The Greatest Story Ever Told....
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ has been on my to-read list for what feels like forever. I can remember as a child that Easter always meant that the 1959 movie of Ben-Hur starring Charlton Heston would be on the television and I always sat down to watch it. Watching the movie always left me in floods of tears, and it still does.
Finally, I decided to put aside some time to read this remarkable book. At least then I could finally tick it off my list.
|The chariot race scene, Ben-Hur 1959 ~ Wikipedia|
I knew the story of Jesus was a big part of this book, but it was so much more of a part than the film version of this story. Judah Ben-Hur doesn't getting a mention until at least two hours into the book, and that did surprise me. Likewise, Lew Wallace tended to go off on a tangent as many 19th Century authors did. And for that reason, at times, from a modern readers perspective, it did drag. On the other hand, some of the major events, such as the shipwreck, took only a couple of pages to describe. It was a blink, and you will miss it event. Nevertheless, it was an amazing read and I did enjoy it. It was certainly worth the eleven-plus hours that I devoted to it.
But what really made me sit up and take notice was when I started writing this review. I had no idea who the author of Ben-Hur was.
The author of Ben-Hur was Lew Wallace. Wallace's life would merit its own movie. I mean seriously, this man did not have a life, he had an adventure. He was an American General. He fought in the Civil War on the Union side. He was held responsible for the appalling losses at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862 — something that he never got over. He was later the governor of New Mexico and negotiated with Billy the Kid. Yes, that is right, Billy the Kid! Then he served as the American ambassador in Istanbul. He became a lawyer as well as a writer, and more surprisingly he wasn't particularly religious. He was intrigued by the life of Jesus, but it wasn't until he took a train journey in 1886 with Colonel Robert Ingersoll — a man who had served under him at the Battle of Shiloh — that his interest in the theological was piqued. The two talked, and as these things sometimes happen, they started to talk about religion. While Ingersoll attacked the Christian faith, Wallace became more intrigued. In the days that followed he devoted time to reading the Bible and his life was changed forever. It was then that he penned Ben-Hur.
|Lew Wallace ~ Wikipedia|
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ was first published in 1880. That first seven months it sold a modest 2,800 copies. But by 1886, Wallace was earning about $11,000 in annual royalties (equivalent to $290,000 in 2015 dollars). By 1889, 400,000 copies had been sold. It was the best-selling American novel of the 19th Century, and it has never been out of print. Ben Hur was given the Church's stamp of approval. It was even blessed by the Pope.
|The cover of the first-addition|
Between the years 1889-1920 the book was turned into a theatre production and was seen by over 20 million people.
|Theatrical release poster ~ Wikipedia|
In 1959 came that iconic film. It cost a staggering $130 million dollars (in modern money) to make. And here are some staggering facts for you:
There were 360 actors with speaking parts.
There were 50,000 actors in minor roles.
There were 200 camels.
There were 250 horses.
The circus took 1,000 workmen a year and a half to build.
It won 11 Academy Awards and 3 Golden Globe Awards. Everything about it was epic!
|Charlton Heston and Marina Berti in Ben-Hur ~ Wikipedia|
But that is not the end of the story, the film was remade in 2016, and if you haven't watched it, then please do put it on your to-watch list.
|Theatrical release poster ~ Wikipedia|
I thought Jack Huston portrayed Judah Ben-Hur beautifully. The story has been changed slightly, but I think it enhanced the story for today's audience. The film is a PG-13, so if you are thinking of watching it with your children, then please watch it first on your own as there are scenes that young children might find very upsetting.
Ben-Hur Official Trailer #1 (2016) - Morgan Freeman, Jack Huston ~ PG -13
So there we are, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ has lost none of its appeal since it was first released and I don't think it ever will. The story is timeless and I will always love it.