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Margaret Atwood’s AMA Reddit Session: “Novels Can Do Smells, It’s Harder In TV And Film”

Novelist and now executive producer of the upcoming Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood recently held a Reddit AMA session about the show, her books, and why she prefers watching Miss Congeniality on a flight. 

For the uninitiated, The Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood is a dystopian novel where women are considered intellectually and emotionally inferior to men, segregated by clothing and where unmarried women are considered to be non-persons. The novel, published in 1985, is set in a totalitarian society, marred by politics, class, and patriarchy. The ‘handmaids’ refer to fertile women whose sole purpose is to bear children. The handmaids are produced by re-educating fertile women who have broken the gender and social laws. 

A popular feminist book and now a TV series, Atwood was candid while answering questions on Reddit. When asked what inspired her to write the book, she said, “Three main things: 1) What some people said they would do re: women if they had the power (they have it now and they are); 2)17th C Puritan New England, plus history through the ages — nothing in the book that didn’t happen, somewhere and 3) the dystopian spec fics [sic] of my youth, such as 1984, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, etc. I wanted to see if I could write one of those, too.”

Atwood also sheds light on how the novel (and now the series) will resonate with the current Donald Trump era. 


“We are now in what is being called the 3rd wave – seeing a lot of pushback against women, and also a lot of women pushing back in their turn. I’d say in general: be informed, be aware. The priorities in the US are roughly trying to prevent the roll-back that is taking place especially in the area of women’s health. Who knew that this would ever have to be defended? Childbirth care, pre-natal care, early childhood care – many people will not even be able to afford any of it. Dead bodies on the floor will result. It is frightful. Then there is the whole issue of sexual violence being used as control – it is such an old motif. For a theory of why now, see Eve’s Seed. It’s an unsettled time. If I were a younger woman I’d be taking a self-defense course. I did once take Judo, in the days of the Boston Strangler, but it was very lady-like then and I don’t think it would have availed. There’s something called Wen-Do. It’s good, I am told.” 

On the plus side, she also reveals that the TV series of the novel will reveal far more than expected. 

“The trend got going in the 80s in England with longer series TV adaptations of things like Jane Eyre. Also the amazing The Singing Detective — I think it was the 90s. I like to get them once the whole thing is finished and then watch back to back. Longer forms allow deeper exploration, series of connected episodes work like old serial fiction, ie Dickens — a cliffhanger at the end of each! But I’m kind of a sucker for that. Novels are very different in that they are made of words and words alone: the reader supplies everything else.”

Atwood also revealed her lighter side, when she answered a common Reddit AMA question – ‘Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck or a hundred duck-sized horses? Why?’


“Hmm. Good question. Are the ducks dead ducks, or are they alive? Are they Zombie Ducks? Is the horse a Pale Horse? Maybe not enough information here. I think I’d pick the hundred duck-sized horses. Easy to stampede, no? (“Scram, ducks!” Opens and closes an umbrella very fast. That’s worked for me in the past, against those weeny ducks.)”

The Handmaid’s Tale will be premiering on Hulu on April 26. The show stars Elisabeth Moss, Samira Wiley, Joseph Fiennes, Yvonne Strahovski, and others. Watch the trailer here: