The Vanciana Suffusing "The Hunger Games" (3/3)

The Vanciana Suffusing “The Hunger Games”

(Page 3 of 3)

Both Emphyrio and “The Hunger Games” series feature interventionary mental manipulation. In Ambroy this is the “rehabilitation” that is almost levied upon Ghyl Tarvoke: “He now can compare his perceptions to his memory; he can make qualitative identifications. He is not yet conscious. If he were to be rehabilitated, now would be the starting point, with each of his associations readily accessible” [V.20, p.5]. In characteristically succinct phrasing, Vance provides an anatomy of sorts for the brain-washing – termed “hijacking” – in “The Hunger Games” that Peeta undergoes in book 3: “Recall is made more difficult because memories can be changed. […] Brought to the forefront of your mind, altered, and saved again in the revised form” [HG.3, p.181]; “And apart from his memories of Katniss, we don’t yet know what else has been tampered with” [p.182]. The key to each is manipulating memory and associative identifications. In Emphyrio “rehabilitation” is tragically applied to Ghyl’s father: “Amiante was brought home a week and a half later. He had lost weight. He seemed dazed and listless. He came into the shop, and at once went to a bench and sat down as if his legs were too weak to support him” [V.20, p.128]. This dispirited, disoriented affect is how we encounter the unfortunate Peeta in book 3: “Peeta’s awake already, sitting on the side of the bed, looking bewildered as a trio of doctors reassure him, flash lights in his eyes, check his pulse” [HG.3, p.176].

In regard to local authority, we run into a couple outright parallels between Emphyrio and “The Hunger Games” series. First is the similar shift of overseer. Welfare Agent Helfred Cobol in Emphyrio is very akin to Districts 12 Head Peacekeeper Cray of “The Hunger Games” books 1 & 2: both are mindful of rules but largely lenient & tolerant, friendly & humane, even-tempered & unlikely to hassle, more inclined to shepherd toward compliance. Both are replaced by authorities possessed of personalities of extreme contrast. Newly assigned Welfare Agent Schute Cobol is officious, rigorous & inflexible, and tending to be invasive, inquisitorial & condemnatory, and his demeanor can quickly turn inimical. Newly appointed Head Peacekeeper Romulus Thread is all that but far worse – consistent with “The Hunger Games” series being harsher – for he is violent, sadistic, murderous and atrocious.

Another: the Mayor of District 12 is not far from Ambroy’s purely hollow functionary. [Amiante:] “A Mayor of Ambroy is elected every five years, but he has no function; he does nothing but draw his stipend. A tradition, but useless” [V.21, p.29]; “The Mayor can’t do anything,” grumbled Nion Bohart. “He’s just the custodian of city documents: a nonentity” [ibid. p.109]. In The Hunger Games film the District 12 Mayor appears fleetingly as one of the background non-speaking officials at the Reaping, where pink-haired Capitol escort Effie does all the talking. That is ‘fairly representative’ of his portrayal in the book series. In the text it is intimated that the Mayor is in essence a lackey of the Capitol – and certainly not any vociferous advocate for the enslaved District residents – without any real independent power, and enjoying only quite modest elevation above the residents, such as marginally better housing & food, and special communications. True executive power and discretion clearly resides with Head Peacekeeper Thread; Katniss is even highly apprehensive over “President Snow’s [being directly] in contact with Thread” [HG.2, p.160].

As a titillating footnote, the District 12 Mayor’s surname is Undersee [HG.1, p.17], (he is not important enough to be named in the film). To a Vance fan this toponymic name-form can seem a surprising distant echo from Emphyrio in regard to Lords Underline or Overtrend, directors of Ambroy’s public utility fiefs for sewerage and transit [V.21, p.21]. In fact, it is further teasingly coincidental that the tribute names for the male from District 2 and female from District 1, who pair together, are Cato and Glimmer [HG.1, p.182], when Emphyrio haunts us with Cato – a precinct of Ambroy! – and Glysson, a star familiar to Amiante [V.21, p.31]. Doubtlessly coincidental, but evocative nonetheless.

