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Photo by Madeleine Schwartz

Title: “Ella Minnow Pea”

Author: Mark Dunn

Genre: Fiction

Photo by Madeleine Schwa

Photo by Madeleine Schwartz

Have you ever wondered how words were first created? I’m not trying to be overly philosophical here but think about it. I use words to create sentences which eventually fill the page with meaning, but so much had to happen before I could do so.

Someone a really long time ago in Ancient Egypt is credited for starting the alphabet. They created letters and others after them figured out how to make words by stringing them together. Although this sounds like a simple undertaking, it is more complex than meets the eye.

Every letter sounds slightly different than the next and when put side by side in a specific order, they can describe anything you put your mind to. That creativity and freedom associated with language is what makes the alphabet special. I have 26 letters at my disposal, 24/7 to do what I please with.

Now, back track a little, and imagine that guy in Egypt never created the letter “R”. To put things in perspective, without trying, I used it 12 times in my first paragraph. Mark Dunn plays with this idea in “Ella Minnow Pea” and he takes it even further than I do in this example.

Dunn creates Nollop, a fictional island off the coast of South Carolina. It was named after Nevin Nollop who became famous after he penned this pangram: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” A monument was created at the town’s center and the all-encompassing sentence was tiled word for word for all to admire.

Nevin Nollop didn’t have a lasting impact on those living on the island until these tiles began to fall off the monument. As each letter fell, the island’s council banned it from being used in speech and writing.  If a townsperson made a mistake and was caught using a forbidden letter, they would be exiled.

In the beginning, as each letter is removed from the town’s vocabulary, the dialogue between people becomes playfully forced. Although the letters Z, J, and Q are important, they weren’t particularly missed. However, when the letters E and T are suddenly made invisible, the town’s language changes.

As these important letters disappear, it is harder and harder to communicate. Now people are misspelling words because there isn’t another way to get their messages across except for sounding them out. Some people stop writing and speaking to each other all together because it seems like a trap.

“Ella Minnow Pea” does a great job at making readers take a step back from their hectic lives and appreciate the simple things. Something like the alphabet which we usually take for granted, it the primary way we communicate. A single letter, or a lack of one, can change the meaning of a conversation entirely. The title of this book is also cleverly named and spells out a section of the alphabet if sounded out correctly and very, very slowly.

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