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Natalie Zutter

Should The Handmaid’s Tale Have Saved Luke?

In Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Offred considers that there are multiple, contradictory versions of Luke: He could be alive, plotting with the resistance; alive, and wasting away under back-breaking work in the Colonies; or dead since the day their family was dragged apart. Any of these scenarios are plausible, but as long as she carries them all in her head, she doesn’t have to choose for one to be the truth. With the various adaptations of the novel, we now have three different Lukes existing in our pop culture consciousness. Book Luke’s fate is never spelled out, and we have no idea if Offred ever even gets closure. Movie Luke is gunned down in the first few minutes. And TV Luke… well, he’s surviving.

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Why I Stopped Reading The Queen’s Thief Series

My best friend handed me Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief probably shortly after its publication in 1996, at a point where we had read through all of Tamora Pierce’s then-current body of work and were slowly going mad waiting for the next installment. The Thief was the logical recommendation for a next read: Gen was small and sassy like Alanna, stubbornly self-reliant even when the gods decided to take an interest in his business, and as creative an interpretation of the thief archetype as Alanna is with knighthood. It was also, I think, the first fantasy novel that actually bowled me over with its twist. The stuff I had read before then—The Song of the Lioness, The Blue Sword, etc.—kept me enthralled simply exploring every inch of their lush worlds, but The Thief set up expectations and then swiftly subverted them.

It was such a perfect standalone novel that I remember initially being leery of the sequel. But then 2000’s The Queen of Attolia, true to the brutal ruler after which it’s named, upped the ante with a devastating act of violence early on that forever alters Gen’s identity. Suddenly, instead of a thief or trickster he is neither, simply a beloved protagonist coping with the unimaginable. By the end of the book, our worldview—both as readers and as participants in the ongoing conflict among Sounis, Eddis, and Attolia—has radically shifted. So why didn’t I continue on with The King of Attolia, published in 2006? For one, I didn’t even know that a third installment existed. Around that time, I met new fantasy heroines in Rani Trader (from Mindy Klasky’s The Glasswrights’ Apprentice) and Mel Astiar (from Sherwood Smith’s Crown Duel) and forgot all about Gen.

But twenty years after I read The Thief, Turner’s series has stolen my attention back.

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Chasing Hope Across the Universe in Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga

For a hot second, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ space opera comic book series Saga is literally about chasing hope across the universe. After surviving two separate attacks on their lives and that of their unnamed newborn daughter, Marko encourages his wife Alana that they will continue to survive, because “this time, we have something else on our side. We have Hope.”

“If you think I’m calling my daughter that,” Alana snarks, “I want a divorce.” In the same panel, our series’ narrator confirms that her name is actually Hazel and that she does indeed survive to adulthood. While she narrowly avoids being named for a virtue, Hazel acknowledges that she nonetheless represents something big: “I started out as an idea, but I ended up something more.” An idea, from the minds and loins of her star-crossed parents, to end the decades of bloodshed between their warring races. It’s in her name, for the shifting color of her eyes; it’s in her mix of horns and wings, imprinted with the genetics of both Wreath and Landfall, the warring home worlds of her parents. A truce, a middle ground, a universal concept that can be shared rather than owned: peace.

Unfortunately, peace doesn’t fit so well within the agendas of the Landfall/Wreath war, which means that from the moment of her birth, Hazel and her parents are on the run.

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Series: Space Opera Week

Offred’s Internal Monologue Finally Becomes Her External Voice

The Handmaid’s Tale quietly exploded outward several times this week, in little verbal outbursts as shocking and damaging as landmines. It happens when Rita tells Offred that Serena Joy wants to see her, and the Handmaid deadpans, “Awesome.” Then a few minutes later, after Serena Joy pronounces her suitable for their guests, Offred snarks, “Red’s my color.”

We viewers are used to these bon mots since the pilot, when Offred’s bitterly witty mental asides were the only indication that she still clung to her identity, her unique personality, as June. She’s silently invited Nick to knock back some beers with her at the oyster bar, chided herself for being an idiotic girl in a horror movie the first time she visited the Commander in private, and exhorted her fellow Handmaids (without saying aloud) to “Nolite te bastardes carborondorum, bitches.” But finally Offred’s internal monologue is bubbling up to her lips and spilling out, to be heard by someone other than us.

