Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ella Minnow Dunn - Mark Dunn

2001; 205 pages. Full Title : Ella minnow Pea - A Progressively Lipogrammatic Epistolary Fable. Genre : Contemporary Literature. Overall Rating : A..

    Briefly : The idyllic life on an isolated island off the coast of South Carolina becomes dystopian when the tiles bearing the letters of a sacred phrase ("The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog") begin to become unglued, thus falling off and shattering.

What's To Like...
    The main delight of Ella Minnow Pea ("LMNOP") is the wonderful wordplay created by Dunn. It's sort of a literary mix of the poetry of Sylvia Plath and Ogden Nash. Have your dictionary handy when you read this book; Dunn introduces you to a lot of beautful-but-obscure words, and a bunch of mellifluous ones he simply made up.

.   The main message of LMNOP is this - don't blindly accept the edicts of the politicians and organized religion. Try the spirits, examine the prophecies, and evaluate the probability that a Deity has for some reason chosen them to convey a message to you. To quote a great slogan from an otherwise silly sect : "To question is the answer".
    Another less-obvious hypothesis fleshed out in LMNOP is that a language is an organic, evolving entity. The natives of Nollop speak English, but due to their isolation, it's a bit different from our "American", and/or the King's "English". Similarly, I own a "How To Communicate In Autralian" phrasebook that exists because of that sort of isolation. Alas, as more and more of the letters of the alphabet become taboo due to Nollopian laws, their language suffers as well. By the end, when only five letters remain legal, speaking and writing are reduced to essentially a five-year-old's level.

Don't Read LMNOP If...
    If you're in the mood for a dystopian novel, don't read this book. Ditto, if you're looking for a complex storyline and deep character development. The dystopian setting and the letters written are merely vehicles for Dunn to develop the themes listed above. The fact that the oppressive bad guys give up their power after reading a single sentence is ample proof that this isn't a serious look at a Brave New World.

Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs...
    I enjoyed this book immensely, especialy since it agrees with my views on the themes Dunn addresses. The purpose of language is to communicate. Commas and semicolons should not be bound by silly rules; they're an art-form. And if you have an opportunity to make up a new word to convery your ideas more clearly (or use an existing word in a new connotation), well kewl beans! You're helping the generational evolution of English.

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