The Handmaid’s Tale: 1985 Book vs. 2017 TV Show

Like many book lovers, I get eager to see novels I’ve enjoyed adapted into films or TV shows, even if my response is almost always the infamous “the book was better.” So naturally, after reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood in my English class, I raced to sign up for my free month’s trial of Hulu (who even has Hulu anyway?) and begin watching the 2017 TV series of the same name. While I expected the show to leave out key elements and add in completely unnecessary characters and subplots as I’ve seen many such adaptations do, I was pleasantly surprised with how artfully the novel was translated to the small screen, and even found myself binge-watching three or four episodes of the ten-part series in one sitting.

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985 book) takes place in the dystopian society of Gilead and follows the story of Offred, one of many women forced to bear children for the barren wives of government officials. The book details Offred’s life both before and after becoming a handmaid, as well as examines the impacts this lifestyle and the oppressive government have on her physically and emotionally.

For the most part, the TV show stays true to the storyline of Atwood’s novel. In fact, I would argue it adds even more to the story than it takes out, but nothing that is added is without purpose. Many of the new and reimagined scenes offer insight into the pasts of characters like Serena Joy or Nick that we don’t get in the novel told from Offred’s perspective, which helps bring these characters to the forefront of the story. The show also delves further into the formation of Gilead, which makes Atwood’s already imaginative world even more fascinating, as well as scarily similar to current events taking place in the U.S. and around the world.

What I enjoyed most about the show was that it turned the character of Offred into a total badass. Not that her small, unseen ways of rebelling in the novel aren’t noteworthy, but in the TV show she assumes a much larger role as a self-proclaimed rebel, daring to take many more risks and not being afraid to speak out when she knows something is wrong. I also appreciated the way the show was shot, with many slow-motion sequences and close-ups that complement the intricacies found within the novel’s prose.

My only concern for the series is the plan for a second season. I get nervous when adaptations expand outside of the existing written material because I don’t want them to change my perception of the author’s work too profoundly. Yet other shows, such as Game of Thrones, have deviated from their original materials with much success, so I am hopeful that doing so with The Handmaid’s Tale will allow for even further exploration into Offred and her world without completely jumping the shark. Plus, Atwood will help write the second season, which gives me faith that the series will head in a direction not only true to her vision, but to the story as it exists currently.

Due to explicit language and graphic scenes present throughout, I would definitely recommend the show to older, more mature audiences. But if you’re looking for something relevant, action-packed, moving, and fiercely dramatic, The Handmaid’s Tale is definitely for you. So go sign up for your free month of Hulu and you’ll be hooked on your next binge-session in no time, just as I was. But read the book first.

By Grace Beltowski, Reader and PR Team


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