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10 Ways to Tell How He Feels About You: The Men of Gilead

You fit into me / Like a hook into an eye. Offred recalls a love poem (by Margaret Atwood!) while sharing a drink and another Scrabble game with the Commander. They have both relaxed around one another, approaching if not intellectual equals then at least candid confidantes. He offers her small, forbidden treats, like a back issue of Beautify with a helpful how-to for the pre-Gilead woman: “10 Ways to Tell How He Feels About You.” Offred could almost be one of those lovelorn ladies, engaged in three relationships that could be romances if you consider the Commander’s presents, her meet-cute with Luke, the awkward work-acquaintance attraction she and Nick share.

A fish hook / An open eye. But Offred is not the heroine of a romantic comedy. Her survival in the Commander’s office hinges on an article—that is, playing to her oppressor’s self-congratulatory pleasure in allowing her to read—but this is not How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. There’s a huge difference between letting someone win at Scrabble and actually respecting her; sex never happens the way you imagine; and even love comes with complications that will ripple out into a totalitarian regime. Like Offred, we learn the most from a little magazine-inspired thought experiment.

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The Luckiest Women in Gilead

There’s a moment in the latest episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum”—one of many excellent moments not from the book—in which Offred breaks down. Driving back from the doctor’s office, she screams and cries and slams her hands against the walls of her temporary prison, the car, and the larger system that has stripped her of any freedom or agency. When they return to the Commander’s house, Nick stares at her with his own secondhand anguish.

“I wish—” he starts in a futile attempt to comfort her, but either he cuts himself off or she does: “What? What do you wish?” And he has no answer, because how can he even pretend to understand how she has been stripped of personhood? He, who has a steady job and the Commander’s trust, with the potential to someday acquire a Wife and maybe even a Handmaid of his very own. When Gilead was created, he came out on top as one of the lucky ones.

Serena Joy is also lucky, for being married to a high-ranking Commander; that ring and his influence made her a Wife. Yet she has as much reason to complain as a Handmaid, albeit in a very different context—except that society won’t let her even open her mouth to do so. And so it goes down the chain of command, where even the Handmaids should be grateful for how lucky they are.

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The Handmaid’s Tale Isn’t Just Offred’s Story Anymore

Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale is such an intimate first-person account that, while it depicts a dystopian world in horrifying detail, we sometimes forget that it is the experience of just one Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. The 1990 film adaptation did away with Offred’s interiority and supplanted that with a few scenes that Offred is not privy to, a combination that rendered the final product mostly unrelatable. Hulu’s television adaptation, however, walks a fine line between both storytelling strategies: It resurrects Offred’s narration while also expanding every aspect of the world—the private traumas and tribulations of other Handmaids and Wives, and Gilead’s deadly consequences for crimes that (for now, at least) exist outside Offred’s frame of reference.

But what a frame it is. From the first lines, you know that screenwriter Bruce Miller (The 100) and the rest of the production team took the source material as seriously as Scripture: Offred’s narration, describing the constraints of both her room and her life as a Handmaid, is lifted almost verbatim from Atwood’s text, so that the rich language describing the most harrowing horrors quickly establishes the world. But then the writers do an incredible thing: They build on Offred’s monologue, supplementing the formal language of her mantras—My name is Offred, and I intend to survive—with a running commentary that’s so acerbic, so shockingly vulgar and wonderfully snarky in this repressed society, that it makes you laugh out loud in disbelief.

This approach could also describe the adaptation as a whole: The writers, directors, and producers took the novel’s foundation and built on it, enhancing Atwood’s original ideas with subtext that feels so painfully acute that you would be forgiven for thinking that this was written in only the last five months. Because the women depicted in this series—independent, outspoken, queer, sexually autonomous women of color and white women—could have been raising their voices and signs in the Women’s March. But they also could have been the women who chose not to march, who voted on the opposing side to these women in the election. The smartest thing that the showrunners did, in adapting this story to television, was to give every single one of these women a voice.

[Spoilers for the show ahead.]

All of Your Favorite SFF TV and Movie Adaptations in the Works

Thanks to major properties like Game of Thrones and Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, we’ve entered a golden age of sci-fi and fantasy properties being developed for film and television. It seems that nearly every network and studio has snatched up the rights to old and new classics, with a bevy of projects in production or premiering in the coming months. To keep you on top of the latest news, we’ve updated our master list of every SFF adaptation currently in the works, from American Gods to Y: The Last Man.

Check out this list and get your DVRs and Netflix queues ready, because you’re going to be wonderfully busy for the foreseeable future.

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Margaret Atwood’s Blink-and-You’ll-Miss-It The Handmaid’s Tale Cameo Is Surprisingly Violent

Last fall, Margaret Atwood teased that she had a small cameo in Hulu’s adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale. While I did mental backflips trying to figure out where she fit in to Gilead’s hierarchy—as an Aunt, a Jezebel, or even a professor outside of the Gileadean era—it turns out that the answer was as simple as a slap in the face. Literally.

