Margaret Atwood wrote “The Testaments” so Hulu won’t screw up “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Probably for the best.
Probably for the best.
Image: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Margaret Atwood’s sequel to her 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale has already been optioned by Hulu and shortlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize—and it hasn’t even come out yet.

Titled The Testaments, the sequel takes place 15 years after the original novel and will be narrated by three female characters. One of them, Aunt Lydia, is a major character in Hulu’s Emmy-winning TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, which suddenly has a new direction to go in now that Atwood is providing another novel’s worth of material.

Bruce Miller, who served as showrunner for the Hulu show, will now try to figure out how best to turn The Testaments into a television series, Time reported yesterday. While it’s not clear what form the sequel’s story will take on TV (it could roll into the ongoing Handmaid’s Tale series or perhaps turn into a spinoff series of its own), what’s clear is that Hulu could use Atwood’s guidance:

“They can’t keep Offred in Gilead for many more seasons, or a certain amount of wheel spinning will be going on,” the author told Time. “They have to move her along—and I’ve given them lots of ways of how that would happen.”

Atwood has worked closely with Hulu on The Handmaid’s Tale TV series, and will likely do the same with whatever form The Testament takes on the streaming service. That’s not to say that Atwood is writing The Testaments to supply Hulu with more story that it might not be able to come up with itself—after all, she started writing it before the Hulu show debuted in 2017.

And yet, Atwood is acknowledging that the narrative she’s created will give the TV writers more flexibility. The sequel novel will provide glimpses of the wider world outside of Gilead, elements that the current Hulu show has generally avoided depicting. The protagonist, Offred (played by Elisabeth Moss), has been stuck in the fictional dystopian territory through three seasons, to the annoyance of some critics and viewers.

It’s not unusual for Hollywood to essentially commission a novel to provide new material for its shows and movies. Scholastic’s recent announcement that Suzanne Collins was writing a Hunger Games prequel came in tangent with film studio Lionsgate noting that it would immediately adapt the prequel into a film: “We’ve been communicating with her during the writing process and we look forward to continuing to work closely with her on the movie.” Likewise, J.K. Rowling made her screenwriting debut by writing the scripts for the Harry Potter spinoff franchise Fantastic Beasts.

Sometimes Hollywood needs this guidance from the original author of an adaptation before its story implodes. The epic critical swandive that Game of Thrones took in its final few seasons happened right after the show moved past the plot of George R. R. Martin’s novels, on which it was based. TV showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff lost the source material for the franchise at a critical point in the narrative and were forced to extend the story with only scant input from Martin. Fans were not thrilled with what they came up with.

The Testaments will be released on Sept. 10 and is under strict embargo prior to the debut. It is available for pre-order, though some independent libraries have complained that Amazon already shipped copies of the book a week in advance.