Back in 1983, when I was but a wee lad, I can remember watching Standby… Lights! Camera! Action! on Nickelodeon, a show where Leonard Nimoy would go behind the scenes of the latest movies, which for a Star Trek cine-geek like myself was pure nirvana. I remember one episode in particular when they did a story on the upcoming release of Psycho II—which, as Nimoy pointed out, came a full twenty-two years after the original. He wondered if that would portend other sequels that would appear decades later, cracking a joke about maybe E.T. showing up somewhere down the line with a long, gray beard.
Well, as it turns out, Nimoy was actually prescient—and these days, Hollywood going back to the nostalgia well to remake, reboot and repackage movies from our youth has turned into the norm rather than the exception. Ditto for the literary biz, particularly when a moldy old book has become a hot cinematic property for some reason, and the author gets a whole lotta money thrown at her to write a follow-up.
Which brings us to Margaret Atwood, whose book The Handmaid’s Tale has followed a rather convoluted path into the pop culture mainstream. Originally adapted as a 1990 feature film that didn’t exactly set the world on fire, it came to real prominence on 2017 when Hulu did the novel up as a TV series. Had Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election, it’s possible that The Handmaid’s Tale may have remained just another one of the hundreds of original offerings pouring out of the streaming service, along with competitors like Netflix and Amazon Prime. But since Donald Trump became President instead, social justice warriors have seized upon the series as a touchstone, turning it into one of those “we need it now more than ever” things that Hollywood likes to hype to demonstrate their relevance.
Of course that means—a la Matthew Lillard in Scream—ya gotta have a sequel, the release of which will soon be upon us. And Atwood wants to know that if we needed the original now more than ever, we need her newest work nower more than everer—or something to that effect.
In case you aren’t in the know, the “it” to which she refers is. . .well, as I can’t say it without laughing hysterically, I’ll just quote the story:
In Atwood’s novel, handmaids are essentially sex slaves, forced to bear children for infertile couples among the power elite in Gilead, the totalitarian dystopia the United States had become after being taken over by Christian zealots.
Yep, in the real world where Christians are being chased out of the public square in the West, and overall church attendance is dropping off precipitously, Atwood envisioned a future in which the United States got taken over by Pat Robertson and the 700 Club. Actual sex slavery, meanwhile, proceeds apace at the hands of human traffickers, ISIS jihadis and Boko Haram terrorists.
Way to hit that one on the nose, Maggie!
She began the book in West Berlin in 1984: “A symbolic year because of Orwell, and how could I be so corny as to have begun ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ in that year? I couldn’t help it!”
Orwell predicted memory holes, Newspeak and a totalitarian government that manipulated language in such a way as to make thinking unapproved thoughts impossible. Atwood predicted a Christian theocracy.
How’s that working out?
In the book, and the television show, every atrocity, no matter how awful, had to have happened somewhere in real life. Atwood said, “It’s not me who made this stuff up; the human race made it up, unfortunately.”
Such as the plight of the Yazidis in Iraq? Granted, it would’ve been too early for Atwood to have included that in the first book—but it does represent one of the worst atrocities ever perpetrated on women in modern history. And the perpetrators aren’t Christians. Their victims are.
“[D]id you fully intend ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ to be a warning?”
“What does it matter what I fully intended or not? It is a warning.”
“So, you felt the need to create this warning?”
“Simply because I have never believed it can’t happen here. I’ve never believed that. And more and more people are joining me in that lack of belief.”
Somehow, I don’t think the authorities in Atwood’s native Canada are going to be rounding up young women and impregnating them against their will—but if you’re a pro-life Christian, you could find your non-profit cut off from federal grants unless you change your position to support abortion. Meanwhile, south of the border, the United States has some of the most permissive abortion laws in the world—including the barbaric practice of partial-birth abortion, which even the most liberal European countries don’t allow. For Atwood and her fans to fear the boogeyman of forced pregnancy when over 40 million babies have been aborted since 1973 takes some seriously willful blindness.
The Testaments drops tomorrow. Somehow, I don’t think it will live up to its title.