The Academy Award-winning 1959 film Ben-Hur is getting a reboot this summer, and the 136-year-old tale it’s based on by Lew Wallace is getting a makeover to match. Tyndale will publish a new edition of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, rewritten by Wallace’s great-great-granddaughter Carol Wallace, on July 19—one month before Ben-Hur opens in theaters across the U.S.
Wallace, who did not read her great-great-grandfather’s magnum opus until she was an adult, told PW: “I always lumped it in with books that were great stories but too boring to read.”
She finally read Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ after her father’s death in 2012—he was an American history buff keen on their author ancestor. A few years later, upon hearing news of a remake of the movie Ben-Hur, Wallace connected with the film’s producers, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. “They had already been thinking about how they would do a book as a film tie-in, then I showed up: first, as a descendant of Lew Wallace, and second, as a writer,” said Wallace.
Urging her to stick closely to the original story, Burnett and Downey tapped Wallace to update the text as the official film tie-in edition of Ben-Hur. Wallace’s familial connection and her writing career made her the perfect woman for the job—she is the coauthor of the New York Times bestseller To Marry an English Lord (Workman, 1989 and 2012), an inspiration for the popular PBS series Downton Abbey.
During the writing process, Wallace drew inspiration from watching the filming of Ben-Hur in Rome. Filming took place at the same location as the original movie, which starred Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur, the Jewish prince betrayed by a Roman friend and sent into slavery. The story follows his return to Judea to exact revenge.
“I spent four months living Ben-Hur as I wrote, and the set looked exactly the way I imagined it,” said Wallace. “I walked on the very sawdust where they had the chariot race.”
The new edition of Ben-Hur uses modernized language and shorter chapters. Plus, Wallace cut out much of the description of the landscape and scenes in the Middle East, where the story is set. Readers of previous generations had never seen the region, but modern readers have what Wallace called “a warehouse of images” of it. She also gave women larger roles, including that of Naomi, Ben-Hur’s mother; his sister, Tirzah; and the slave, Esther. Women played background roles in the original book, as was typical in Lew Wallace’s time. “I had to give the women more to do,” said Wallace.
The book includes full-color art from the upcoming movie, and it will be released in paperback, hardcover, and e-book, as well as a collector’s edition. Tyndale will partner with the Ben-Hur movie marketing team on brand initiatives, publicity efforts, and social media outreach, in addition to using its own social platforms and book-specific publicity and advertising. A blog tour is timed with the book’s release.