Speaking of transit, we run again into another tantalizing analogue, for we view the high-speed magnetically levitated train in The Hunger Games film as another of the marvels of that era, and this is analogous to how Emphyrio’s Overtrend is presented. The effect conveyed on the ‘big screen’ is like bringing to life this image of Vance’s from Emphyrio: “The Overtrend cars slid on magnetic cushions without jar or sound” [V.21, p.139]. (While that can indeed be a SciFi trope, my focus is about the confluence of so many relatable images within just this single movie.) Book 1 amplifies:

The speed initially takes my breath away. Of course, I’ve never been on a train, as travel between the districts is forbidden except for officially sanctioned duties. For us, that’s mainly transporting coal. It’s one of the high-speed Capitol models that average 250 miles per hour.” [HG.1, p.41]

Last of this catalog of Vance evocations, though certainly not least, is the topic of biological manipulation we find in both works. This is vital to Emphyrio, revolving around certain ‘puppet’ creations of the alien Damarans, one iteration of which is:

Through the facility of their procreative systems, the Damarans were able to duplicate whatever genetic material might be presented to their glands. They decided to produce an army of irresistible warriors, ruthless and ferocious, who would tear the star-wanderers into shreds. [V.21, p.245] [These monstrous creatures] seemed like fiends from hell. [p.246]

We have encountered the mockingjay above, likewise incepted for the sake of war, and in the film (and book 1, e.g., p.190) we meet the envenomed hallucination-inducing wasps – the “tracker jackers” – as well as the “muttation” wolves (bulldog-lions?) at the Game’s climax [HG.1, p.331]. We meet other vicious genetic weapons in books 2, but especially by the third & final book. In fact, the vigor and variegation of book 3’s “muttations” outstrip anything in Emphyrio, and we find better correlation with Vance’s definitive ecological warfare story, The World Between (also published as Ecological Onslaught), where “a witches-cauldron of […] a dozen phyla without formal classification” [V.6, p.220 ] is disgorged, avenging an earlier biological assault that included “a ferocious blue wasp” [ibid.]. Correspondingly, Katniss is justifiably leery, having beheld past Hunger Games, in anticipating “the monstrosities I’ve witnessed on television over the years, and I wonder what form these mutts will take” [HG.3, p.306], but her immanent encounter is still frightfully like seeing “fiends from hell”:

They are white, four-limbed, about the size of a full-grown human, but that’s where the comparisons stop. Naked, with long reptilian tails, arched backs, and heads that jut forward. They swarm over the Peacekeepers, living and dead, clamp on to their necks with their mouths and rip off the helmeted heads. Apparently, having a Capitol pedigree is as useless here as [elsewhere]. It seems to take only seconds before the Peacekeepers are decapitated. The mutts fall to their bellies and skitter toward us on all fours. [HG.3, p.309]

Emphyrio, to recapitulate, musters the greatest number of reverberations to The Hunger Games enterprise – both the film and the book series. Resonances range the gamut: dystopian visage; aligned themes; shared motifs; age of protagonists; symbolism consistency and like implementations; stark contrasts of hapless, penurious oppression to munificent extravagance; apartheid and societal preclusion; sundry aspects of authority; intrusionary mental manipulation; shocking biologic ‘machinations’; and even a couple poignant images of transit (both flight & rail); not to mention multifarious unlikely serendipities. This evinces Emphyrio to be a voluble fount of similitudes – an effusion of evocations – as if it were the very inchoation of The Hunger Games.

