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Ella Minnow Pea

by Mark Dunn


Ella Minnow Pea is an epistolary novel by Mark Dunn, copyrighted in 2001. The full title of the hardcover version is Ella Minnow Pea: a progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable, while the paperback version is Ella Minnow Pea : A Novel in Letters.

 

Plot summary

Ella Minnow Pea is set on the fictitious island of Nollop, an isle off the coast of South Carolina, and home to Nevin Nollop, the supposed creator of the well-known pangram "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." This sentence is preserved on a memorial to its creator on the island, and is taken very seriously by the government of the island. Throughout the book, tiles containing the letters fall from the inscription beneath the statue, and as each one does, the island's government bans the contained letter's use from written or spoken communication.

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A penalty system is enforced for using the forbidden characters, with public censure for a first offense, lashing or stocks (violator's choice) upon a second offense and banishment from the island nation upon the third. By the end of the novel, most of the island's inhabitants have either been banished, or have left of their own accord.

 

The plot is conveyed through mail or notes sent between various characters, though with the banned letters missing, creating passages that become more and more phonetically or creatively spelled, and requiring more effort of the reader to interpret.

The island's high council becomes more and more nonsensical as time progresses and the alphabet diminishes, promoting Nollop to divine status. Uncompromising in their enforcement of Nollop's 'divine will' they offer only one hope to the frustrated islanders: to disprove Nollop's omniscience by finding a pangram of 32 letters (in contrast to Nollop's 35).

With this goal in mind "Enterprise 32" is started, a project involving many of the novel's main characters. With but five characters left (LMNOP) the elusive phrase is eventually discovered by Ella in one of her father's earlier letters: "Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs." The council accepts this and restores the right to all 26 letters to the populace.

Plot summary

The plot is conveyed through mail or notes sent between various characters, though with the banned letters missing, creating passages that become more and more phonetically or creatively spelled, and requiring more effort of the reader to interpret.

Setting

The novel takes place on the imaginary island nation of Nollop. Nollop is 63 square miles (160 km2) in area and is 21 miles (34 km) southeast of Charleston, South Carolina. Originally called Utopianna, the island was renamed in honor of native Nevin Nollop, who created the pangram "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." There is a statue of Nevin Nollop and a cenotaph beneath with the pangram on it.

Major themes

Totalitarianism

One of the main themes of the story is totalitarianism, in that the government attempts to control every aspect of written communication among the citizens. Once the laws begin to be passed, the people of Nollop are scared to even attempt to rebel against the council for fear of the harsh penalties.

This theme is brought to the forefront in the first letter of the novel. Ella writes to Tassie saying that "in the end, our assessments and opinions counted for (and continue to count for) precious little, and we have kept our public speculation to a minimum for fear of government reprisal" .

Freedom of Speech

The novel also addresses the importance of freedom of speech. The restriction upon written language in the story is caused by the religious belief in Nollop and his omnipotence; a critique on ideologies held in certain religious beliefs.

Not only are the citizens of Nollop not allowed to certain letters, but they are not allowed to speak out about how unjust the new laws are. If they interpret this particular situation any other way besides that of the council, they will be punished. In the council's letter to the citizens, the council writes that no alternate interpretations can be made because they are considered heresy, and heresy will be punished.

Good Citizenship vs. Freedom

The citizens of Nollop are torn between being good citizens by following the unjust laws or rebelling against the government by fighting for their precious freedoms. They realize that if they speak out for their freedom of speech, they will be punished. Many decide that living on the island under this tyranny is not worth it, so they rebel in order to be banished. Others rebel to stir up the emotions of the other citizens. There are many that just follow the orders of the council, but, once affected by them, decide that a change must be made. The citizens have two distinct choices: submit to the rules and live a life of misery or stand up for what is rightfully theirs and live a life of freedom.

Awards and nominations

Ella Minnow Pea was selected as Borders' Book of the Year.

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Have your say

Comments

An original and lovely book, best I've read in a long time
I REALLY ENJOYED THE BOOK AS WELL AND I LOVE HOW YOU HAVE YOUR OWN LITTLE SHOW TELLING ABOUT BOOKS MAKES MY LIFE EASIER DONT GOT TO LOOK JUST LISTEN :)

I'm having to read this book for English, and so far it's the worst book I think I've read. I cant hardly understand it.

 


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