Book Talk: The Evening and the Morning
Billed as a prequel to Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett’s 928-page novel, The Evening and the Morning, is actually an introduction to a place, rather than the foundation for a plot or the background of any of the characters in his earlier book. The setting is Dreng’s Ferry (which will evolve into Kingsbridge, of Pillars of the Earth), and the year is 997. In a way, it is the story of Edgar, who is 18 years old at the beginning of the story. But it is also the story of Lady Ragna, a fetching French noblewoman who must suffer the backwardness of 10th century England.
Edgar’s one true love, Sungifu, is killed during a Viking raid, and he vows never to love another woman. But, there’s Lady Ragna, who is married to ealdorman Wilwulf, and suffers the “slings and arrows” of a brutish nation and an unhappy marriage. Wilwulf reigns over the Vale of Outhen and benefits from its economy.
Edgar comes to love Lady Ragna, but for most of the mammoth novel he doesn’t seem to be aware of the mutual adoration. Throughout the novel, Edgar and Lady Ragna are separated by events and status, but they seem to make chaste contact with each other as circumstances allow.
Then, there’s Bishop Wynstan, an ambitious and devious man who longs to become an archbishop and will do nearly anything to achieve that status. As he did in Pillars of the Earth, Follett reveals the power that the church wields over all other aspects of society.
When Wilwulf dies, Lady Ragna announces to the village that she will assume responsibility as “lord” of the Vale of Outhen. Her magnanimous reign, however, interferes with Bishop Wynstan’s plans, and he shouts at the people of the village, “Wait! Are you going to be ruled by a mere woman?”
As Wynstan plots against both Edgar and Lady Ragna, they get aid from Aldred, a seemingly docile monk who would like to develop his humble collection of books and scrolls into a great library. He is also in love with Edgar, but it’s an unrequited affection. Likewise, Edgar’s love for Lady Ragna becomes obvious, but they occupy irreconcilable stations in the hierarchy of statuses during the Dark Ages.
It seemed to me that the prequel contained many of the themes that I remembered from Pillars of the Earth, but they are “scaled down.” For example, Edgar’s goal is to build a boat, whereas Tom, in Pillars of the Earth, set in the 12th century, longs to build a cathedral. Edgar must deal with Bishop Wynstan, whereas Tom has to work his way through the whole church hierarchy.
I was fascinated by both books because I’m interested in what life was like before automobiles and television. Long, long before cars and TV. And Follett does a good job of creating a society as it might have been a millennium ago.
The set would make a great Christmas gift for someone who loves to read.
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Jim Glynn may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.