WARNING: Ripping Book Reviews are solely the judgments of Professor VJ Duke on an unlucky book that has caused him much repulsion—in one way or another. Therefore, blame must be put on the professor and nobody else. With that in mind, read on—if you are brave enough to take it.
BEN-HUR: A TALE OF THE CHRIST by LEW WALLACE
Now we come to an interesting book—a book that the professor has enjoyed immensely; a book that is quite capable of being ripped. You see, the professor even rips books that he likes, for otherwise he might be accused of favoritism—which would be very disagreeable indeed. So, even if the professor likes a book, that does not save it from rippibility. (New word, I think.) Usually, every single novel causes some sort of repulsion—so the battle is on.
Before continuing, six reasons why Ben-Hur should be ripped:
(1) Ben-Hur has never been out of print.
(2) Ben-Hur has been a bestseller since publication.
(3) Four movie adaptations have been made of Ben-Hur, not counting mini-series and such.
(4) Ben-Hur is considered ‘the most influential Christian book of the nineteenth century.’
(5) Ben-Hur superseded Uncle Tom’s Cabin in sales. Ben-Hur was superseded by Gone With The Wind. (We discussed that vexing problem last week.) However, when the 1959 film adaptation of Ben-Hur was released, the novel surpassed Gone With The Wind.
(6) Ben-Hur was not written by Charlton Heston. Rather, it was penned by a former Union general, Lew Wallace, who committed controversial command decisions during the Civil War.
Now that we have 6 good reasons why to rip this novel, let us proceed, unimpeded.
Ben-Hur is a very, very, very, very long novel. The edition I have is 617 pages long. I don’t usually mind long books, unless, of course, they’re tedious. I believe ‘tedious’ is a bit misleading, however. A better description would be ‘mind-numbing.’ Yes, the many distressing descriptions throughout the book cause a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering.
The novel is split into eight parts, and before each part begins the reader is presented with a special gift from Gen. Wallace: a poem, stanza, or few lines that make absolutely no sense within themselves, and even less sense in context of the book. Personally, I read the little beasts over and over, trying to grasp their meaning, and Gen. Wallace’s reason for putting them there. I never succeeded. Wallace won; I lost.
Okay…a plot breakdown.
The story centers on… Hmm…hold on a second here. Before I proceed, I should probably inform you that Gen. Wallace’s favorite book was The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas. In fact, Gen. Wallace loved and appreciated Monte Cristo so much that he penned a novel that is quite alike to it. That novel centers on a man who is betrayed and then seeks revenge. Gen. Wallace called it Ben-Hur.
So, yes, the stories are similar. Judah Ben-Hur is betrayed (in a way) by his childhood friend, Messala. Then, Judah seeks revenge. And I must say: He is quite vicious in how he goes about it.
Before I present Hur Foolishness (a term I think should be coined and used on anyone who is being so foolish it is unbelievable), I would like to present to you a description of Judah as presented by Gen. Wallace in the novel:
In the beginning of each movement of the oar, the rower’s body and face were brought into profile view from the platform… In course of the study, Arrius observed the subject’s youth; wholly unconscious of tenderness on that account, he also observed that he seemed of good height, and that his limbs upper and nether, were singularly perfect. The arms, perhaps, were too long, but the objection was well hidden under a mass of muscle.
When I first read this description, I was mortified. You see, up to this point, I had supposed that Judah was quite regular—in appearance, that is. His mental capacities were already shot from the betrayal. And I knew that. So, for the rest of the novel, that long, long ride, I had the misfortune of picturing the hero (if you can term him that) with arms so long that they dragged on the floor. After all, if Gen. Wallace makes an objection, it must be for a goodly reason.
Okay, now to present Hur Foolishness with the Hur.
The setting: Judah is betrayed once again. This time, two men come to kill him. But Judah recognizes the one, for they worked together once. Judah says to him:
“I was your scholar.”
“No,” said Thord (i.e. the other man), shaking his head. “By the beard of Irmin, I had never a Jew to make a fighting-man of.”
“But I will prove my saying.”
“You came here to kill me.”
“That is true.”
“Then let this man fight me singly (i.e. Thord’s partner), and I will make the proof on his body.”
Definitely vicious, I say. And what a way to say it: proof on his body!
Of course, Thord likes this idea, and he agrees. This is what happens:
Ben-Hur feinted with his right hand. The stranger warded, slightly advancing to his left arm. Ere he could return to guard, Ben-Hur caught him by the wrist in a grip… The surprise was complete… To throw himself forward; to push the arm across the man’s throat and over his right shoulder, and turn him left side front; to strike surely with the ready left hand; to strike the bare neck under the ear—were but petty divisions of the same act. No need of a second blow. The myrmidon fell heavily, and without a cry, and lay still.
Now this is where Hur Foolishness makes its appearance. At the time, I was quite happy. Ben-Hur was assaulted by two thugs. To make the battle easier for himself, Judah slyly convinces the Thord (who must be a descendant of Balaam’s ass) to let him fight his partner. Wise on the Hur’s part. Take out one thug at a time. But what happens? After this show, the Hur and the Thord make up, laugh, and move on. The Thord must have been nervous about fighting. Personally, I would feel very ill about letting someone go who had come to kill me. But that did not worry the Hur, or, more appropriately, Gen Wallace. Of course, that concerns me coming from a general.
When Gen. Wallace finished the book, he presented it to Harper and Brothers in New York. Wallace had written the manuscript in purple ink, which turned out to be a good thing, for the manuscript was praised as, “the most beautiful manuscript that has ever come into this house,” by Joseph Harper. Now we see why it got published. Harper’s favorite color was purple.
A review from the New York Times noted that, “Ben-Hur appealed to the unsophisticated and unliterary. People who read much else of worth rarely read Ben-Hur.”
Boy, oh boy. What’s that supposed to mean?
What’s that say about countless millions?
What’s that say about…the professor?