is he any less of an evil character or a more sympathetic one?
- Although The Pillars of the Earth is fiction, it includes some real-life characters and incidents from history, such as King Stephen at the battle of Lincoln and the murder of Thomas Becket. Why does the author mix fact and fiction like this? Are the factual scenes told from the point of view of the real-life characters or the fictional ones? Are the fictional characters major or minor players in the big historical events of the time?
- Why do you think Philip's march after Thomas Becket's murder touched so many people? Were Philip's actions a religious statement or more of a statement on society?
- Describe Aliena's reaction to William's hanging. Were you surprised at how she reacted? How did you feel when William met his death?
- What do you think about Waleran's confession to Jack? If you were Jack, would you have handled it another way? Have you ever been in a position where you had to tell someone a difficult truth? How about being on the receiving end of such a conversation?
- Some readers have said they look at medieval churches with new eyes after reading The Pillars of the Earth. Do you think you will do the same? In the book, churches are usually viewed through the eyes of a builder. How does this affect your understanding of the architecture?
- Ken Follett has said: "I'm not a very spiritual person. I'm more interested in the material problems of building a cathedral." Is The Pillars of the Earth a spiritual book?
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
More from the complete reading guide to The Pillars of the Earth.