It’s twenty-five years since I typed ‘The End’ on the last page of The Pillars of the Earth. The book was published in 1989, and has sold nineteen million copies so far in thirty languages. It still seems a miracle to me that readers are so fascinated and moved by a story about building a cathedral in the Middle Ages, a surprising subject for a popular novel.
Many times I have been asked why Pillars has such a big impact. There’s no simple answer, because a novel is so complex. But I come back again and again to the people who built the cathedrals. Those men and women were, by modern standards, poor and ignorant. They lived in wooden huts and slept on the floor. Yet they created the most beautiful and awesome buildings the world has ever known. Human beings have the capacity to rise above mundane circumstances and touch the eternal. That is what Pillars is about and, in the end, I think that may be why it has so profoundly touched the hearts of so many readers for so many years.
Ken Follett, Stevenage, January 2014