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The Handmaid’s Ancestors: Margaret Atwood On 5 Stories She Loves And Why They Matter

Written by MasterClass

Dec 1, 2018 • 2 min read

If you haven’t already heard, Margaret Atwood is writing a sequel to her prescient classic, The Handmaid’s Tale. Responding to over three decades of conversations with readers and “the world we’ve been living in,” she aims to deliver an update from Gilead by September 2019. To hold us all over until then, we revisited Margaret’s MasterClass on Creative Writing to gather a list of books and movies that helped inform her piercing and peerless imagination.

Here’s what she has to say about them:

Written by MasterClass

Dec 1, 2018 • 2 min read

1. Animal Farm by George Orwell

"It was one of the first books I read. I thought it was gonna be like The Wind and the Willows or Peter Rabbit. You know, nice animals having fun. And it just wrecked me. I was ruined by that book."

2. 1984 by George Orwell

"I still have the original paperback. It has a very peculiar cover. A lot of cleavage. It was the age of a lot of cleavage on paperbacks. You could buy them in drug stores. I'm sure a lot of people read classic literature because [of] the lurid covers. My dad was a scientist and he had a bunch of them. And then all of a sudden, we were reading Faulkner, Hemingway, and of course, Orwell."

3. The Accursed Kings by Maurice Druon

"A good plot has to have something happening in it that’s of interest to the characters and, we hope, the reader. It could be any number of things. In [The Accursed Kings], an historical saga taking place in the reign of Philip the Fair, it’s evisceration and having your entrails burnt on a bed of coals. That kind of thing. A big inspiration for Game of Thrones, by the way."

4. Night of the Living Dead by George Romero


"The production values aren’t great, but who cares? The structure is perfect. It begins in a cemetery and [thanks to some] cosmic process, out of the Earth come dead people. That's the moment when zombies stopped being old-fashioned and started being the zombies we have today."

5. The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

"This is not for the squeamish, as it takes place in a prison, but it is very convincing— and compassionate."


While these works may vary widely in style and tone, they all offer harrowing pictures of worlds on the brink... and we can't wait to revisit everyone's favorite dystopia, Gilead, in The Testaments, which is set to be released in September 2019.

Margaret Atwood

Teaches Creative Writing: The art of powerful storytelling

Called the “Prophet of Dystopia,” Margaret Atwood is one of the most influential literary voices of our generation. In her first-ever online class, the author of The Handmaid’s Tale teaches how she crafts compelling stories—from historical to speculative fiction—that remain timeless and relevant. Explore Margaret’s creative process for developing ideas into novels with strong structures and nuanced characters.

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