Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Ella Minnow Pea

Go To

"The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog."
Nevin Nollop

Ella Minnow Pea is a progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable written by Mark Dunn in 2001. The novel is set on the fictional island nation of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. The nation is named for Nevin Nollop, who created the sentence "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog," which contains all 26 letters of the alphabet in just 35 letters total.note  Mr. Nollop is revered by the inhabitants for this magnificent contribution to the English language—after all, on this island, linguistics is Serious Business.

At the center of Nollopton, capital of Nollop, sits a large monument to Mr. Nollop. Thirty-five tiles are attached at the top, each bearing a letter to spell out his remarkable sentence. But one day, one of these tiles—the one with letter Z—falls off the monument and shatters on the ground. The High Island Council, Nollop's governing body, takes this as a sign from Nollop that the letter Z should be outlawed in both speech and writing. This seems somewhat manageable, apart from a great many books now being illegal to own. But then another tile falls, and another…


The story is told as a series of letters and notes sent among the various characters—chiefly, the titular Ella and her family. As letters (of the alphabet) are banned one by one, they stop appearing in the book.

This book provides examples of:

  • Anachronism Stew: The novel takes place in the year 2000, but Nollopian culture is very slow to embrace technology. Everyone communicates by mail. There used to be some degree of telephone service, but it's been out of order for over a year.
  • Apocalypse How, Class 0: Regional societal collapse, brought on by the deportation of nearly everyone. Even after Enterprise 32 succeeds, it's unclear whether Nollop will have a working society again.
  • Arc Words: "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." The sentence drives the plot, even if it's never written out in full after the first few pages.
  • Advertisement:
  • Bathos: Despite the downward spiral that Nollop's social structure is on, it's quite amusing to see the substitutes people invent for months and days of the week once their proper forms are illegalized, such as "Riggy-roo, Octopus 20"note .
  • Big, Stupid Doodoo-Head: For lack of anything better, Ella expresses her frustration this way as the alphabet continues to fall.
    Ella: No mo Nollop poo poo!
  • Buffy Speak: As vocabulary begins to run thin, characters are often forced to resort to this in varying degrees.
  • Bungled Suicide: After the success of Enterprise 32, Harton Mangrove of the High Island Council attempts suicide twice, both rather clumsily.
  • Breather Episode: Downplayed. The Council announces that sound-alike misspellings are legal in writing. The extremely harsh restrictions on vocabulary are loosened, and people no longer have to strain for substitute words, but that doesn't stop the crumbling of Nollopian society.
  • Computers Are Fast: The idea of employing the aid of a certain computer programmer to complete Enterprise 32 is discussed, but ultimately rejected, as doing so would ruin the point. In the last few pages, after the fact, said programmer is contacted out of curiosity. He produces four suitable sentences—one of which, coincidentally, is the exact one that solved Enterprise 32 just a few days before.
  • Constrained Writing: Lipogrammatic writing (i.e. deliberate avoidance of letters of the alphabet) is invoked by the High Island Council.
    • Enterprise 32 entails a different constraint: using all 26 alphabetical letters in as short a sentence as possible.
  • Cult of Personality: The High Island Council tries to establish one centered around Nevin Nollop. Given the rapid deterioration of the island's social structure and widespread hostility toward the Council at that point, they don't get much support.
  • Death from Above: When the tile with X falls, it hits a man directly on the head, injuring him severely.
  • Determinator: Ella refuses to leave Nollop or give up on Enterprise 32, even after her friends and family have all left (or died). She even continues to write to herself when just five letters remain, and she resolves to learn sign language if necessary.
  • Driven to Madness: Georgeanne Towgate goes loopy from loneliness after her family is gone. Eventually she paints her whole body from head to toe and dies from lead poisoning.
  • Epunymous Title: Due to being a Punny Name-d Protagonist Title: "Ella Minnow Pea" sounds like the sequence of letters L-M-N-O-P. She lampshades this by signing one of her last letters as "LMNOP".
  • Feet of Clay: At the end of the book, it's made quite apparent that Nevin Nollop was not an ingenious linguist, and he may not have even written the "quick brown fox" sentence at all.
  • Foreshadowing: A cunning linguist may recognize the pangram in Amos's last note ("Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs") long before Ella does.
    • Ella's Punny Name foreshadows the fact that the last remaining legal letters are L, M, N, O, and P.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Georgeanne Towgate, who reported Mittie's first two violations, later apologizes deeply and begs to be allies.
  • Loophole Abuse: Averted when the Council makes it quite clear that simply replacing a banned letter with an asterisk (e.g. la*y in lieu of lazy) is not acceptable. Later played straight when the Council decrees that approgsimate spelling is phine to yoose, tho only in writing.
    • However, since the punishment for using illegal letters does not apply to children aged seven years or younger, the members of Enterprise 32 take advantage of this, and have the children write pangrams for them.
  • My Nayme Is: As people's names become illegal, some choose to legalize their names with alternate spelling, such as "Tanea" for Tanya.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter:
    Tassie: "F" leaves us tonight. I haven't even the strength to curse those beasts with that epithet you taught me never to say.
  • Product Placement: The Purcy household has Special K cereal... or at least it did until the letter K was banned.
  • Purple Prose: Toward the beginning of the book, when the characters' vocabularies are unmarred. Justified, as Nollopians consider language the highest form of art.
  • Serious Business: Nollop is where letters of the alphabet are likely valued the most, and everyone hopes and prays that their favorite letter isn't the next one banned.
  • Shout-Out: A movement protesting the ban of the letter Q, where the Rasmussens wore duck masks and made quacking noises, is called the "Daffy and Donald Affair".
  • Spell My Name with an S: Mittie learns the hard way that the fishmonger Zenia's name is not spelled with an X like she thought.
  • Tempting Fate: Knowing full well that the letter D is banned, Gwenette writes the word "diminished" in her letter to Mittie anyway, hoping she'll just get off with first offense. It fails, as the double-use of that letter gets her second offense.
  • Title Drop Chapter: Chapters aren't titled, but each is headed by the alphabet, with banned letters replaced by asterisks. Given the titular protagonist's Punny Name, it's not hard to foresee the arrival of a chapter headed by ***LMNOP***.
  • Unishment: The intent of putting second-offenders in headstock is public humiliation. Except nobody jeers, and instead people come to offer consolation and food to those restrained. The worst of the punishment is a stiff neck.
  • Wham Episode: Eight tiles fall in a single night. Ella bids each one "so lon", and is left with only (what else?) L, M, N, O, and P.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The punishment for a second offense—choice of headstock or whipping—is doled out equally on anyone older than seven.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: Ella does this out of necessity, using thee as a general replacement for you (even as a subject) after the letter U is banned.