While that single book presents a concentration of Vanciana, the case for suffusion stands bolstered by all the other concordances extending across the Vance universe. In abridged summary, to playfully recast The Hunger Games in Vancian terms, these include: futuristic fads from the Oikumene galactic region, paraded by a unicultural urbanity from planet Wyst, exhibiting a shameless Schadenfreude from planet Trullion, who are pacified via vicarious experience as from the city Hant, to become intoxicated by a “Game” of Darsh hadual inside a Dirdir Glass Box, involving a protagonist alloyed of renowned Vance characters, and withal in a despotic scheme of oppression as hegemonical as planet Durdane, no less than Emphyrio. To a devout Vance fan as me, it is simply no wonder I became captivated and enthralled with The Hunger Games.


Turning finally to the book, I was dismayed! The film irresistibly allured me for its suffusion of Vanciana. Yet the written word of the book is, to me, as unrelated to Vance – renowned writer’s writer – as any text can be. Whether tone, style, mode, mood, perspective, prose, structure, dialogue, vocabulary, sensibility, creativity, I guess any facet one can dreg up, I find unreserved dissimilarity to Vance’s writing. (Or, as exclaimed by a Vance character: “In no mode, manner, way, shape, intimation, hint or form!” [V.39, p.313].) Coming to the book after viewing the film five times, the book seemed ersatz compared with the film – an inferior imitation. The movie script comes fully alive on the screen almost in a way a written summary cannot capture, just as is the experience of reading Jack Vance. From that vantage it felt inordinately to me as if the book had actually been ‘back-written’ – a novelization of a film, as the books created by Alan Dean Foster from the preceding first three Alien films – from a sterling antecedent screenplay. But obviously that is the opposite of the reality!

The book-series viewpoint is relentlessly first-person, as evidenced by quotes furnished above, from which author Collins never veers. The movie instead partakes a measure of freedom to be independent of Katniss, no instance of which is in the book. Examples: the very opening scene with Seneca Crane & Caesar Flickerman, scenes mentioned of the Games Controllers, revelatory scenes of Crane with President Snow, crucial scenes of Haymitch exerting himself to support Katniss, and truly best of all, that final scene of Seneca Crane being locked into the room with the poison berries – a most brilliant apodosis saturated with poetic justice. Faithful to the book as the movie is, sadly[!] that avenging denouement is absent from the text.

Also, in resoundingly un-Vancian fashion, the book is teeming with the interior thoughts of Katniss: reminiscing, ruminating, wrangling, fuming, fretting, agonizing. Frequently upon her encountering something there is the interposition of her recalling past experiences – an interruption for her backstory – that can last from a long paragraph to several pages, thence to establish context for that encounter. It is a belabored technique, but which is not uncommon and serves its purpose, yet makes for an extremely internalized approach to the whole story. That is something the movie definitely is not, even with its focus so often upon Katniss. Nor is Vance’s writing to any such unremitting degree, even including his ostensible psychological novels, Strange Notions […], and The Flesh Mask.

How therefore is this contradiction possible – that so un-Vancian a book produces so Vancesque a film? Permit me to take a stab at a few conjectures. First, being that films are almost unavoidably mediums best suited to third-person, the distance afforded from the cumulatively stifling internalizations of first-person succor the film watcher immeasurably: just that alone is practically transformative. Second, the time compression perforce in cinema helps distil the storyline to amplify that quality of flow – fluidity and pacing that recalls Vance but is lacking in Collins’ books (perhaps worse by book 3). Third, the well-envisioned and well-crafted visuals that we savor on the screen – the hyper-exotic make-up and wild hair, those outlandish costumes, such either lavish or genuinely stark set designs, the brutally grandiose architecture, the flashy computer-graphics – really help induce the quality of transport. By sticking stringently to first person, Collins thereby limits her scope and we are not afforded the rich graphic images that this film so amply manifests. Missing in Collins is that vibrant exposition found in Vance that is perhaps naturally better facilitated by a third-person viewpoint:

