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calendar   Wednesday - August 18, 2010

Time Out To Read

I’ve been chewing my way through Ken Follet’s World Without End for the past couple of days. At nearly 1100 pages it’s a pretty long read. Very interesting book. In theory it’s the sequel to his Pillars of the Earth from 18 years ago, but that’s only true peripherally. It’s set in the same town, the mythical Kingsbridge, which is somewhere in Peiper’s corner of England. 200 years have gone by since the story told in Pillars, but it’s still the middle Middle Ages in Britain so things haven’t changed a heck of a lot. Follet is a master of character development, and his stories are all very involving.

I’m at the halfway point, and what I’m noticing is not just how awful, unjust, one sided, and utterly stupid the 14th century was, but how strongly his picture of life back then seems to mirror life today. Ok, granted, things aren’t quite so bleak or violent now. We don’t have knights and barons running around raping and killing people because they feel like it. And we don’t have a poorly educated, highly selfish Church owning and running everything. But we do have an emerging class of elites who do seem to be above the law in many ways. And even though those at the top exist because of taxes and tithes on the serfs and tradespeople, they don’t seem to feel much responsibility to them. Oh, as Lord of this demesnes my little nose is out of joint because I was embarrassed because I was caught red-handed committing a horrible crime for which, as a member of the gentry, I was not punished for, but I’ll let the village starve to punish them for embarrassing me. Oh yeah? Well as prior of the cathedral my nose is even more out of joint because the peasants have found several ways to make money that don’t involve giving it all to the church or even letting me tax it to death, so I’ll do whatever I can to thwart them. Cutting off my nose to spite my face? Who cares, as long as I still have the power! Sounds awfully familiar to modern times in many ways. We don’t strictly have “privilege” these days - literally a private ledger, meaning one set of laws for the commoners, and one extra flexible set of laws for the rich - but it sure seems that way when I look at the endless scandals and corruption in government.

Pillars of the Earth eventually got me down. The first time or two that I read it, it was all about the amazement of building a massive stone cathedral using little more than hammers and ox carts, and the technology of that benighted time. After that I soured on the book, because by my third or fourth time through it I lost compassion for the lead characters, whose lives were a never ending series of death, starvation, disease, disappointments, and being screwed over by the folks in charge, mostly because they didn’t buck the system. Or couldn’t. Whatever, the story became Loserama to me, and I gave the book away. 18 years later for me and 200 years later for them, and I’m wishing the peasants had machine guns and artillery. This book’s newer more “modern” world has the beginnings of the rise of the merchant class, but society itself is still rather static. A static culture is a rotting culture, no matter how happy people may be by avoiding change and relying on “that’s how we’ve always done it”. And any progress from a static culture that does not move in a direction of more economic and personal freedom for the lower parts of society is a move towards slavery. Or serfdom. As Follet’s two books in this epoch show, there isn’t a helluva big difference. Unarmed, uneducated, landless, taxed to the edge of starvation, and kept in place by elitist “government” and knot-headed unionism (the ubiquitous and change resistant Guilds of that period), they exist to suffer for their better’s profit. If only they would rise up. If only WE would rise up.


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 08/18/2010 at 02:47 PM   
Filed Under: • EditorialsLiterature •  
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