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Ella Minnow Pea: A Progressively Lipogrammatic Epistolary Fable Hardcover – October 1, 2001

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 205 pages
  • Publisher: MacAdam/Cage Publishing (October 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0967370167
  • ISBN-13: 978-0967370163
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #65,497 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

laywright Dunn tries his hand at fiction in this "progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable," and the result is a novel bursting with creativity, neological mischief and clever manipulation of the English language. The story takes place in the present day on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina, where over a century earlier, the great Nevin Nollop invented a 35-letter panagram (a phrase, sentence or verse containing every letter in the alphabet). As the creator of "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog," Nollop was deified for his achievement. The island's inhabitants live an anachronistic existence, with letter-writing remaining the principal form of communication. Life seems almost utopian in its simplicity until letters of the alphabet start falling from the inscription on the statue erected in Nollop's honor, and the island's governing council decrees that as each letter falls, it must be extirpated from both spoken and written language. Forced to choose from a gradually shrinking pool of words, the novel's protagonists a family of islanders seek ways to communicate without employing the forbidden letters. A band of intrepid islanders forms an underground resistance movement; their goal is to create a shorter panagram than Nollop's original, thereby rescinding the council's draconian diktat. The entire novel consists of their letters to each other, and the messages grow progressively quirkier and more inventive as alternative spellings ("yesters" for "yesterday") and word clusters ("yellow sphere" for "sun") come to dominate the language. Dunn obviously relishes the challenge of telling a story with a contracting alphabet. Though frequently choppy and bizarre, the content of the letters can easily be deciphered, a neat trick that elicits smiles. Wordsmiths of every stripe will appreciate this whimsical fable, in which Dunn brilliantly demonstrates his ability to delight and captivate.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-With shades of Kurt Vonnegut, George Orwell, and William PŠne du Bois, Ella Minnow Pea is delightfully clever from start to finish. It's set on Nollop, a fictional island off the coast of South Carolina named for its long-dead founder, Nevin Nollop, the "genius" who came up with "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog." A huge cenotaph of Nollop's sentence stands over the town square-and one day, the "z" falls to the ground. Nollop's elected-for-life Council interprets this as a missive from beyond the grave, "that the letter `Z' should be utterly excised-fully extirpated-absolutely heave-ho'ed from our communal vocabulary!" Other letters soon follow, and the novel becomes progressively lipogrammatic (a "lipogram" being writing in which one or more letters are forbidden), told exclusively in the form of letters from one citizen to another as they struggle to adapt (a third offense means banishment). Not even the discovery that the glue holding the letters up is calcifying sways the zealots on the Council (perhaps Nollop intended its deterioration). It's decided that only the construction of another sentence that uses every alphabet letter in only 32 graphemes could discredit Nollop's "divine" word. Dunn plays his setup to the hilt, and the result is perfect for teens fond of wicked wit, wordplay, and stories that use the absurd to get at the serious.
Emily Lloyd, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

It's a fun book that anyone will enjoy.
Camille Randow
Through Mark Dunn's expert mastery of the English language, he not only has created an entertaining novel, but one which is very humorous, spellbinding, and quirky.
Don Corbett
I had read a library copy but by the time I had finished, I decided that I had to have my own copy so that I could reread and reread it.
A Scott

