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Ongoing ‘Tale’ adds another chapter


When word reached the newsroom recently that the Medford School District — following its established procedures — had decided to remove the graphic novel adaptation of “The Handmaid’s Tale” from the library at North Medford High School, the motley crew of English majors and/or book-lovers within our walls were struck en masse by the same thought:

“Wait … someone adapted “The Handmaid’s Tale” into a graphic novel?”

It was inconceivable that such knowledge had eluded our grasp … particularly since it had been available since 2019, when the TV series based on Margaret Atwood’s award-winning book already was in its fourth season over the Hulu streaming service.

The complaint that led to the removal had cited “images of nudity, sexual assault and suicide” — which would only come as a surprise to those completely unfamiliar with Atwood’s work, which has been a lightning rod for those who would limit access to books nearly since its publication in 1985.

Let’s face it, we muttered amongst ourselves, “The Handmaid’s Tale” — which remains available in its original form at the school library — was a “graphic” novel long before it was a “graphic novel.”

But here’s the thing … so what?

As reports of book bans and other societal issues that some segments of the population find objectionable spread across the Divided States of America, the only thing clear is that it’s our culture which is in danger of losing these cultural wars.

I shouldn’t have to tell you how I feel about such matters. I mean, anyone who’s read this column lo these many years doesn’t have to be Potter Stewart to know objectionable material when they’ve seen it.

Going down this particular road, though, only leads us back to where we started.

Some entrench themselves across all-too-familiar political battlefields, repeating talking point mantras faster than you can say “Eric Arthur Blair.” Others claim they know what’s best for young, developing minds — putting aside, at least selectively, that our minds should continue to develop long after we’ve graduated from school.

When it comes to this debate … We’ve been there. We’ve done that. We’ll be going there and doing it when microchip versions of “The Handmaid’s Tale” are available to be implanted directly into our cerebral cortices.

Which would make, to me at least, the objection raised locally seem almost quaint … if it wasn’t also sad.

Yes, three copies of a graphic novel (two in English, one in Spanish) were taken off the shelf of a school library — but students who want to open the gates to Gilead have an array of options at their disposal.

Besides Season 5 of the streaming series, the 1990 film version is readily available to download. In it, you can hear Robert Duvall, as the Commander, talk about how society has been cleansed of its ills.

“Country was in a mess … a total mess,” he says. “All the garbage had kind of risen to the top. You know, we had all these pressure groups running the store, trying to dictate to us.”

If that’s too on the nose, maybe an artistic interpretation of “The Handmaid’s Tale” would be more to your liking. The story has been adapted into both an opera and a ballet.

Too sophisticated? Various stage adaptations have been produced, as have radio versions presented in Canada and Britain, and a full-cast audiobook — along with podcasts and fan site pages.

Musically, the Montreal group Lakes of Canada — once amazingly referred to as “highbrow classically trained hippies with a woeful bent” (I’m jealous) — put out an album called “Transgressions” with songs inspired by Atwood’s novel.

Along with a title track are pieces called “Jezebel’s Cry,” “Eden” and “Speaker for the Damned.” Surprisingly missing is a cover of fellow Canadian Paul Anka’s 1974 hit, “(You’re) Having My Baby.”

There are “Handmaid’s” cosplay outfits, “Under His Eye” bed blankets, onesies for the kiddos, and various trinkets and baubles. Couples are even getting hitched in “Handmaid’s Tale” themed ceremonies.

And while you’re googling all of those, you still have a week to send Mom a “Handmaid’s Tale” card for Mother’s Day.

The book, and the debate, are difficult to avoid, or to quote Margaret Atwood, ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance … you have to work at it.

Mail Tribune columnist can be reached in the Doublethink Department at rgalvin@rosebudmedia.com.