My Wife Re-Wrote 'Ben-Hur'

A proud husband on the updating of Lew Wallace’s epic novel about Christ

Posted in , Jul 20, 2016

Jack Huston starring in the remake of Ben-Hur. Photo: Paramount Pictures.

Yes, that’s right. You don’t have to take my word for it. Go to your nearest bookstore, log on to Amazon: you’ll see it, Ben-Hur by Carol Wallace. That’s my wife.

Now that I’m finished with a not-so-veiled plug (hey, a husband’s allowed to brag a little bit, right?) I’ll give you the story behind the story.

Author Carol WallaceCarol’s the writer in the family. All right, I’ve published a few books and have worked for Guideposts for almost as long as I’ve been married, but Carol is the author of a shelf full of novels, humor, history, even a couple baby name books.

Watch a video on Carol Wallace discussing the challenges of re-writing 'Ben-Hur'

She already had her name on one bestseller at the time we got married–The Official Preppy Handbook, remember that? And more recently, her social history To Marry an English Lord became the inspiration for the popular TV show Downton Abbey.

But Ben-Hur? Didn’t someone else write that first?

Well, yes. Her great-great-grandfather Lew Wallace. He published it back in 1880. It became the best-selling novel in America until Gone With the Wind eclipsed it. And it has been made into a host of movies. On August 19, a new version starring Jack Huston and Morgan Freeman will be released.

Carol grew up in a house full of photos of General Lew Wallace–the youngest Union general in the Civil War–and plenty of copies of his famous book. But she never read it.

Watch a trailer for the upcoming movie, 'Ben-Hur'

Not until her dad died a couple of years ago did she consider reading it. He was the last male descendant of Lew Wallace and as she looked at some of the old black-and-white photos, Carol thought, “Maybe I should see what the fuss is about.”

Many forget that the full title is Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ and indeed in writing his novel of a fictional Jewish prince at the time of Jesus, Lew explored his own faith and how a life could be transformed by Christ.

It’s about a lot more than a chariot race. In fact the real climax–if you ask me–comes when Judah Ben-Hur, the hero, witnesses the Crucifixion.

It’s a terrific story, a true page turner. Carol was captivated, but she had to admit that the language is pretty stilted, a tough slog for today’s reader. So she decided–with the boldness of a good writer–that she’d like to rewrite.

And she did, preserving the ever magnificent turn of Lew’s plot, honoring all the Christian themes. Just as the original was a faith journey for her great-great-grandfather, rewriting it was a journey into faith for her. 

The result is hitting the stores. The book has Carol’s name on it as well as Lew’s. There’s one more thing I think it should say: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ…A Tale Worth Reading Again and Again. Let me know what you think.

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