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Dianna Setterfield on November 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover
How about something refreshingly original, amazingly creative, wholeheartedly unique? Or maybe something containing whimsically plausible characters encasing hearty penchants for the written word and appetites for poetically stimulating language usage? Look no further! Read Ella Minnow Pea for a divine, utterly addictive, and monumentally appealing perusing experience.
In the fictional island of Nollop, home to the late, great Nevin Nollop, inventor of the sentence, "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog," a pangram that contains all 26 letters of the alphabet, there's an uprising going on! Seems the monument depicting said sentence (in an effort to memorialize the citizens' esteemed island founder) is falling apart, letter by letter. High Council members determine this as a word from the great beyond, a way of communicating to us Nollop's wishes to eradicate that certain letter from use -- verbally or written. As an island full of people who use letter-writing and communication as an art form, these wishes could only spell 'demise.' If only there was a way to prove the tiles' falling as an act of faulty cement glue....
Ella Minnow Pea is an extraordinary book of letters from one citizen to the next that increase in hilarity and difficulty as each letter of the alphabet is increasingly banned from use. Mark Dunn is an extremely talented writer in my eyes, especially given this amazing task to expand his vocabulary beyond normal conversation. Have your Thesauruses handy -- Ella Minnow Pea will take you on quite an intellectual journey.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Simon Cross on March 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I am only half way through this book, which I must say reads very quickly, but I decided to have another look at the reviews of this book. After all, it was because of those reviews that I bought this book.
It concerns me, that those few readers who look beyond the humourous aspect of this book, still don't spend much time commenting upon the subtext - the loss of freedom. Not only are certain letters banned from use, but the high-minded governing Council, impose very strict punishments for anyone found using any of the banned letters, and a very strict adherence to those punishments, even to the extent of exiling nationals.
This novel shows how all too easy it is for innocent members of any group to be caught up in the fanaticism of a governing body, when that body believes that it is doing right. Look at any difficult political situation in the world today, and somewhere there is an element of fanaticism.
Whilst I am sure that Mark Dunn is very happy that people are enjoying the comic side to his novel, I guess he did not intend it to overshadow the deeper message.
This is a very enjoyable, very clever novel, but when you read it, don't forget that any of us could find ourselves in a similar situation very easily.
(Also, to the reviewer who suggested keeping a dictionary to hand, working out what is being said is probably supposed to be part of the enjoyment. You do not need a dictionary.)
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By emt0402 on November 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Speak or write the letter "z", first offense-public reprimand, second offense-public flogging or the stockades, third offense-deportment from the island of Nollop. If you refuse to go, death is the punishment.
"Ella Minnow Pea" is quite possibly the most original book I have ever read. Mark Dunn's first novel is highly creative, insiteful, with a touch of political undercurrents. Written in the form of letter correspondences, it is a quick and entertaining read. As letters become outlawed, they do in fact drop from the book, not making it harder to read (as was my worry) but only adding to its charm. "Ella Minnow Pea" will even give you a new appreciation for that wonderful thing we call the alphabet, as well as put a smile on your face. So, find out the fate of the alphabet and the citizens of Nollop and read this book!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By PKR on December 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The poor reviews of this book reflect a sad tendency: the expectation that novels should tell us exactly what they are about so that we don't have to go to the trouble of figuring it out for ourselves - or, god forbid, that a book should have layered meanings, or leave things open to interpretation.

This book, however, is a finely written treatise in novel form (pun intended) about totalitarianism, repression, the effects of repression on society and what happens when complacent and fearful society doesn't fight back early and hard. A great gift for friends and family who like to think.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Gail Cooke HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 18, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Creative? Imaginative? Entertaining? A tad absurd? You bet to all of the preceding. Playwright Mark Dunn has crafted his first novel, subtitled, "A Progressively Lipogrammatic Epistolary Fable."
It is a fable and a fantastic one that takes place today on the fictional island of Nollop, which is a stone's throw from North Carolina. The island is named in honor of the great Nevin Nollop who some 100 years ago penned "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog," the revered phrase containing every letter in the alphabet. The more erudite among us know that a verse, phrase or sentence containing all the letters of the alphabet is a "panagram."
Nonetheless, the estimable Mr. Nollop is more than erudite to Nollopians; he is a hero and a statue in his honor sits in the town square. But, one day mysterious doings occur - letters of the alphabet begin to fall from the statue's inscription. First to drop is the Z. Then, oops, a Q followed by a J. And so it goes.
Respected for their sagacity, the Nollop Town Council immediately rules that the dropped letters are banned in both oral discourse and written communication. Forbidden, mind you, on pain of flogging or expulsion from the island. What to do?
It falls to Ella of the Minnow Pea family to discover a panagram using fewer letters in order to return the language they so love to all of Nollop.
The story is told in a series of letters, all of which are written adroitly and show just how ingenious one can be when it comes to communicating with fewer letters of the alphabet.
Wordsmiths will delight in this highly original tale, and all will smile wondering, "How in the world did Mark Dunn ever think of that?"

- Gail Cooke
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