[At a bazaar:] There were Niss in black robes, seven feet tall, striding like rapacious birds; Xars; Serafs; Dubgo nomads squatting over their fires; Human Things expressionless behind pottery face-plates; Zhurvegs in coffee-brown kaftans; the black and white Lokhars of Smargfash themselves. There was odd staccato noise; the clank of iron, squeak of leather, harsh voices, shrill calls, the whine, rasp and jangle of Dugbo music. There were odors: fern-spice, gland-oil, sub-musk, dust rising and settling, the reek of pickled nuts, smoke from grilled meats, the perfume of the Serafs. There were colors: black, dull brown, orange, old scarlet, dark blue, dark gold. [The Dirdir, V.21, p.386]

Exotic sights, sounds, and smells are all offered to create an experiential filigree setting, beset with Vance’s jeweled names. This richness of artistry is patently standard for Vance novels, to the world’s great fortune. Collins’ futuristic tableau may not be quite so alien as that, but it need not be – for as Vance masterfully demonstrates, the writing may still tender vivacious enchantment:

The voyage proceeded, southwest toward the Saschan Islands. Days passed without event more noteworthy than the turn of the heavens. Each morning Carina 4269 broke through the horizon into a dull bronze and old rose dawn. By noon a high haze had formed, to filter the sunlight and lay a sheen like antique silk on the water. The afternoons were long; sunsets were sad glories: allegorical wars between dark heroes and the lords of light. [The Pnume, V.21, p.715]

This is the receptivity to splendor within the everyday that rewards readers of Vance, even in the face of a terrifying adventure within a perilous, dystopian setting.

In book 3 we spend a great deal of time below ground in a vast tunnel complex, and this calls to mind the tunnel labyrinths of The Pnume (from which I’ve been presently quoting). Yet in that third book we are rarely released for ‘a breather’, gratuitous as it might seem to the immediate plot, of the kind that Vance avails his readers, but which could be reinforcing to the story in its wider perspective. For example, the past environmental calamities Collins alludes to – aside from past “brutal war” – which include “the droughts, the storms, the fires” [HG.1, p.18] could make a short passage as below both feasible and believable (sans the two moons) in some reflection of that ecological turmoil:

The moons set; the eastern sky took on the color of dried blood. Dawn came as a skyburst of dark scarlet, orange-brown, sepia. [ibid. p.725]

That kind of sensibility does not, to me, thrive within “The Hunger Games” books. But it is, at least, far more amendable to the cinematic format. (Other than that, I would consign that a Vancesque film blossoms from a readable but middling un-Vancian book as, hmm, ontological ‘emergence’ – as wherein lowly base cells are able to superinduce a cognitive being.)

Nothing in this paper is to forecast that the second or third “Hunger Games” films will be Vancesque. Consonant with what I said earlier about “The Hunger Games” series being characteristically harsher, the second book is more cynical in tone than the first, and I can see where a film faithful to it could easily seem less Vancesque, if it achieves any of that elusive quality at all. As an example, the second Hunger Game in the second book initially involves aspects of a water-world, but there are no evocations to Vance’s ocean-planet in The Blue World, and that indeed would be the normal expectation of independent works! The tone of the third book is cynically darker still, so I’d hazard a negative prediction in proportion. (So perhaps the first film of “The Hunger Games” series is an anomaly!) The principal reason I think entails the concept of verism: a theory that art and literature should adhere closely to reality, even in representing the ugly and distasteful aspects of life. Vance writes with verism, tempered by irony, and always stays true to his characters: he is a veritist and an ironist, not a cynic. It is easy to be a cynic, and color the world grey; artful irony tends to be poignant and have spring; it’s the bearer of import, and so is of far more sonant timbre.

Further, in my opinion the ending of the book series is anti-climactical (vastly disparate to Emphyrio), whereas I saw ample potential for something more triumphal (and still realistic), leaving me a tad despondent. The one & only Vance book that leaves me affected in any similar way is Bad Ronald, (one of the rare Vance books put to film, in this case an obscure 1974 TV ‘teleplay’). Granted, I have encountered sporadic criticism of Vance about some of his endings, but I don’t genuflect to any of that line of criticism, nor to “these carkers and pessimists” [V.37, p.80]; my assessment is that sour grapes owe simply to the cessation of Jack’s superlative flow and transport!


