Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn is one of the most quirky and innovative books I have read in some time. Set in the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina, Ella, her family, and the people of Nollop are witness to a horrifying event: the outlawing of letters of the alphabet!
The island was named after Nevin Nollop, inventor of the phrase, “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” At the center of town is a statue of Nollop with an epitaph of this very phrase below it. When letters begin to fall off, the island’s Council takes this as a sign from the grave of Nollop, and decides to outlaw the alphabet one letter at a time. First they lose ‘Z,’ a relatively simple loss and one that does not seem to affect very many. The entire book is written in letters to and from Ella, her family, and the townspeople. At first, this is only a simple form of communication, but eventually becomes the only way people communicate, as saying an illegal letter out loud leads to public humiliation, flogging, and eventual deportation if the offenses continue.
Much of the humor of this book comes from each new chapter when additional letters are lost, and language of Nollop changes from a most eleoquent sounding verse to a stuttered and almost childlike structure. At times difficult to read because the language was so “out there,” Ella Minnow Pea is hilarious and I would it read again just to figure out how Dunn could write such a story.
If my blog were restricted by the laws of a Tumblr Council, I imagine it would read a little something like this:
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
I hear that Tumblr has decided to outlaw letters of the alphabet entirely! Supposedly some letters on their secretary’s keyboard have been falling off and they are taking this as a sign from some unnamed entity. As such, at precisely midnight tonight, ‘Y’ will no longer be among the other letters of the English language. Extracting the very essence of our language and forbidding its use is absolutely mad! No problems as of yet, but I can only imagine the complications that will arise should other letters fall off the keyboard. Outlawing letters, outrageous!
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X * Z
Oh, writing without use of a certain letter is quite difficult. I must think further ahead in my writing than normal. It’s rather strange to have only have use of 25 letters and not 26. A good friend just emailed me. Tumblr has outlawed three more letters! Can someone tell the woman with the board with all those letters (writing that sentence without use of a certain letter was almost impossible!), to stop jamming her fingers so hard? Tonight the letters ‘D,’ ‘K,’ and ‘V’ will disappear. What a shame… Oh dear, the Tumblr Council informed me that I just used an illegal letter. It slipped right under me! Just a warning for now. What will happen next time?
A B C * E F G H I J * L M N O P Q R S T U * W X * Z
I just learnt that the woman with the computer letters threw it on the floor in frustration. We lost almost all of them and most punctuation too, except these letters:
* B C * E * * * * * * L M N O * * R * T U * * * * *
Tumblr not nice…
Well that was a fun exercise, and I have even more respect for Mark Dunn. I haven’t had that much fun writing in awhile. Read Ella Minnow Pea and experience it for yourself. And if you haven’t figured out what the title sounds like, give the alphabet song a whirl.