On Thursdays, I take a break from reviewing books to share my thoughts on all things books, fandom, and random. All opinions are my own. Yours may differ. Feel free to respectfully disagree and discuss in the comments.
There’s always a sense of excitement I feel when I hear that a book I’ve enjoyed is being adapted for the screen. Not only does it mean there will be more attention for the book and the author, but I know I get to experience the world of the story brought to life. So I can’t let news like The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood getting a small-screen adaptation go by without comment.
I make no secret that I love dystopian fiction. In fact, I don’t think I could make a secret if I wanted to. And The Handmaid’s Tale is quite simply one of the best I’ve ever read. It’s a true gem of a work, and those who haven’t read it should run to their nearest library and check it out. (And I suggest doing so before the show airs, since we know adaptation rarely does justice for the book.)
There are reasons I should be worried, I’m sure. Every book-to-screen adaptation has its problems. It’s inherent in adapting a book to a film that things need to be cut. I remember lamenting the things that were cut out of the Harry Potter series of films. There are things I think are critical to the story that are only to be found on the page.
But that’s to be expected in a film adaptation. A book that takes several hours to read would be a film of a similar length if everything stayed in. And while people are willing to go see 20+ films featuring James Bond, there’s something different about an episodic series of films than a seven-volume telling of a single novel.
What one really needs to worry about is when those responsible for the production take too much creative license. I’m thinking of adaptations of books like Geography Club where I felt like I was watching a different story–just set in the same place with the same character names. And there’s the equally troubling adaptation of The Scorch Trials from The Maze Runner series. So many liberties were taken there that I remain completely perplexed about how they will be able to do The Death Cure without writing a completely new plot.
What has me excited about this particular adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale (it was previously adapted for film; a decent production but nothing stellar) is that it’s for the small screen. A television show offers more space and time to deal with the story. A ten-episode season of one-hour episodes gives around 450 minutes versus the 120 minutes where movies tend to top out.
That’s not to say television is the answer to true-to-book adaptations. Examples like The Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars showed clear deviations from the book series early on. Part of the reasoning for changing things up is to give the story something new for fans of the books. Of course, sometimes it’s fans of the television show that influence production. True Blood (which was always presented as being based on the Southern Vampire Mysteries) notably kept a character alive, deviating from the books, due to popularity with the show’s fans.
Even with the tendency for television to explore different avenues of the story, I’m ready and waiting for The Handmaid’s Tale. Due to the ability to explore so many layers with more time, I think I’m just more ready to forgive deviations on the small screen.
But, as a friend of mine says, “At the end of the day, any adaptation is a crap shoot.” That may be true. But every once in a while the dice land in our favor…