As we continue going over books that conservatives should read either to better understand their own beliefs or to give to friends to help them understand conservatism we come to one of my favorites Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn.
Ella Minnow Pea takes place on a strange and fictitious island of Nollop that all but worships an author from the island’s history who supposedly wrote the shortest sentence to include all the letters English language:
The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog
No other real claim to fame but that. And if this wasn’t strange enough they even have a statue dedicated to him in the center of the island with the sentence emblazoned on tiles for all to see. Bizarre enough, but according to the book this has made the island’s resident book lovers and avid readers. (Stop rolling your eyes and just go with the set up because this does have a point.) Then one day one of the tiles falls, the letter Z, of statue and the island’s ruling body decides it is a sign from above. So the use of the letter Z, is forbidden. As the book is entirely told through a series of letters exchanged between the stories endearing heroine, Ella Minnow Pea and her friends and family, you immediately see the vocabulary her letters take a stark dive. But worse soon more letters begin falling from statue and more letters are banned. And as more bans are put in place, and more power given to the authorities to crack down violations, the sleepy island nation quickly becomes a fascist state where the use of a forbidden letter may very well result in execution.
Even from that brief description it should become clear that at the heart of this story is a tale of censorship and its use as a tool for tyranny.
The more striking things that you see is how quickly language itself starts to fall apart when government bans on language are put in place. First there are creative merely unusual word choices when more common choices are unacceptable, then creative misspellings occur, until near the end you’ll have to read much of the book aloud to even begin to figure out what they are attempting to say. Before the madness ends the name of our heroine (LMNOP) is essentially all that can be used.
But while this may be a feature of the book, it is a legitimate side effect of limits on language. Just pay attention to any conservation, how much of it is now politically correct language and euphemisms designed not to hurt people’s feelings (or at least to not cause unnecessary problems from the whiners) have caused language to further and further break down. Look at how people use language as a weapon, claiming that terms that are both accurate and correct are now insulting and must be avoided—for instance the word retarded. To retard: to hold back, to be held back against one’s will. Your not a handicap (which suggests that small changes will put you on par with other people like my handicap in golf) and it’s not being challenged (as a challenge is something you can overcome, and mental retardation isn’t something that can just be overcome with the proper application of skill, will and practice). The word to describe the condition is retarded as the myriad of other words we’ve gone through don’t apply. Or worse words have become “triggers” or “code” that despite the fact that there was nothing offensive in the words themselves or the context they were given, you political enemies can imply you “meant” something else intending to hurt people…There is no way to defend against this insanity…just as there is no way to defend against the insanity shown in Ella Minnow Pea.
The book makes quite clear that any restriction on language, even what may at first appear to be silly ones, are nothing but the actions of tyrants.