I will select one area of the texts I found off-putting: Suzanne Collins’ tin-ear when it comes to inventing words. She simply cannot compare with our acknowledged grand-master of neologisms, Jack Vance. I will concede “mockingjay” seems good, “tracker jacker” is rather neat with its rhythm, and I particularly do appreciate “Avox”, which like so many of Vance’s superb coinages hints in an interesting way (‘-vox’) at its own meaning, namely a-vocal. (Plus, “vox” is an old signal engineering abbreviation for ‘voice’, as in a label for the voice-channel on an instrument panel. Vance also touched on ‘vox’ with synthevox, some kind of synthetic voicebox [Miro Hetzel, V.32, p.191].)

{ Page references I cite below are from The Jack Vance Lexicon, Borgo Press, 1995, by Dan Temianka. }

We have met “muttation”, an ugly sounding, stroppy mishmash of “mutation” and “mutt”, the latter of which is frequently used in her text, and is employed as a blanket appellation. Vance is more creative; he deigns to trouble naming his “mutts” and creatures. Hence, the gergoid = “A hybrid creature, ‘half-rat, half-scorpion’ [p.61]”. Just a small sampling of creatures he bothers to name to furnish greater color to his stories: bifaulgulate, byzantaur, dekabrach, delp, dnazd, hexamorph, mandoril, the halfling class of merrihews, willawen & hyslop, the dinosaurian scorposaur or thrombodaxus (or possibly the brontotaubus), the moronic giant oast, and the fantabulous syaspic feroce.

And not least is the picturesquely odd “creak of gyjits in the mold” [Maske: Thaery, V.33, p.175].

Nor the wryly warned: “Take heed; do not swim in the sea without a green bathing cap; otherwise you might be devoured by a monitor trapenoid. Even the green cap may not protect you.” [Ports of Call, V.43, p.269]

Collins offers the aforementioned mockingjay, tracker jacker, and Avox. I believe that’s it. All other of her bizarre creations are just plain “mutts”. Insipid, flat, dull. I’m given malepsy (violent malaise [p.82]).

We also meet “morphling”, used both for the drug and the person so addicted, obviously deriving from morphine. Suffix ‘-ling’ seems askew in its primary sense of diminutive (‘duckling’, ‘gosling’, or Vance’s ‘impling’, ‘itling’, ‘twitterling’), for these addicts are of course not halflings, but it does stand in its secondary connotation of extent or condition (as in ‘darkling’, or Vance’s ‘Skaling’), but thereby it does not best signify the name for a highly potent drug! (Besides, an ‘earthling’ is not from ‘Earthling’ but ‘Earth’. Compare Vance: “spag: state of rut; hence spageen: individual in such a condition” [Trullion, V.29, p.46].) The drug sense of the word could be at best on par with Vance’s similar but improved narcogen, raptogen or solvicine [respectively: a soporific drug, a tranquilizer, a detergent], yet incomparably richer are: mephalim [p.84] (whose ichor is proffered with cacodyl & cadaverine [!]), the psycho-neurological nyene, the efficaciously lethal cluthe, the deadly poison tox meratis, the biochemical petradine, or the poisonous plant mepothanax.

In book 3 we are introduced to an acutely uncreative term for brain-washing, “hijack”: “It’s a type of fear conditioning. The term hijack comes from an old English word that means ‘to capture’ or even better, ‘seize’. We believe it was chosen because the technique involves the use of tracker jacker venom, and the jack suggested hijack.” [HG.3, p.180] It is all too pat and convenient. Vance terminologies for processes and states are immensely more ingenious: denopalization, desqualmate, inoptative, intression, marmelize, submulgery, subuculation, suprapullulation. Even subaqueate, meaning “to execute by drowning [p.117]”, is parsecs more innovative.

