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Seth Grahame-Smith's new novel gives story of Jesus' birth an action movie twist

"Unholy Night," by Seth Grahame-Smith.
Courtesy of Grand Central Publishing

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Best-selling author and screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith is back with a new book, “Unholy Night,” which re-imagines the birth of Jesus Christ from the point-of-view of the Three Wise Men… as an action movie.

Known for his previous works, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," and "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," Grahame-Smith has found success by taking historical figures or classic texts and mashing them up with zombies, vampires, and other well-known cultural genres.

“With ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,’ the idea actually came from my editor. He had the notion to do something irreverent to a classic text,” said Grahame-Smith. “To our surprise it sort of hit the zeitgeist at just the right moment and ended up being more successful than we ever could have imagined.”

In “Unholy Night,” Grahame-Smith takes on what is arguably the most popular text in the world, the Bible. He’s used to writing controversial novels based on beloved literary texts, but retelling the story of Jesus Christ’s birth posed a new set of challenges for him.

“I did have a real moment of pause before starting ‘Unholy Night,’ because this is a little different than taking on Jane Austen and Abraham Lincoln. You're talking about the peoples’ savior and messiah,” said Grahame-Smith.

To avoid being considered ‘sacrilegious,’ Grahame-Smith made some very particular rules for himself while he was writing "Unholy Night." For one, the Jesus Christ character is never more than two weeks old throughout the story. "I wasn't going to get into the business of putting words in Jesus's mouth," said Grahame-Smith.

In addition, Mary and Joseph remain the paragons of virtue and righteousness. The characters he did allow himself to manipulate are the Three Wise Men, who Grahame-Smith wrote as marauders who end up, in his words, “as the unwilling protectors of the infant messiah,” tasked with spiriting baby Jesus to Egypt.

“I didn't want the book to be controversial, I wanted it to be fun and entertaining and thought-provoking,” explained Grahame-Smith. “I kind of went out of my way to be not to be sacrilegious. I think when people read the book, I don't think they'll find it pandering, at least I hope they won't, but I think they will be able to take away something positive about faith.”

Read an excerpt of "Unholy Night"


Seth Grahame-Smith, author and screenwriter.