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Sending a Man to Do a Woman’s Job: How the 1990 Handmaid’s Tale Film Became an Erotic Thriller

When we first meet Offred in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, she is thisclose to giving up. She’s losing track of time and, worse, hope; she vacillates between the equal temptations of escaping through suicide and just putting her head down and giving in to the system. She had a name, but it’s forbidden now, so she won’t even tell it to us.

By contrast, in Volker Schlöndorff’s 1990 film adaptation, our introduction to Kate—the name she’s given in Harold Pinter’s heavily streamlined screenplay—is watching her husband gunned down right in front of her at the Gilead/Canadian border before she’s dragged away with the rest of the fertile women. The entirety of the film is condensed into just a few months, as we watch Kate become a Handmaid, instead of the years in which life as a Handmaid is already her reality.

Book Offred’s trauma is lived-in. Movie Offred is still in shock. In short, there are absolutely no stakes.

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Series: Rereading The Handmaid’s Tale

Rereading The Handmaid’s Tale: The Legacy of Margaret Atwood and Offred

“Novels are not slogans,” Margaret Atwood said in a 1986 New York Times feature in response to assertions that The Handmaid’s Tale was a feminist tract. “If I wanted to say just one thing I would hire a billboard. If I wanted to say just one thing to one person, I would write a letter. Novels are something else. They aren’t just political messages. I’m sure we all know this, but when it’s a book like this you have to keep on saying it.”

What’s fascinating about the legacy of The Handmaid’s Tale is how it’s spread to almost every medium: reimagined on stage and screen, buzzing on the airwaves and between your ears, inked earnestly onto skin and snarkily onto protest signs, embodied in real bodies through viral marketing and political action. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list; rather, it’s a look at the breadth of Atwood’s influence, and how you can see Offred’s story from tech conferences to the Senate floor.

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Series: Rereading The Handmaid’s Tale

Sophie Turner is the Latest Actress to Play A Time Traveler’s Girlfriend

Time travel romances The Time Traveler’s Wife, About Time, and Midnight in Paris will welcome a new installment to their ranks: Time Freak, a romantic comedy about heartbroken physics student Stillman (Asa Butterfield), who builds a time machine after his girlfriend Debbie (Game of Thrones and X-Men’s Sophie Turner) breaks up with him. Andrew Bowler’s forthcoming feature film is an adaptation of his Oscar-nominated short film of the same name, and will be produced by QC Entertainment/Rhodes Entertainment. But what the Deadline article doesn’t mention, but The A.V. Club seems to have cottoned on to, is Turner unwittingly joining the growing archetype of the time traveler’s girlfriend.

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Rereading The Handmaid’s Tale: Part XV-Historical Notes

It’s our final installment of rereading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, but the reread itself is not over!

After last week’s confrontation, we spend only one more Night with Offred, as she heads into the darkness. But from that darkness (or is it light?) come echoes—echoes that ripple forward into the future, as we are joined in our examination of the text and its anonymous narrator by a bevy of experts with their own biases and contradictory guesses as to Offred’s fate.

The index to the Handmaid’s Tale reread can be found here! As this is a reread, there will be spoilers for the rest of the book, as well as speculation about the TV series.

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Series: Rereading The Handmaid’s Tale

“Now I’m Awake”: Watch the Full-Length Trailer for The Handmaid’s Tale

“I was asleep before. That’s how we let it happen. When they slaughtered Congress, we didn’t wake up. When they blamed terrorists and suspended the Constitution, we didn’t wake up then, either. Now I’m awake.” If the first few teasers for Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale chilled you for the vaguely ominous images from Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, then the first full-length trailer, which tracks the events that led to the Republic of Gilead and the lives of the Handmaids, will grip you the way the Handmaids clasp one another in preparation for their duties to the Commanders and Wives of Gilead.

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Rereading The Handmaid’s Tale: Parts XIII-XIV

For all that we have lived the Handmaids’ bizarre, horrifying existence for the past three-quarters of this novel, now we come to “these red events, like explosions, on streets otherwise decorous and matronly and somnambulent”—the true demonstrations of Gilead’s power over its people. This week, Offred is tempted away from Ofglen’s rebellion and toward the life she’s begun to make for herself… until she attends a Salvaging and a Particicution.

The index to the Handmaid’s Tale reread can be found here! As this is a reread, there will be spoilers for the rest of the book, as well as speculation about the TV series.

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Series: Rereading The Handmaid’s Tale