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John Swansburg, deputy editor of Slate , suggests that the chariot race between the characters of Judah and Messala may have been based on a horse race which Wallace reportedly ran and won against Grant some time after the battle of Shiloh. Farrand Tuttle Jr. The event may have been a Wallace family legend, but the novel which includes the action-packed chariot race made Wallace a wealthy man and established his reputation as a famous author and sought-after speaker. Wallace was determined to make the novel historically accurate and did extensive research on the Middle East that related to the time period covered in his novel.
However, he did not travel to Rome or the Holy Land until after its publication. To establish an authentic background for his story, Wallace gathered references on Roman history, as well as the geography, culture, language, customs, architecture, and daily life in the ancient world from libraries across the United States.
He also studied the Bible. Wallace intended to identify the plants, birds, names, architectural practices, and other details.
Epic of gilgamesh characters
He later wrote: "I examined catalogues of books and maps, and sent for everything likely to be useful. I wrote with a chart always before my eyes—a German publication showing the towns and villages, all sacred places, the heights, the depressions, the passes, trails, and distances. An example of Wallace's attention to detail is his description of the fictional chariot race and its setting at the arena in Antioch.
Using a literary style that addressed his audience directly, Wallace wrote:. Let the reader try to fancy it; let him first look down on the arena, and see it glistening in its frame of dull-gray granite walls; let him then, in this perfect field, see the chariots, light of wheel, very graceful, and ornate as paint and burnishing can make them It is ironic that an acclaimed biblical novel,  one that would rival the Bible in popularity during the Gilded Age , was inspired by a discussion with a noted agnostic and written by an author who was never a member of any church.
Wallace claimed that when he began writing Ben-Hur , he was not "in the least influenced by religious sentiment" and "had no convictions about God or Christ",   but he was fascinated by the biblical story of the three magi's journey to find Jesus, king of the Jews. After extensive studies of the Bible and the Holy Land, and well before he had completed the novel, Wallace became a believer in God and Christ.
In the very beginning, before distractions overtake me, I wish to say that I believe absolutely in the Christian conception of God. As far as it goes, this confession is broad and unqualified, and it ought and would be sufficient were it not that books of mine— Ben-Hur and The Prince of India —have led many persons to speculate concerning my creed I am not a member of any church or denomination, nor have I ever been.
Not that churches are objectionable to me, but simply because my freedom is enjoyable, and I do not think myself good enough to be a communicant. Most of the book was written during Wallace's spare time in the evening, while traveling, and at home in Crawfordsville, Indiana , where he often wrote outdoors during the summer, sitting under a favorite beech tree near his home. The tree has since that time been called the Ben-Hur Beech. In March , Wallace copied the final manuscript of Ben-Hur in purple ink as a tribute to the Christian season of Lent.
He took a leave of absence from his post as New Mexico's territorial governor and traveled to New York City to deliver it to his publisher. On April 20, Wallace personally presented the manuscript to Joseph Henry Harper of Harper and Brothers, who accepted it for publication. At the time of Ben-Hur' s publication, the idea of presenting Christ and the Crucifixion in a fictional novel was a sensitive issue.
Wallace's depiction of Christ could have been considered by some as blasphemy , but the quality of his manuscript and his assurances that he had not intended to offend Christians with his writing overcame the publisher's reservations.
A bold experiment to make Christ a hero that has been often tried and always failed. When Lew Wallace's Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ first appeared in , it was bound in a cadet blue-gray cloth with floral decorations on the front cover, spine, and back cover. It was copyrighted October 12, , and published November 12th as noted in a letter to Wallace from Harper dated November 13, The earliest autographed copy noted bears Wallace's inscription dated November 17, , in the collection of the Indiana Historical Society Library.
The first printed review appeared in The New York Times , November 14, , and noted that it is "printed and in the hands of book dealers.
According to Russo and Sullivan, Mrs. Wallace objected to the floral decorative cloth. She wrote to Harper on January 3, , in answer to a question about the true first edition: "I incline to the belief that the volume seen was one of the first issue of Ben-Hur , which would explain the gay binding. The first edition was issued in a series which the Harpers were then publishing. It was 16mo form, bound in cadet-blue cloth, and decorated with clusters of flowers in red, blue, and green on the front cover and a vase of flowers in the same colors on the back cover.
