Saturday 20 April 2019

The Greatest Story Ever Told — The enduring popularity of Ben-Hur #Easter #ChristianFiction

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!

Ben-Hur (1959) Official Blu-Ray Trailer - Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, Stephen Boyd Movie HD

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.

*Post first published on Myths, Legends, Books & Coffee Pots – 22/08/2017.

 Mary Anne Yarde

Mary Anne Yarde is the multi award-winning author of the International Bestselling Series — The Du Lac Chronicles. Set a generation after the fall of King Arthur, The Du Lac Chronicles takes you on a journey through Dark Age Britain and Brittany, where you will meet new friends and terrifying foes. Based on legends and historical fact, The Du Lac Chronicles is a series not to be missed.

Mary Anne is the founder of The Coffee Pot Book Club. She has been a professional reader since 2016 and in this time Mary Anne has reviewed many books for the big and small publishing houses, as well as books penned by her fellow indie authors. Mary Anne is also an editorial reviewer for BooksGoSocial. Mary Anne has been a judge for a prestigious Historical Fiction Book Award for the last three years, as well as being a Top Reviewer on Netgalley. 

Born in Bath, England, Mary Anne Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury — the fabled Isle of Avalon — was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were part of her childhood.

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  1. Mary-Anne, I thoroughly enjoyed your take on Ben-Hur. The 1959 version is one of my favourite films ever - something you don't mention that I think is an integral part of its power is the magnificent score by Miklos Rosza. Not surprised he won an Oscar for it. Nobody wrote an epic like MR! I did know about Lew Wallace being governor of New Mexico because of another film - Strange Lady in Town with Greer Garson where she's a female doctor in a small NM town and she meets LW and he's working on BH. Odd how these things tie up together, isn't it? I haven't seen the new one - I imagined it would be a fairly soulless computer graphics effort. Your recommendation makes me wonder if I might check it out after all. Happy Easter!

  2. I did not know they had made a new movie, the trailer looks good, although it has a lot to live up to in my opinion.


See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx