In Mark Dunn's "progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable" Ella Minnow Pea, the populace of a small island are forbidden the use of certain letters of the English alphabet in speech and writing as they fall off of a sign. The story develops as characters write letters to each other.

In one letter, dated "Topsy Turvy, Octavia 19" (Thursday, October 19 -- at this point, the letters "D" and "B" are forbidden) and addressed to Nate, Tassie includes a postscript:

PS. The Mephistophelians live here. Not in the Orient. You will get my meaning later.

- Ella Minnow Pea (First Anchor Books Edition, October 2002), page 128 (paperback)

"Mephistophelian" was one of the words I learned from this book. According to FreeDictionary.org, the word is an adjective, and means

showing the cunning or ingenuity or wickedness typical of a devil.

I assume that, when used as a noun, the word refers to devils.

I don't understand what Tassie is trying to get at here. As far as I could tell, the meaning of this PS is not clarified in later points of the book (contrary to the assurance at the end of the message).

At this point in the story (after a good number of letters are illegal, before people are allowed to use similar-sounding letters in their place), people often used less common synonyms instead of words that contain "illicitabeticals." It is likely, then, that "Mephistophelians" will stand in for "devils" or "demons" (D is a forbidden letter at this point, along with B, F, J, K, Q, and Z), but I don't know to whom, in particular, Tassie refers. It might be the Island High Council, the island rebels, or something more abstract.

I don't either know why these devils belong in the Orient. This could be a reference to island geography (although I'm not sure why it would be necessary to replace "east" with "Orient") or to something outside the novel.

  • Wild guess (knowing nothing of this book beyond its Wikipedia page): the words "Mephistophelians" and "Not in the Orient" contain the letters L, M, N, O, P quite prominently.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 19:48
  • Well, one must use the letters available to them. LMNOP were the last letters remaining on the sign at the end (and the titular character signs at least one letter in that fashion).
    – Shokhet
    Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 20:09

1 Answer 1


On the page immediately behind the post-script OP quoted, we can read the following sentence:

Six big devils from Japan quickly forgot how to waltz.

Note this sentence contains every letter in the alphabet, hence fitting all requirements but length. "The Mephistophelians live here. Not in the Orient." could be translated: the devils live here, not in Japan (forbidden letters highlighted).

Tassie is working on a shorter pangram than Nollop's for "Enterprise 32;" the "six big devils" sentence is her latest attempt at the time of the writing of this letter (44 characters), and presumably was included in the envelope together with the letter.

A second reference to this is made in the farewell letter of Amos:

The devils aren't in Japan! The devils are here.

And later in the same letter:

Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs?

The liquor jugs could be the devil (remember that Amos is alcoholic) that solve the issue!

The bigger morale here is that problems can be solved by looking at our faults and wrongs, rather than searching for explanations far away from ourselves. In my opinion the post script is intended both as an enigma, and to explain part of the moral behind the book (local solutions for local issues, rather than accepting unfair laws and searching outside culprits/explanations).

  • I don't think the second half of your answer is very relevant. Amos wasn't involved in Enterprise 32 (if I remember correctly), and the five dozen liquor jugs was an accidental victory for that project. I didn't want to delete that part of your answer (I felt it changed it too much), but I think your answer could see that segment (from "a second reference" to the end) removed.
    – Shokhet
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 14:21
  • @Shokhet this is were we disagree. I think the author of an epistolary work gives it more unity than the characters realistically can expect.
    – VicAche
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 14:47

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