The lettering on the cover is black.
Epic: The Story God Is Telling and the Role That Is Yours to Play
Harpers apparently retaliated at Susan Wallace's objections over the binding. In the next two binding states all first editions , the text was bound in drab, brown mesh cloth seen occasionally today as a faded gray over beveled boards [Binding State 2] and brown pebbled cloth over beveled boards [Binding State 3]. The book is dedicated "To the Wife of My Youth". This dedication appears in the first printing run of about 5, copies, all either in the first edition, first state binding, or in two alternate bindings.
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Wallace died. I laughed at first, but the condolences multiplied until finally I told the good woman that having got me into the trouble she must now get me out, which she did by adding the words--'Who still abides with me.
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Initial sales of Ben-Hur were slow, only 2, copies were sold in the first seven months, but within two years, the book had become popular among readers. Hart explained that by the turn of the century, "If every American did not read the novel, almost everyone was aware of it. Within 20 years of its publication, Ben-Hur was "second only to the Bible as the best-selling book in America", and remained in second position until Margaret Mitchell 's Gone With the Wind surpassed it.
At the time of the book's th anniversary in , Ben-Hur had never been out of print and had been adapted for the stage and several motion pictures. The novel had millions of fans, including several influential men in politics. Grant , U. Minister to the Ottoman Empire, based in Constantinople , Turkey. Wallace served in this diplomatic post from to Ben-Hur was published at time when the United States was moving away from war and reconstruction.
Epic: The Story God Is Telling and the Role That Is Yours to Play by John Eldredge
Critics point to problems such as flat characters and dialogue, unlikely coincidences driving the plot, and tedious and lengthy descriptions of settings, but others note its well-structured plot and exciting story,  with its unusual mix of romanticism, spiritual piety, action, and adventure. People who read much else of worth rarely read Ben-Hur ". Popular novels of Christ's life, such as Reverend J. Readers also credited Wallace's novel with making Jesus's story more believable by providing vivid descriptions of the Holy Land and inserting his own character of Judah into scenes from the gospels.
One former alcoholic, George Parrish from Kewanee, Illinois , wrote the author a letter crediting Ben-Hur with causing him to reject alcohol and find religion. Parrish remarked: "It seemed to bring Christ home to me as nothing else could". It not only reduced lingering American resistance to the novel as a literary form, but also later adaptations were instrumental in introducing some Christian audiences to theater and film.
After the novel's publication in , Wallace was deluged with requests to dramatize it as a stage play, but he resisted, arguing that no one could accurately portray Christ on stage or recreate a realistic chariot race. In , Wallace entered into an agreement with theatrical producers Marc Klaw and Abraham Erlanger to turn his novel into a stage adaptation. Critics gave it mixed reviews, but the audience packed each performance, many of them first-time theater-goers. It became a hit, selling 25, tickets per week. The stage adaptation was seen by an estimated 20 million people,  and William Jennings Bryan claimed it was "the greatest play on stage when measured by its religious tone and more effect.
The key spectacle of the show recreated the chariot race with live horses and real chariots running on treadmills with a rotating backdrop. Did I set all of this in motion? When the play was produced in London in , The Era 's drama critic described how the chariot race was achieved with "four great cradles" 20 feet 6. The horses also drove the movement of a vast cyclorama backdrop, which revolved in the opposite direction to create an illusion of rapid speed.
Electric rubber rollers spun the chariot wheels, while fans created clouds of dust. The production had imported 30 tons of stage equipment from the United States, employed a cast of more than , and featured sets with fountains, palm trees, and the sinking of a Roman galley. It featured a live chariot race, gladiatorial combat, and a sea battle.
The production used 46 horses, tons of special sand, and cast and crew. All of the show's dialogue was in Latin and Aramaic of the period, with voiceover narration. However, despite its massive staging, a critic for The Guardian remarked that it lacked the theatrical spectacle to inspire the imagination of its audience. The development of the cinema following the novel's publication brought film adaptations in , , , , and , as well as a North American TV miniseries in In , Sidney Olcott and Frank Oakes Ross directed a short film for the Kalem Company that was based on the book, but it did not have the Wallace heirs' or the book publisher's permissions.
The landmark case Kalem Co.