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Ella Minnow Pea


Ella Minnow Pea Cover



Reading Group Guide

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 Cummels 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 Gods 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 Nollops illustrious pangram? In what way does this undermine the divine value that the high council attributes to Nollops sentence?

12. At the end of the novel, Ella suggests a memorial to those who suffered from the High Councils 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?

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kim_shealy, March 18, 2015 (view all comments by kim_shealy)
With a series of letters, two young ladies (cousins) begin a journey of desperation for all literary purposes. Ella is still on the island of Nollopton. She will be the voice of reason, updates, and humorous re-tellings about her village, the people, the High Island Council, and of course what happens as the letters begin dropping from the top of the cenotaph in the town center. Tassie and her mother has been away on a "stateside" sojourn. Their young adult voices will bring insight into the insanity in which the HIC will begin wielding power over the town.

Are you wondering what is going on... well it is rather comical at first. I mean, consider what you would be doing when an alphabet letter becomes "un-glued" and falls to its death at the heart of the town's city center. You see, once upon a time a very prestigious gentleman, the esteemed Neville Nollop, became a literary "giant" when he penned the famous pangram: The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. Although there was very little recognition within the states, the village erected a statue and placed tiles for the pangram upon the statue. On July 17, the "Z" fell. The council retreated behind close doors to deliberate what the village should do.

With complete control over the villagers, the council declares that no one could ever use the "Z" again. Yep, no more words in which the "Z" is written could ever be viewed, spoken, written, sung, or repeated. Imagine what that means for teachers, or the public library, songs, store items, and personal names. There would of course be one warning with three succeeding penalties if one was not carefully guarding their tongues or refusing to remove any items in which the offensive "Z" might appear. As people began adjusting to this new mandate, the bees began creating quite the havoc around town and in particular at the farms.

"With the prohibition, the reading of all books containing the unfortunate letter
will have to be outlawed..."

Seriously, what would we do? I stand proudly, shoulder to shoulder with Tassie: "I am bezide myself!" Consider the ramifications of such a mandate. The confiscation of any books (including text books), the destruction of personal records or letters, let alone the widespread fear that you could slip and speak the prohibited letter... which could send you on the way to banishment from Nollop.

Within a few weeks the "Q" made its departure. By now everyone is stricken with fear of punishments. Turning your neighbors, family members, and teachers in due to an inability to guard one's mouth is becoming a reality. Some are leaving the island and not by choice. Have you considered what becomes of their personal items or their land? Why would any town agree to these mandates?

"Jumpin' Jehoshaphat!"
"The *uick brown fox *umps over the la*y dog."

The next letter to *epart causes the *ays of the week to be change*. Consi*er the extensive energy one woul* nee* to put into action in or*er to communicate. I *o believe that *uct taping one's mount coul* prove beneficial. What will they *o without the "E?"

Nollopianians must prepare for the moment in which language ceases to exist!

Please *on't wait too long... The *elightful word play is just too scrumptious to miss...
MrsK mrskbookstogo.blogspot
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Margaret Rowlands, September 26, 2010 (view all comments by Margaret Rowlands)
Mark Dunn is a master wordsmith! The story, told through letters, of the craziness on one small country’s leaders and how the regular people tried to handle it.
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Gypsi, June 6, 2010 (view all comments by Gypsi)
Ella Minnow Pea was written as a series of letters and notes and therefore was a quick, easy read--only took me a day and a half. I highly recommend it to fellow logophiles, as it had interesting, witty and subtly humorous word usage.

It's about a small nation that (for reasons better explained by the book) loses the use of certain letters of the alphabet, one at a time. As the letters become unavailable in the story, they disappear in the writing as well.

It did get a little tough to read for the last few pages, when the letters were very scarce and the words spelled phonetically, but it was well worth finishing.
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Product Details

Dunn, Mark
Anchor Books
New York
South carolina
Communal living
Epistolary fiction
General Fiction
Literature-A to Z
fiction;epistolary;language;letters;censorship;alphabet;humor;novel;wordplay;satire;dystopia;words;south carolina;totalitarianism;fantasy;american;epistolary novel;allegory;lipogram;contemporary fiction;contemporary;linguistics;2000s;literature;fable;gene
fiction;epistolary;language;letters;censorship;alphabet;humor;novel;wordplay;satire;dystopia;words;south carolina;totalitarianism;fantasy;american;epistolary novel;allegory;lipogram;contemporary fiction;contemporary;linguistics;2000s;literature;fable;gene
fiction;epistolary;language;letters;censorship;alphabet;humor;novel;wordplay;satire;words;dystopia;south carolina;epistolary novel;totalitarianism;american;fantasy;allegory;contemporary fiction;lipogram;contemporary;linguistics;literature;fable;2000s;gene
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
7.98x5.40x.59 in. .52 lbs.

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Related Subjects

» Featured Titles » Staff Picks
» Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
» History and Social Science » American Studies » Popular Culture

Ella Minnow Pea Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$14.95 In Stock
Product details 224 pages Anchor (UK) - English 9780385722438 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Originally subtitled "A Progressively Lipogrammatic Epistolary Fable," Mark Dunn's brilliantly conceived and cleverly written Ella Minnow Pea is a logophile's dream novel. Composed entirely of letters, this is the playful story of Nollop, a fictional island named for Nevin Nollop, creator of the popular pangram, "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." Having erected a statue to honor his achievement, the island's council then begins to ban the use of certain letters as they fall, one by one, from the memorial's facade. Ella, confronted with the encroaching totalitarianism of the council, urges the island's residents to resist the decree and rebel against the enforced censorship. Though quaint and lighthearted on its surface, this parable quietly addresses the issues of tyranny, unchecked bureaucracy, freedom of speech, and the responsibility of citizenship.

"Review" by , "A treasure of a novel. Dunn has an incredibly fascinating and clever way of using the English language, with or without all the letters of the alphabet. This witty satire and moving fable is a must-read for everyone who loves words... and free speech!"
"Review" by , "There's the whiff of a classic about Ella Minnow Pea."
"Review" by , "A love letter to alphabetarians and logomaniacs everywhere."
"Review" by , "A curiously compelling...satire of human foibles, and a light-stepping commentary on censorship and totalitarianism."
"Review" by , "This exceptional, zany book will quickly make you laugh."
"Review" by , "Ella Minnow Pea is a witty fable, but it's also a satire about censorship among other things....[T]he book should give us plenty to think about."
"Synopsis" by , 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 pangram,* "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.

*pangram: a sentence or phrase that includes all the letters of the alphabet

"Synopsis" by , US
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