I just read Ella Minnow Pea, a novel set on a fictional island where the High Council has begun to ban the use of different letters.
Along with its humor, there are two main reasons I like the novel:
Its Anti-Censorship Theme
One of the strengths of Mark Dunn’s novel is how it portrays the psychological costs of censorship. The mental tiptoeing around the language, the fact that letters have become minefields, the way neighbors begin to inform on each other for verbal slip-ups. One of the island’s residents, a teacher, says the following:
In the sanctuary of my thoughts, I am a fearless renegade. Yet in the company of the children I cringe and cower in a most depreciating way.
When the letter ‘D’ falls prey to the power-hungry and zealous Council, how do you teach kids grammar? (Never take the word “and” for granted.)
Semicolons are simply not an option. These youngsters are only seven! Young people of such age can’t fathom semicolons! Nor can I employ an “or” when I want the other one – the one that brings together, not separates.
The Way It Inspires Writing Creativity
Unlike the island’s residents, you don’t have any penalties hanging over your head for illegal letter usage. So you can use this novel as a creative writing exercise. Try writing a piece of flash fiction without the letter ‘V.’ Or a haiku without ‘O.’
The island’s residents have to scramble for synonyms and to find new terms for things. “Sun-to-suns” (as a substitute for “days”), and “learny-house” instead of “school.”
How well would you do during a letter purge?