Mark Dunn,
Ella Minnow Pea: a Progressively Lippogrammatic Epistolary Fable
(MacAdam/Cage, 2001)

The people of Nollop, an autonomous island nation, value literature, language and learning above all. To that end, every citizen receives a solid liberal arts education. Technological devices are kept to minimum in order to stimulate creativity and communication.

The people of Nollop are especially proud of one of their own, Nevin Nollop, after whom the island is named. Nollop is ostensibly the author of the famous pangram "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." (A pangram is a sentence which contains all the letters of the alphabet.) A cenotaph to his memory stands in the middle of the square in the capitol city of Nollopton and includes a set of tiles spelling out the famous sentence.

One day, one of the tiles falls. A civic-minded child brings it to the council. The council members decide that the fallen tile is a sign that the letter "z" must be eliminated from written and spoken communication. Strict penalties are meted out to those who break the law, however unintentionally, and as more tiles fall, the little nation begins to collapse. Education and communication and libraries are among the first "casualties." Soon neighbors report on each other, children turn in their teachers and parents and boatloads of Nollopians set sail into exile in the United States.

Told in letters, mostly between the eponymous Ella and her cousin Tassie (that's the epistolary part), the narrative becomes ever more bizarre as letters are eliminated from the alphabet and the characters contort themselves trying to circumvent the forbidden orthographics. (That's the lippogrammatic part -- a lippogram is a piece of writing that does not use one or more letters of the alphabet.)

Mark Dunn does a remarkable job at realizing his characters and story through the epistolary format, the difficulty of which is compounded by the disappearing letters. He captures well the fear, paranoia and helplessness that the characters experience when their calm and complacent lives are disrupted.

As much an object lesson as a cleverly written tale, Ella Minnow Pea will appeal to a wide range of readers -- and who knows? Perhaps the lippogram will become the new literary fashion.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 6 July 2002

Buy it from