New Book, Movie Editions of Ben-Hur Releasing a Month Apart

Written by Ann Byle on . Posted in Local

ben235Carol Wallace never got through her great-great-grandfather's magnum opus Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, first published in 1880.

"I always lumped it in with books that were great stories but too boring to read, like The Last of the Mohicans and all of Jules Verne's books," said Wallace from her New York City apartment.

But she grew up in a house full of books and her dad was an American history buff keen on his ancestor Lew Wallace. Her parents attended the New York City premier of the 1959 movie Ben-Hur, and she enjoyed the book The Story of the Making of Ben-Hur, which released when the original movie came out.

Judah Ben-Hur is a Jewish prince betrayed by a Roman friend and sent into slavery. He survives and gains his freedom, and returns to Israel to exact revenge. But his encounters with a Nazarene carpenter named Jesus change his life.

Carol Wallace's father died in 2012, and before his memorial service a nephew suggested that Wallace read the book. "So I read it," she said. "It didn't change my opinion of the book, but I did acknowledge that it was a great story."

As a long-time freelance writer of books and articles, she immediately began thinking of ways to make the story "more zippy, with a more exciting narrative." Then news of a new movie began trickling out, though first attempts to make the film languished. Mark Burnett and Roma Downey stepped in as producers, and soon a new film version of Ben-Hur was hurtling forward.

"They had already been thinking about how they would do a book as a film tie-in, then I showed up as, first, a descendent of Lew Wallace and, second, as a writer," said Carol Wallace.

Wallace is coauthor of the New York Times bestseller To Marry an English Lord: Tales of Wealth and Marriage, Sex and Snobbery, an inspiration for the popular PBS series Downton Abbey.

She decided to stick with her ancestor's research because he had been "deliberate and thorough," but knew there would be a lot of trimming. "I cut with great enthusiasm a lot of the descriptions because when Lew wrote it nobody had a catalog of images of the Middle East."

She made dialogue more contemporary, chapters shorter, shifted points of view around and gave the women more to do.

She was also able to visit Rome to watch part of the filming of the movie, which took place at the same location the 1959 version, starring Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur, was filmed.

"I got to see the stadium where the chariot race is held and walk on the sawdust from the race. I met the director and sat on the benches where the galley slaves sat," said Wallace.

Wallace's family had several historical items belonging to Lew Wallace, which have been donated to museums, including the Lew Wallace Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

"It's fun that Lew Wallace is back in the spotlight," said Wallace. "Readers want a story and that's what I hope I delivered."
Author Information
Ann Byle
About:
Ann Byle is a freelance writer for a number of publications including Today's Christian Woman and Publishers Weekly, a literary agent with Credo Communications, and author of several books including Soul Surfer Devotions with Bethany Hamilton and The Edge of Redemption with Troy Evans. She is an adjunct writing professor, contest judge, and cofounder of Breathe Christian Writers Conference. She and her husband, Ray, have four children ages 11 to 21, and live in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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