The Pillars of the Earth

Has anyone seen this mini-series? Is it worth my time? It's got Ian McShane, so that alone likely makes watching the first episode mandatory.

I watched the first episode and almost barfed. The production values are mediocre, the acting is so-so, Ian McShane looks pretty long in the tooth. All in all, an Uwe Bole experience.

I remember the book being popular back in my bookstore days (Oprah having an unbelievable influence over Americas reading habits). Never did get around to reading it, but I've been told it's great and potentially useful as a source of ideas around a "cathedral saga".

Concerning Pillars of the Earth . . . (the novel)
My mother told me that if I didn't have anything nice to say then I shouldn't say anything at all.

It's "effing" awful. It sold a ka-billion copies. It's got a sequel.

Matt Ryan

There were some interesting bits in the book, and I have pulled some atmospheric details into my home saga. The story was a bit thin at times. I decided to completely pass on the mini-series when I noticed an ad that indicated one of the main characters became the daughter of the king, rather than the daughter of a local lord -- mucking about with the history too much.

I never read the book and I watched the mini-series. The production values are indeed a bit cheap, but I found the story very entertaining and inspiring for an Ars Saga with much "mundane interference". I thought the conflict and rivalries between the different powers/faction (priory/bishop/king/earl) was very interesting.
I run a saga centered around Jerbiton acting as castle lords (...and prelates : one of them is also an archdeacon) and I deeply regret that I didn't have a chance to read the book or watch the show beforehand.
The staging of the Church and superstitions is quite well done. If the historical reconstitution was not very convincing, the comedians were, in my opinion.

Ok, I did have a few minor problems with Pillars and it's sequel, but overall I thought it was a fun read, and as far as Ars Magica is concerned, was a nice demonstration of the long-term story. I've lifted one or two situations for my current game (the attack on the castle with sabotaged gates), as they seemed fun.

So, I liked them. Pillars over World Without End, though I liked it as well.

I keep meaning to watch the miniseries. I guess I shall do so warily... though since it's on Netflix streaming I guess I'm not risking much by giving it a watch.


Well, it's on Netflix streaming video, so I'll give it a shot over the long weekend and report back. I hope to get through the first episode without retching.

Ok, I'll do the same. Monday we meet back and discuss!


The novel was good as a light reading for me. As others said, it goes well to see how long term events (like an ArM saga) can unfold. Other stuff is more questionable. Certainly not as questionable as other historical novels I have read (from serf to major noble and main counsellor of the king in 1 family generation...). Too much good guys vs bad guys for my taste, but a good read none the less :slight_smile:


OK. I watched the first four hours of the eight hour mini-series. I wanted to give it a chance, but I'll not be watching the last four hours.

It was a weak story and not terribly good for getting an Ars Magica atmosphere. A witch is threatened with being burned at the stake and a heretic is also burned at the stake. I think this is out of period.

The characters are all very clearly EVIL or very clearly GOOD. I understand that the modern perception of King Stephen was that he wasn't the best tactician or administrator, but that doesn't mean that he has to be vile and supported by only the most reprehensible people. Can we have a little subtlety or nuance? Also, is it really necessary for the main villianess and her son to have an incestous relationship? Just in case you didn't know they were evil after slaughtering a bunch of stone cutters, they're sexual deviants too? I certainly did not need to see his mom "giving him a hand" in the bath.

The story -- the process of building the cathedral -- takes a back seat to the machinations of the lackeys who are currying favor with King Stephen or siding with Empress Maude. The little cathedral town to be and its inhabitants are caught in the middle and don't seem to be very smart or good at seeing the obvious interference from their enemies coming.

The one things that I did like was the threat of hell was actually something that stopped one of the evil characters from acting on several occassions, until the evil bishop gave him absolution for everything he had done and would do. I think most modern people, especially educated elitists, take a much different view of hell, i.e., it's your life's good deeds weighed against the bad that determines whether you go to hell or not, and one foul act won't condemn you. The story doesn't follow this modern view. I don't know if that's an authentic medieval belief or not, but it was interesting. Maybe I'll get my answer in The Church book.

I certainloy have a shadowy memory of the book, but I do not recall politics being very important at top level: IIRC politics were limited to the earldom level at most, with the stephen-maude conflict being a backdrop for the characters. They had more than enough as it was. No incestuous relationship that I can recall of either. The really angelical good vs really demon-like bad thing was there, though, but building the cathedral and recovering the earldom were the 2 driving forces in the book for sure. I enjoyed reading the book as a lightweight page turner

I will not be watching this, then. Thanks for sharing your impressions! :slight_smile:


I really liked the mini-series, which were very well received, getting generally good reviews (9 out of 10 on IMDB for instance). I've seen all the episodes, of course, and I started reading the book after finishing the series. It gives me a lot of inspiration for Ars Magica campaigns in general. It's just a very good mini-series, with good production value and great acting, especially from Sewell MacFadyen. I haven't read World Without End yet, but it would be great if they did that as a mini-series too. And they might, given the success of Pillars.

Ken Follett, who wrote the book, hadn't written historical drama before. He's used to writing spy thrillers and such. And this is a good thing. I really like that stuff happens fast in Pillars. Before I watched it, I was afraid that it would be slow and boring, as many historical dramas often are. This is more story, and not so much documentary, and I like that about it.

It's good inspiration if you want to have a campaign with a lot of mundane interaction. I actually got an idea, after watching the series, of having a campaign were I just ditch the Magi entirely, and let all the players play mundanes (lords, craftsmen, priests and such).

Edit: It's confirmed. Work has begun on World Without End as a 8-part mini-series. :smiley: