Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters

Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters

by Mark Dunn

Paperback(1 Anchor Books Edition)

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Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal phrase containing all the letters of the alphabet, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island’s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl’s fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385722438
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/17/2002
Edition description: 1 Anchor Books Edition
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 39,757
Product dimensions: 5.16(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.61(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Mark Dunn is the author of seven novels and more than thirty full-length plays. Belles and Five Tellers Dancing in the Rain have together received over 150 productions throughout the world, and Dunn has been the recipient of several national playwriting awards. Currently the playwright-in-residence with the New Jersey Repertory Company and the Community Theatre League in Williamsport, PA, he lives in Santa Fe, NM.

Read an Excerpt


The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog


Sunday, July 23

Dear Cousin Tassie,

Thank you for the lovely postcards. I trust that you and Aunt Mittie had a pleasant trip, and that all your stateside friends and paternal relations are healthy and happy.

Much has happened during your one-month sojourn off-island. Perhaps your Village neighbors have apprised you. Or you may have glanced at one of the editions of The Island Tribune that have, no doubt, accumulated on your doorstep. However, I will make the safest assumption that you have yet to be offered the full account of certain crucial events of the last few days (tucked away as you and your mother are in your quiet and rustic little corner of our island paradise), and inform you of the most critical facts pertaining to such events. You'll find it all, if nothing else, quite interesting.

On Monday, July 17, a most intriguing thing took place: one of the tiles from the top of the cenotaph at town center came loose and fell to the ground, shattering into a good many pieces. A young girl here, one Alice Butterworth, discovered the fallen tile at the base of the statue, carefully gathered up the bits and shards, and quickly conveyed them to the offices of the High Island Council. Tiny Alice delivered these fragments into the hands of Most Senior Gordon Willingham who promptly called an emergency meeting of that lofty body to glean purpose and design from this sudden and unexpected detachation.

This aforementioned gleaning-this is important.

Many in town were in attendance at this critical meeting. Olive, whom the laundress corps elected to attend as our representative/observer, given the need for a nearly full contingent of workers at the launderette on this particular day, returned much later than expected to report the have-and-say of the lengthy session, specifically with regard to the aforementioned issue and question before the Council.

I must own that we were quite ataken by the Council's initial reaction to the incident, most of us regarding it as mere happenstance. The Council, on the other hand, sought with leapdash urgency to grasp sign and signal from the loss, and having offered themselves several possible explanations, retired with all dispatch to closed-door chambers for purpose of solemn debate and disposition.

In so doing Most Senior Council Member Willingham and his four fellow counciliteurs left themselves scant room for the possibility that the tile fell simply because, after one hundred years, whatever fixant had been holding it in place, could simply no longer perform its function. This explanation seemed quite the logical one to me, as well as to my fellow laundresses, with the single exception of one Lydia Threadgate who holds the Council in bloated esteem due to a past bestowal of Council-beneficence, and who would not be dissuaded by a healthy dose of our dull-brass-and-pauper's-punch brand of logic.

However, 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, so charged with distrust and suspicion have the esteemed island elders (and elderess) become following last year's unfortunate visit by that predatory armada of land speculators from the States, harboring designs for turning our lovely, island Shangri-la into a denatured resort destination for American cruise ships.

With the Council in high conference for the succeeding forty-eight hours, the washboard brigade made at least two pilgrimages to town center, there to gaze up at the much revered cenotaph and its salt-wind-eroded statuary likeness of our most venerated Mr. Nevin Nollop-the man for whom this island nation was lovingly named-the man without whom this shifting slab of sand and palmetto would hold paltry placement in the annals of world history. We take significant pride here in town as you and your fellow villagers, no doubt, do as well, there in your green canopied hills to the north of us-pride in the man and his legacy, such legacy immortalized in tiled bandiford on the crown of the pedestal upon which his sculpted semblance stands: T-H-E Q-U-I-C-K B-R-O-W-N F-O-X J-U-M-P-S O-V-E-R T-H-E L-A-Z-Y D-O-G. Of course, now, without the tile bearing the letter "Z," the phrase "lazy dog" has become "la*y dog."

How different the world would be today if not for the sentence which the lexically gifted Mr. Nollop issued forth! How we cherish his contribution to the English-speaking world of one short sentence that employs with minimal repetition each of the twenty-six letters of our alphabet!

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

For this, Mr. Nollop was deserving of nothing short of Nobel. He received, instead, as you must remember from Mrs. Calliope's island history class, little recognition beyond these familiar shores. Yet remember that here we made up for the lack of global acclaim by honoring him with this imposing statue. And later the acclaim did come-posthumously, alas-but eventually and ultimately through the gratitude of the multypewritudes.

Pop volunteered to repair the tile and return it to its rightful place. His offer was summarily rejected. Rejected, as well, was an offer put forth by members of the Masons Guild to restore the entire monument to its former polished sheen and fettle, such restoration to include the careful removal and refastening of each of the thirty-four remaining century-old tiles.

But along these lines the Council would entertain no offers or suggestions whatsoever. In the words of Councilmistress La Greer Houston, "There was, without doubt, purpose to the tumble: this event constituting, in my belief, a terrestrial manifestation of Mr. Nollop's wishes. Mr. Nevin Nollop speaks to us from beyond the grave, my fellow Nollopians. We will listen with open ears, discern his intent, and follow those wishes accordingly."

On Wednesday, July 19, the Council, having gleaned and discerned, released its official verdict: the fall of the tile bearing the letter "Z" constitutes the terrestrial manifestation of an empyrean Nollopian desire, that desire most surely being that the letter "Z" should be utterly excised-fully extirpated-absolutively heave-ho'ed from our communal vocabulary!

Henceforth, use of the arguably superfluous twenty-sixth letter will be outlawed from all island speech and graphy. It appears that this is how Mr. Nollop chooses to reward the islanders who drew him and his brilliance to their collective bosom: by issuing this directive, by sitting fully upright upon his bier, as it were, and ordering us to communicate using only the twenty-five letters that remain.

And we, as his grateful servants (serving the memory of his greatness) have been called by High Council to obey. Under penalties to be determined by the aforementioned Council.

On Friday, July 21, those penalties were decided. They are as follows: to speak or write any word containing the letter "Z," or to be found in possession of any written communication containing this letter, one will receive for a first offense, a public oral reprimand either by a member of the island Law Enforcement Brigade (known with trembling affection as the L.E.B.) or by member of its civilian-auxiliary. Second offenders will be offered choice between the corporal pain of body-flogging and the public humiliation of headstock upon the public square (or in your case, the village commons). For third offense, violators will be banished from the island. Refusal to leave upon order of Council will result in death.


My dear Cousin Tassie, I could not believe what I heard-still cannot-yet it is all frighteningly true. Would that itty Alice had taken the crumbles of that terrible tile under cover of darkness to one of our masons and had it reassembled and refastened, without anyone being the wiser!

And yet, truly, there are moments-brief moments-in which I entertain the thought that perhaps there may exist some thin thread of likelihood that the Council may have correctly read the event. That as ludicrous, as preposterous as it seems, the fallen tile may indeed be communication from our most honored and revered Mr. Nollop. Nevin Nollop may, in fact, be telling us exactly what the Council singularly believes (for I understand the five members to be clearly of one mind in their belief). That having absented himself from the lives of his fellow islanders for lo these one hundred and seven years, the Great Nollop now rouses himself briefly from his eternal snooze to examine our language and our employment of it, and in so doing rouses us from our own sleepy complacency by taking this only marginally important letter from us. There is that very real, although admittedly microscopic, possibility, my dear cousin. For, with the exception of the use of the letter in reference to itself and its employment in the word "lazy" affixed in permanence to its partner "dog," I have, in scanning the text of my epistle to you thus far, discovered only three merest of uses: in the words "gaze," "immortalized," and "snooze." Would you have lost my meaning should I have chosen to make the substitutions, "looked," "posteritified," and "sleep"? What, my dearest Tassie, have we then lost? Very little. And please note that a new word would have been gained (posteritified) in the process! Perhaps I may actually grow to embrace this challenge as others, no doubt, are preparing to do themselves.

The edict is to take effect at the moment of midnight cusp on August 7/8. In the days remaining we are permitted to zip, zap and zoop to our blessed hearts' content. Mum, Pop and I are planning a party that evening to bid farewell to this funny little letter. I wish so much that you and Aunt Mittie could be in attendance. We will welcome in a new era. What it holds for us, I do not know, but I shall give this thing the benefit of cautious initial fealty. I leave open the slim possibility that Nollop does indeed wish it so.

With love,

Cousin Ella


Monday, July 24

Dear Cousin Ella,

New era! Posh-and-pooh! This latest development hasn't inaugurated a new era. It's only shoved us far deeper into the dungeon of Island Medievalism. We shall be wearing burlap and flour sack tomorrow, and lucubrating by candlelight because even light bulbs seem doomed now to join the official list of technological non-essentials. And now this regulation! I am bezide myself!

Your letter, I must confess, left me initially speechless, for having just returned home, neither I nor Mother was aware that any such thing had taken place! Now, hours later, I gather my thoughts together, my nerves still raw and jangled, the pen still unsteady in my trembling hand. Such an act as that presently being perpetrated on the people of this good island by our esteemed High Island Council is beyond diabolical. "Cautious initial fealty"? Have you not even considered all the consequences of losing this "funny little letter"? My friend Rachalle, who inherited our small village library with the passing of Mrs. Redfern, reminds me that with the prohibition, the reading of all books containing the unfortunate letter will have to be outlawed as well. There are, I would surmise, few, if any, volumes upon those biblio-shelves that do not contain it.

The Council, in its ridiculous wisdom, will be assigning to dust bins and community pyres centuries of the finest examples of sapience and sagacity-volume upon volume of history, literature, and thought promulgated through the medium of this cherished language of kings and knaves, scholars and clowns, to be replaced, dear Cuz, by the anemic and uninquiring ramblings of this flock of humans-become-ground-pecking sarilla geese, looking skyward only for evidence of approaching rain, then to seek cover, pecking and honking along the way when not following blindly the anserherd's wooden staff, not without complaint, but certainly without measurable rebellious spirit. On second thought, my analogy seems hardly appropriate, for in the way made most significant by our circumstances, we aren't like the sarilla geese at all! For unlike our feathered neighbors who protest the tiniest importunities against their dignity, we will keep our beaks clamped tightly shut, not emitting even so much as a peep of dissatisfaction.

I am so fearful, Ella, as to where this all may lead. A silly little letter, to be sure, but I believe its theft represents something quite large and oh so frighteningly ominous. For it stands to rob us of the freedom to communicate without any manner of fetter or harness.

We are a well-educated, well-versed, and well-spoken people whom Mr. Nollop has taught to elevate language to a certain preeminence unmatched by our vocabu-lazy American neighbors across the sound. We are a nation of letter-writers, who, in the absence of reliable telephone service or the existence of electronic mail, have cultivated our hardship far beyond all expectation. Do you honestly believe that this same Mr. Nollop would allow his fellow islanders to see their language so diminished? Or permit diminution of the islanders themselves by extension? I cannot even conceive of it. The Council is wrong. Yet, observe that none of us will risk telling it so, for fear of the consequences. Installed for life, with complex legal procedures for official recall, copies of which will soon be disappearing from the shelves of our island libraries (if they haven't already!), this council has set us up for a most difficult period without any avenue for redress. I pray that you and I both have the strength and fortitude to weather this most devastating of island storms.

If not, God help us all.

With love,

Your cousin Tassie

PS. Neither I nor Mother will be able to attend your party on the 7th. Nollop "Im"-Pass is mired again from last week's heavy rains, and the Littoral Loop has yet to be reopened following the early summer inundata. (I would avoid the Littoral Loop, in any event, as it is, while scenic, the longest distance between two points known to man.) And please understand my unwillingness to trespass upon the Pony Expresspath; the sprinting Pony brother-couriers are Mercury-swift these days, and I would prefer that my obituary not read, "She was ingloriously run over by a fleet-footed fourteen-year-old." If I am to have any choice in the matter, I would choose a less pedestrian death, thank-you-very-much.

PPS. You will notice that with the exception of the use of the letter "Z" in the anserous term "vocabu-lazy," the affectionately familiar "Cuz," and the mischievously manufactured "bezide," the letter is employed nowhere else in this missive. My point stands on principle: to choose to use the letter if I so wish it, or to choose not to; such is my right-a right now to be eradicated by stroke of High Council pen. And with that, I cloze.

Reading Group Guide

“There’s the whiff of a classic about Ella Minnow Pea.” –The Christian Science Monitor

The introduction, discussion questions, author biography, and suggested reading list that follow are designed to enhance your group’s reading of Mark Dunn’s Ella Minnow Pea. We hope they will offer you fruitful ways of thinking and talking about the novel that Publishers Weekly called “a whimsical fable, in which Dunn brilliantly demonstrates his ability to delight and captivate.”

1. In what ways is Ella Minnow Pea unconventional? How is it more like a fable than a novel? What characteristics does it share with other fables? Does it offer a clear moral?

2. Why has Mark Dunn chosen to tell this story through letters rather than a more straightforward narrative? What does Dunn gain by eschewing a single narrative voice in favor of many characters writing to one another about the events that beset their island-nation? What ironies are involved in writing letters about the disappearance of the letters of the alphabet?

3. In response to the first proclamation proscribing the use of the letter “Z,” Tassie warns, “it stands to rob us of the freedom to communicate without any manner of fetter or harness” [p. 10]. In what sense can Ella Minnow Pea be read as a satire of censorship and the restriction of free speech?

4. All the inhabitants of Nollop are forced into linguistic contortions to avoid being prosecuted by the High Council, substituting words like “cephalus” for “head” and “sub-terra” for “underground” [p. 99]. What are some of the other more amusing verbal acrobatics they are forced to perform?

5. Nate Warren suggests that Nollop was a “charlatan” and a “con man” and that the pangram–“The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”–responsible for his divine status may have been stolen from someone else. What is Dunn suggesting here about the ways in which human societies venerate and mythologize sacred texts and heroic ancestors?

6. What strategies do the islanders use to protest, oppose, and finally overthrow the tyranny of the High Council? How do these strategies create suspense in the novel?

7. When council representatives come to confiscate Rory Cummel’s property, they tell him they are only doing the will of Nollop and that “There is no other Supreme Being but Nollop” [p. 121]. Seen in light of recent events, in the Middle East and elsewhere, can the novel be read as a commentary on religious authoritarianism? What does the novel suggest about the dangers of humans assuming they know God’s will with absolute certainty?

8. Ella Minnow Pea dwells heavily on the theme of communication–reading, writing, and talking. What is Dunn suggesting by having the members of the High Island Council read the falling letters as signs–supernatural communications from Nollop–which ultimately make communication nearly impossible? What does the novel as whole say about the nature and purpose of communication and community?

9. How important are the love relationships in the novel–for example those between Tassie and Nate and between Rory and Mittie–to the main action? How do they enhance the plot?

10. Tassie writes that she longs to “live across the channel. . . . With telephones that actually work, and television and computers and books–all the books one could ever hope to read” [p. 32]. What does the novel imply about the dangers of trying to create a utopian society? What examples of intolerant societies–religious or otherwise–exist in the world today? Is the message of this novel relevant to those situations?

11. What is the significance of Amos Minnow Pea writing, quite by accident, a sentence which surpasses Nollop’s illustrious pangram? In what way does this undermine the divine value that the high council attributes to Nollop’s sentence?

12. At the end of the novel, Ella suggests a memorial to those who suffered from the High Council’s tyranny: “a large box filled with sixty moonshine jugs–piled high, toppling over, corks popping, liquor flowing. Disorder to match the clutter and chaos of our marvelous language. Words upon words, piled high, toppling over, thoughts popping, correspondence and conversation overflowing” [p. 206]. Why is this an appropriate memorial? In what ways is language chaotic? In what ways is it ordered and restrictive? Why is Ella comparing liquor and conversation in this passage?

13. How does Dunn manage to make Ella Minnow Pea both a whimsical fable and a serious anti-authoritarian satire? What elements of the novel seem comical or lighthearted? What elements seem more pointed? How well does the author integrate them into the story?

Customer Reviews

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Ella Minnow Pea 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 194 reviews.
lovinstories More than 1 year ago
I thought this was a funny and intriging book that reminded me of the importance of language. It is a very quick read(I finished it in two days) and really easy to get into. The story is told through a series of letters between two cousins. One lives in the city, one in the outskirts. Increasingly, their communication becomes more difficult as more letters are banned. The governing body, with their intimidation tactics and lack of reason reminds me of our current congress.
CoffeeKnitRead More than 1 year ago
This is a great, fun, amusing, and educational book. Good on so many levels. It apparently has great graphics when read on paper, but even a Nook Color doesn't display them. So the book gets 4****, but the Nook version only gets 1*. If you enjoyed The Guernssey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, you'll enjoy this book, too. Some of the same structure (written in the form of letters). No actual Nazis here, but a similar mindset among people in power.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ella Minnow Pea is a fantastic novel about the struggle to try to live with out being able to use every letter of the alphabet. Mark Dunn is able to pull off a fantastic book that is written only in letters from one person to another.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I purchased this for my daughter as it came recommended from a friend of hers. She said by the end of the book, "her brain hurt" but it was a really good book! I am looking forward to reading it next!
literatissima More than 1 year ago
Ella Minnow Pea is an epistolary novel set on a quaint little island called Nollop, off the Carolina coast of the United States. The island is thusly named Nollop after Nevin Nollop, who was the creator of the sentence: "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." This is the shortest sentence known to include all letters of the alphabet. The other thing one needs to know is that the chief form of communication on the island is through letter-writing. Thanks to some over-zealous government officials and the decaying monument dedicated to Nollop, it becomes forbidden to use certain letters in the written or verbal form. This is a very quick, witty read and I certainly appreciate all of the lengths the author (and quite possibly editors) went to in order to align the writing with the events of the storyline.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A highly creative and very enjoyable read. Yes, the climax happens first and we learn how the villagers life change via letters written back and forth between the people. This story can be read and merely enjoyed but it can also be read at a deeper level about government decisions & how it affects people.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This little fable is a joy to read. Although I cannot help but feel that it was written from back to front. That is, the sublime sentence in the climax came first, and all else precedes from there. The use, misuse, and invention of language is a hoot as we are treated to a fable about political correctness and individual responsibility.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn is a book that when you read it you hate it, but in the end you love it. The reason is for the straightforward way it presents a look at the world around you. Though I do not live in Nollop, I can see similarities to conditions there to the world around me. The book is strong and shocking, and will change the way you look at the language you speak and the world around you.
shabacus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A charming book. I bought it for the gee-whiz factor of the concept, a novel in which each the number of available letters of the alphabet grows progressively less as it progresses. I enjoyed it for that, but also strong characterization of the two main protagonists (even through the filter of an epistolary novel, which can only report action secondhand) and the spot-on analysis of human nature in a growing totalitarian state.This book is not what I would consider easy reading; even when all letters are available for use, the use of language tends more toward a pseudo-Regency/Victorian pastiche. The epistolary style is not used much anymore, although anyone who enjoyed it here would love it in the excellent Sorcery and Cecelia series by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. Later on, the vocabulary becomes more obtuse, and even spelling surrenders to the necessities of prose.In all, it was a fun read, but with surprising depth. Recommended for those who see language as something to be played with.
mysterymax on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was a quick read, both because of its format - being letters back and forth between friends and family - and because it was fast in time. A lot happens to the island and its people in just four months, momentum and tension building constantly.There were two stories here. The first obvious one is the story of the islanders and what happens to them when their governing body begins to outlaw the use of letters that fall off the sign put up to honor their founder, author of the phrase the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog - a phrase all of us who took typing in high school learned by heart. It is light-hearted in its absurdity.The second story is that of what happens to a country when its citizens allow their government to pass laws that take away freedoms without protesting. It tells what happens to a country when the citizens stand back and watch and fail to speak out. It tells what happens to a country when its citizens are afraid. It tells what happens to a country when its citizens begin to report on each other. It tells what happens to a country when the government and factions within a country begin to believe that their decrees are divinely ordained, necessary for the protection of the people, and that no one must question. The publisher reminds us that this is a work of fiction and "any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental."It's a wonderful book.
wrena on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a very fun quick read. The social commentary is excellent as well. Tiles falling from a plaque are interpreted to be "Divine Guidance" that those letters should be eliminated from the alphabet. Usage of which could possibley result in banishment or death. Equally compelling is the desire to find which word will fall from the language next and the drive to find a new sentence of 32 letters that contains all 26 letters of the alphabet. The vocabulary that gets used in trying to find alternate ways of saying certain phrases is excellent. What do you call the days of the week if you are forbidden to use the letter "D"? Most enjoyable.
MusicMom41 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The setting of the story is a barrier island off the coast of Georgia where a community has established an independent nation called Nollop, flourishing since the middle of the 19th century. (I was almost tempted to check to see if this were an actual community because many of the barrier islands are home to unusual communities.) The nation is named for the person who is responsible for the typewriter¿s testing sentence and there is a statue honoring him in the city square of the main city with ¿The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog¿ encircling the plinth. One day one of the letters falls off and the ruling faction decides it is a sign from Nollop that the letter should no longer be used. From there it becomes a rollicking ride into zaniness, all told in letters which become progressively harder to decipher. If you like words, epistolary novels, slap-stick humor, crazy religions, and think politicians sometimes go to extremes you will love this quirky novel.
TheoClarke on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Clever, funny and charming letters using a diminishing alphabet yields a far more engaging novel that such a cerebral structure might suggest. The totalitarian and arbitary enforcement of the abandonment of randomly lost letters on a geographically and culturally isolated island raises interesting questions about freedom of speech and the very nature of communication in a fettered society.
melydia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Most of us are familiar with the sentence "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." I first saw it when dealing with computer fonts, since it contains every letter of the alphabet. This story takes place on a fictional island off the coast of South Carolina, named for Nollop, the creator of the above pangram. The denizens of the isle are obsessed with language and have a statue to their beloved founder with his famous sentence tiled below. One day, the Z falls off, which the island council decrees is a sign from Nollop that they must no longer use that letter. Progressively other letters begin to fall off, which similar results. Since this book is told in letters, the writing itself ceases to use the letters in question as they fall off the statue. The writing becomes increasingly hilarious and maddening as the residents struggle to remain coherent in the face of a rapidly shrinking alphabet. Usually I don't like stories written around word games, but this was a lot of fun. Definitely recommended to lovers of language.
tapestry100 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was just a plain fun little book to read! What would happen if the use of certain letters of the alphabet was systematically forbidden? What would you do?Ella Minnow Pea lives on the fictional island of Nollop, an independent country off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop is so named after Nevin Nollop, creator of the pangram 'The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.' When a letter falls from the monument to Nollop, the ruling council determines that this is Nollopian divine intervention and that the fallen letter must be stricken from use, both verbally and literally. As more and more letters fall, all Nollopians must learn to cope with the increasingly difficult task of making sure that they neither speak nor write words that include these letters.The book is told through correspondence between the people who live on Nollop, and Mark Dunn is genuinely quite clever in how he presents these letters as the Nollopians lose the rights to use one letter after another. I can honestly say that I had a fun time with trying to work out not only the new ways that the Nollopians found to speak, but also the solution to their problem. This wasn't a particularly challenging book to read, but it was a lot of fun and well worth the time. Give it a read sometime if you're looking for something amusing, clever and completely escapist.
cyderry on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a story of a fictional island where the inventor of the phrase "THE QUICK BROWN FOX JUMPED OVER THE LAZY DOG" which uses all 26 letters in the minimum number of letters. The inhabitants of this island off the coast of South Carolina, treat words and letter as something special until one day when the letter Z falls off of the monument starting this tale. The Island council decree that the author is telling them that they should no longer use this letter and out law its use. The punishments are ridicule for one offense, stocks, or flogging for the second offense and banishment or execution for the third offense. The people adjust until the next letter and the next letter begin to fall in the same manner with the same punishments decreed. A faction attempts to find a way to have the Council realize that their decisions are cruel to the language loving people. They convince the council that anyone could have determined that sentence but the council will only relent if someone can create another sentence with 3 fewer letters while using all 26.The continuing problems of their dwindling language due to the loss of letter after letter is at times heartbreaking and other times amusing. Finally, without even trying a sentence which fulfills the requirements is found 3 hours before the deadline.This book was one of the first that I have read recently that I just couldn't put down. Even though I knew what the result was I was driven on to the end to see how it was accomplished.
chelonianmobile on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ella Minnow Pea is a "progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable", which really just boils down to "utterly delightful to read." It is a very quick read as well; the book barely breaks two hundred pages, and since the story is told via letters, there are a lot of blank spaces. The whole thing only took me about an hour. What an hour!The story's eponymous character, Ella, lives off the coast of South Carolina on a tiny island nation named Nollop. The island was the birthplace of Nevin Nollop, inventor of the pangram sentence "The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog"; the island's inhabitants practically worship the man. The island contains a statue of Nollop, with the key sentence on it. One day the "z" tile falls off. The island's ruling council takes this as a sign from Nollop himself that the letter should be banned from use. No resident of the island over the age of seven will be allowed to use the letter "z" in any way. People are allowed two offenses, and then banished from the island for their third. The only alternative to banishment is execution. Still, Ella writes to her cousin Tassie, losing "z" isn't really too much of a problem. Who uses it that much anyway? Tassie is a bit more apprehensive.Then another tile falls, and the ruling council expands the decree to include that as well. And the tiles just. keep. falling. What starts off as a silly idea becomes an increasing threat to the entire island. The entire town library is destroyed. Whole families are banished. Ella and Tassie especially keep hoping that someone in charge will see that the whole venture is insane, but to no avail. Eventually, they join a group of like-minded people to try and convince the council to reverse the decrees. Ella Minnow Pea is told in letters between a group of people including Ella, her parents, her cousin and aunt, and their various friends and neighbors, interspersed with council decrees following the loss of more letters from the Nollop statue. The use of language is very clever, especially as more and more letters are erased from allowable use; everything has to be worded differently in order to use only permitted letters. The venture to overturn the Nollop ruling council's decrees is amazing to follow, especially since it is really a race against the clock. I thought the book as a whole was incredibly engaging, and a very good illustration of what can happen when something seemingly silly and ridiculous gets out of hand.
goose114 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ella Minnow Pea is about Nollop, the island community that is the home of the creator of the pangram ¿The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.¿ The community has erected a memorial to honor the creator. One day a letter falls off the memorial. The government of the isle is convinced that this is a sign and bans the use of that letter from any form of communication. Throughout the book letters continue to fall from the memorial and the government continues to ban those letters. As more and more letters are removed from the allowable alphabet, the government says that if someone can think of another pangram that is shorter than the original, the full alphabet will be restored. The story is told through letters written by members of this community who must refrain from using letters that have fallen off the memorial or face harsh punishment. The story illuminates in a playful manner a totalitarian government that is out of control. This was a wonderful book and easy to read with never a dull moment.
Josh_Hanagarne on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A great book for anyone interested in words. It's a fun, quick read that gets you thinking about how much of speech is taken for granted, and the effort it would take to completely change the way you communicate.
maughta on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This started really slowly but got progressively better (as progressively more letters dissapeared from the lexicon of the populace in this world). Very enjoyable. Mark Dunn continues to expand the bounds of what exactly a novel should be.
sharlene_w on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I rarely give a 5-star review, but this book was so clever and different. Hysterical use of language as letters cease to be available for use. Highly recommended for its wit and humor. It only takes an hour or two to read, but you will enjoy every minute of it.
the_awesome_opossum on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ella Minnow Pea is a cute and quirky story of a small utopian island off the coast of South Carolina which honors Nevin Nollop, creator of the sentence "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." This sentence is printed on a cenotaph in the center of town, and when the tiles each begin to fall off, the government decides that it's Nollop's will that they be phased out of the language.It's clear that Mark Dunn had a very good time writing this book, and it's fun to see how characters get around the increasingly difficult restrictions imposed upon them. The satirical elements, against bureaucracy and censorship, aren't very biting but are nevertheless present. All in all, a good and unique read.
jtho on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Looove this book. It's a cute story that is creatively told as one letter at a time disappears from the narrative. It's no problem to read as letters like q and z disappear, but you quickly recognize their value, and then are in for a creative and educational read as more consonants and vowels disappear.
curlycurrie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
this is book is so clever. I waited a while to read it after hearing a rave reveiw and I was not disappointed! The story is set on a small island off the coast of Amercia, which sounded so realistic that I actually checked the atlas to see if it existed! Nevin Nollop was the founde of the island and wass responsible for the phrase "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog". As each of the letters of this phrase fall from the memorial to this great man the island council declares that the letter should no longer be used by the islanders and issues penalties which include death. The book is made up of correspondence written between islanders and each time a letter falls that letter is no longer used. There are no mistakes (I checked) and the whole book leads you to look at the language and the use of words from a whole new perspective! This should be on all school curriculums - not only does it teach English but it looks at politics, society, history and the individual personalities of people; it also an excellent read whoch keeps you turning the pages to see how Mark Dunn has dealt with the next ommission.
chinquapin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was an incredibly clever, light and amusing read. On the fictional island of Nollop, off the coast of South Carolina, the residents revere the English language and Nevin Nollop who authored the famous palindrome, "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." When the "Z" from this famous sentence falls off a monument in the town center, the town council decides that this must be a message from the long-dead Nollop to cease using the letter Z. So they pass a law outlawing its usage and requiring strict penalties for non-compliance, accidental or otherwise. As the weeks pass, more and more letters fall from the monument, and the council adds more and more letters to the ban. The novel itself is written in the form of letters, and as time passes and the story progresses, the letters are written with a rapidly shrinking alphabet until at the end of the book, they are rather difficult to read. It was interesting to see the interesting vocabulary and creativity involved in writing these letters. This was also a witty satire, taking aim at the disastrous, albeit humorous, results of human folly and extremism. I found it to be highly entertaining on many levels and recommend it to those who love words and language.