The Handmaid’s Tale’s future saved by Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments

Warning: This spoiler contains minor spoilers for The Testaments and major spoilers from The Handmaid’s Tale season three. 

Fans of the popular Margaret Atwood novel got a treat they never thought would come yesterday as the seminal author released a follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale. 

As The Testaments hit book shops across the nation, fans of the dystopian series were keen to see where she would pick up her feminist classic. 

In a twist, it was leaked in the press before the book’s release that beloved and hated in equal measure Aunt Lydia (played by Ann Dowd in the TV series) would feature heavily. Gone is June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss) and her radical methods of tearing down Gilead and enter three very unique and different viewpoints.

While I won’t ruin the identities of the other two narrators in this story – a delicious twist should never be spoiled – it’s safe to say Atwood has been in close contact with the series. 

The choice to bring in three different characters was very much planned, as Atwood explained she couldn’t further June’s story any more. Speaking to press at a recent press conference at the British Library, the author said: “I decided that although I could not continue with the story of Offred, I could continue with three other people and tell the story of the beginning of the end, We know from The Handmaid’s Tale that Gilead vanishes, it’s no longer present 200 years later because we’re having a symposium on it… So how did it collapse? How do these kinds of regimes disappear? I was interested in exploring that and also what it would be like for the second generation.”

It’s a valid manifesto to follow, but what does it mean for the Channel 4 and Hulu adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale?

The Testaments is set roughly 15 years after The Handmaid’s Tale ends (excluding the time jump symposium). We meet an Aunt Lydia who is not only jaded, but has become part of the resistance. Fans of the original series know Gilead falls, but they never knew how, or why. 

Given the time jump, it appears June wasn’t the sole person to bring down the regime, despite how much of a hero she’s being made out to be in the television adaptation.

The series sits itself in between the middle of both books now; in uncharted territory. Fans were concerned when the show went astray from Atwoods’ novel, but thankfully, it seems she has had a big say in the development of her world. 

READ MORE: The Handmaid’s Tale: Gilead to be destroyed as Margaret Atwood drops huge bombshell

Throughout the opening of The Testaments, a huge motif has been made about missing baby Nichole. Fans will recall she is the child of Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), but is actually and biologically, June and Nick Blaine’s (Max Minghella). In the season two finale, June smuggles her baby out of Gilead and in to Canada with the help of Emily Malek (Alexis Bledel). 

And in The Testaments, it’s revealed she has been kept hidden for at least 15 years. The infantile image of the baby is used as a call to arms for Gileadeans who wish to see their poster girl returned after all these years; Canadians use her as a symbol of resistance.

What this does more than anything is give the television series some guidance. Much was made of how season three potentially saw The Handmaid’s Tale losing its way a little bit. Many fans were highly critical of how out of touch the story was from Atwood’s original. 

However, what The Testaments’ release has done is reinforce the idea of a “grand plan”. Producers know Nichole is never coming back, or at least not for a long time, but now, fans know Nichole isn’t – or at least shouldn’t be – the focus of The Handmaid’s Tale. 

What is the focus, however, is the current political climate. Atwood has since discussed why she decided now was the right time to release her novel, revealing how she was inspired by the context of the world today.

Speaking about how The Testaments “entered into a conversation that’s already taking place”, Atwood drew parallels between the fictional laws she created and how they are coming true – to an extent – in America, where certain states have banned abortion. “What these restrictive laws about women’s bodies are claiming is that the state owns your body,” the author, who also penned The Penelopiad and Hag-Seed, explained. “There is a parallel occasion for men and that would be the draft: the state owns your body and you have to go to war. But when they do that, they pay for clothes, lodging, food, medical expenses and a salary.

“I say unto them, if you want to conscript women’s bodies in this way, you’re forcing women to deliver babies, forced childbirth, and you’re not paying for any of it. It is very cheap, amongst other things. For a society claiming to value individual freedom I would say to them, you evidently don’t think those freedoms extend to women.”

It seems fairly clear Atwood has a grander plan to her novels; she always had, look at the symposium at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale. 

During the fictional lecture, Professor Pieixoto explains how the discovery of the Gilead tapes has gone on to change the future for women in America. However, he notes there are still some cultural issues, but largely it’s somewhat “back to normal”. 

The good takeaway from this is The Handmaid’s Tale TV show is on the right track. It’s clearly been following Atwood’s grand plan, setting up The Testaments with crucial information about Nichole and Lydia. 

There’s clearly more to come but what kind of impact will it have on the TV series? Will more information from The Testaments creep into The Handmaid’s Tale?

The Testaments is out now and The Handmaid’s Tale (TV series) is available to stream on Hulu. 

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