Ghosts, ghouls and graveyards: Margaret Atwood on the magic of Neil Gaiman

What’s the point of life without death? The author of The Handmaid’s Tale salutes Gaiman’s shadow side

Once, during an on stage discussion of the type literary festivals go in for, I frightened Neil Gaiman by channelling the voice of the Wicked Witch of the West from the film The Wizard of Oz. “And your little dog, too!” I cackled. “No! No! Don’t do that!” cried Neil. He then explained that he had been petrified by this green-tinted witch as an eight-year-old. Behold: a literary influence had been discovered!

The best children’s writers are, somewhere deep in their psyches, still eight years old. They know what is scary. They remember what it was like to have your hand plunged into a Halloween bowl of peeled grapes in a darkened room, having been told they were eyeballs. They relish the delights of being terrified in song and story. They ...

Ursula K Le Guin, by Margaret Atwood: ‘One of the literary greats of the 20th century’

The author of The Handmaid’s Tale bids hail, farewell and thank you to the revered sci-fi and fantasy author, who has died aged 88

I am very sad that Ursula K Le Guin has died. Not only was she one of the literary greats of the 20th century – her books are many and widely read and beloved, her awards are many and deserved – but her sane, committed, annoyed, humorous, wise and always intelligent voice is much needed now.

Right before she died, I was reading her new book, No Time to Spare, a collection of trenchant, funny, lyrical essays about everything from cats to the nature of belief, to the overuse of the word “fuck”, to the fact that old age is indeed for sissies – and talking to her in my head. What if, I was saying – what if I write a piece about The ...

Margaret Atwood: Plastics are poisoning us. We need change, now

In a new series marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the novelist calls for a revolt against petrochemical polymers Ah, the Reformation. And then, inevitably, the Counter-Reformaton. We remember them, sort of, especially after reading Dissolution, CJ Sansom’s detective thriller about the shutting down of and, not incidentally, the looting of rich but decadent English monasteries under Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell. Or after watching the bloodflow and interfrying of both Catholics and Protestants in various TV series set during various Tudor regimes, most recently Wolf Hall. Printing the Bible in the vernacular could get you executed. So could attempting to blow up parliament in aid of a Catholic restoration, like Guy Fawkes, which has given us a legacy of those creepy masks sported by members of the online group Anonymous. Then there was Oliver Cromwell, who broke a lot of priceless stained-glass windows in the ...

Margaret Atwood: Plastics are poisoning us. We need change, now

In a new series marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the novelist calls for a revolt against petrochemical polymers Ah, the Reformation. And then, inevitably, the Counter-Reformaton. We remember them, sort of, especially after reading Dissolution, CJ Sansom’s detective thriller about the shutting down of and, not incidentally, the looting of rich but decadent English monasteries under Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell. Or after watching the bloodflow and interfrying of both Catholics and Protestants in various TV series set during various Tudor regimes, most recently Wolf Hall. Printing the Bible in the vernacular could get you executed. So could attempting to blow up parliament in aid of a Catholic restoration, like Guy Fawkes, which has given us a legacy of those creepy masks sported by members of the online group Anonymous. Then there was Oliver Cromwell, who broke a lot of priceless stained-glass windows in the ...

Just like the Wizard of Oz, Donald Trump has no magic powers

Voters who put on the glasses of illusion now want to go back to normal life, but there are no ruby slippers Gather round, esteemed Martians. I understand that you are very upset, and beyond that, bewildered. A number of you have been asking me how it is that the United States has just elected as its incoming president, an individual who appears to hate Martians and who has incited virulent, shoot-to-kill anti-Martian hatred among his more extreme followers. He has also instigated hatred against people of all colours except white, and that includes black, brown, red, yellow and purple. Continue reading...

Margaret Atwood: we are double-plus unfree

Our governments now treat us like cattle – governed by fear, we have surrendered too many of our hard-won freedoms. It’s time to recapture the territory we’ve ceded

A Robin Redbreast in a cage, Puts all Heaven in a Rage,” wrote William Blake. “Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall,” wrote John Milton, channelling God’s musings about mankind and free will in the third book of Paradise Lost. “Freedom, high-day, high-day, freedom … !” chants Caliban in The Tempest. Mind you, he is drunk at the time, and overly optimistic: the choice he is making is not freedom, but subjection to a tyrant.

We’re always talking about it, this “freedom”. But what do we mean by it? “There is more than one kind of freedom,” Aunt Lydia lectures the captive Handmaids in my 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. “Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of ...