We also are handed “propo”; “propos” are short propaganda films. This seems a cut-rate coinage via meager truncation. Vance, however, has done that, though both uncharacteristically and quite early in his career. Somehow (no doubt my bias) his choices seem less clunky: ‘insul’ for an insulating material, ‘commu’ for communicator device, and doubled ‘ulrad’ for an ultra-high frequency radio. Rather than relying on truncation, Vance neologisms often creatively combine roots (among other imaginative schemes, or the sui generis originality of genius), helping to render meaning as we have with “mockingjay” and “Avox”:

cleax = “a tough, transparent material used to make window panes” “from clear & ? Plexiglas” p.43; vitripane = “a tough, transparent material used as window glass” “from Latin vitrum, glass, & pane” p.130; translux = “a transparent material used for windows” “from Latin trans, across, and lux, light” p.124; or quite cleverly, jectrolet = “a type of boat engine” “by reversal of electrojet” p.74. Other creative compounds, traipsing along the Vancian alphabet: audiarium, belphorn, cephaloscope, Entercationer, fabricoid, glossolary, impenetrex, metallite, nympharium, palliatory, Overvallation, ramcopter, sky-flitter, televection, teletactility, whirlaway.

(Vance’s nympharium should not to be confused with real word Nymphaeum, a pagan shrine dedicated to local water sprites.)

Last, Collin’s name for her dystopian country is “Panem”. The name struck me as run-of-the-mill, where I was neither much impressed nor adverse to it. One might suppose the root ‘Pan-’ was to connote ‘all’ as in ‘Pan-Africa’ or ‘Pan-Arabian’, (or in Vance: ‘Pan-Uldra’, ‘Pan-Djan’). The ‘em’ – if it was meant to denote anything – perhaps would be some acronym ‘E. M.’ yet to be explained. But all this is incorrect! Collins’ explanation reveals why she chose it with deliberation, which I opine to be a rather first-rate reason:

“Oh, the city might be able to scrape along for a while”, says Plutarch. “[…] whereas in the Capitol, all they’ve known is Panem et Circenses.”

“What’s that?” I recognize Panem, of course, but the rest is nonsense.

“It’s a saying from thousands of years ago, written in a language called Latin about a place called Rome”, he explains. “Panem et Circenses translates into ‘Bread and Circuses’. The writer was saying that in return for full bellies and entertainment, his people had given up their political responsibilities and therefore their power.”

I think about the Capitol. The excess of food. And the ultimate entertainment. The Hunger Games. “So that’s what the districts are for. To provide the bread and circuses.”

“Yes. And as long as that kept rolling in, the Capitol could control its little empire. […]” [HG.3, p.223-4]

That altered my view about ‘Panem’, for it now worthily attaches to a thematic rationale. The issue I have is that this disclosure comes so late in the book series: near the end of the last book. I will grant it need not have been placed in the first book, but by the first half of the second book it is all too clear what is going on: the tributes – forced to go on traditional Victor Tours to all Districts – are part of a flim-flam show staged for disgruntled populations by an obdurate Capitol, and so this denouement behind ‘Panem’ is obvious and already manifest by the storyline; in other words it is all but spoken. Everything attached to the Games is a charade to placate people. The revelation about the name for this country, then, is too good by that point to hold secret. Looked at from the other side, it serves nothing to keep it unrevealed in the second book nor hoard it for two-thirds of the final book, which itself begins with full-fledged rebellion and growing warfare, where there is simply no pacifying ‘bread’ any longer in the offing! So its revelation appears mistimed, for which a case could be made diminishes its effectiveness: rather, it might have been best in the middle of the second book somewhere coincident with Katniss being forced into her second Hunger Game, wherein that knowledge about ‘Panem’ would truly sharpen the tragedy & futility of that new dreadful circumstance.

« | 1 | 2 | 3

Download Agreement | Terms and Conditions | Privacy Policy | About | Contact | FAQ