Yesterday, the topic of “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” came up during dinner. Coincidentally (or not, it depends on whether you believe in coincidence or not), I had been reading Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn that same day. I had so much fun rereading it for what must be at least the eleventh time that I decided I had to write about it.
It’s a lovely book, short and sweet, that details the turmoil on the little (fictional) island of Nollop. Nollop, supposedly, once created the pangram stated above, and is revered for that on the island. There is a statue of him on the main square, with tiles affixed to it that spell out the sentence. But then the glue on one of the tiles gives way, and the tile falls and shatters.
Not a big deal, right? Some new glue and you’re good to go. Wrong. The High Council decides that this incident means that Nollop (who somewhere along the way has gone from respected figure to an almost divine status) wants them to stop using this letter. One slip-up means a public reprimand, two means a flogging or an afternoon in headstock, and three means banishment from the island – or death, if you refuse to go.
All of a sudden, this delightful book full of quaint language turns quite dark. Nollop turns into a kind of police state and neighbors turn on neighbors, and all struggle to survive. It’s up to a “subterra” movement to stop the High Council, despite all odds..
The book is written in letter-form, which works very well here. As a word-geek, I had such fun reading the letters, which are filled with old-fashioned and multi-syllabic words that sometimes taxed my vocabulary. I highly recommend it – there’s intrigue in there, wordplay, romance, and even a Pony Express. It’s one of my favorite go-to books when I want to read something familiar. My only criticism is that towards the end, when so many letters have been banned that the islanders have resulted to writing in a kind of phonetic spelling, the letters become quite hard to read. Of course, you might not have such a problem with that. I am known to be just a tad bit lazy, after all.
And I trust you’ve all grasped why the book is titled Ella Minnow Pea? If not, say it out loud a couple of times, and it’ll come to you.
Awesome. Just awesome.