A Feast of Languages

The Books

the-force-doth-awaken

 

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars

Author: Ian Doescher

Genre: Play; Retelling

Publisher: Quirk Books

First Installment Published: July 2, 2013

Number of Pages: 176

 

This is exactly what the title suggests it is: a retelling of Star Wars as a play written in the style of William Shakepeare. Ian Doescher eventually wrote a play for each of the Star Wars movies but he, like George Lucas, began with Episode IV.

Sprinkled throughout the saga are references to memorable scenes from Shakespeare’s original plays. For example, The Empire Striketh Back ends Act I, Scene I with the stage direction, “Exit, pursued by a wampa,” which is a nod to The Winter’s Tale and “Exeunt, pursued by bear”. Verily, a New Hope has the most of these references—particularly with Luke. For example, he has a Hamlet-talking-to-the-skull moment with the helmet of a Stormtrooper he killed and later gives a “band of brothers” type speech to his fellow rebel pilots before the Death Star battle scene.

It’s light-hearted fan fiction at its best.

NOTE: Doescher’s original trilogy and “The Force Doth Awaken” each have recorded radio plays as audiobooks. I highly recommend listening to them.

 

Ella Minnow Pea

 

Ella Minnow Pea

Author: Mark Dunn

Genre: Epistolary novel

Publisher: MacAdam/Cage Publishing

Published: October 2001

Number of Pages: 205

 

Set in a fictional island-nation off the coast of the U.S., the short novel depicts the language-loving population of Nollop. Their crowning glory is a monument with the pangram “The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog.” The citizens of Nollop greatly admire their now-deceased founder, Nevin Nollop, for his creation of a short, coherent sentence that uses all 26-letters of the alphabet.

Presented through the personal correspondence of Ella Minnow Pea, the story begins when the letter “Z” falls off the monument. The officials of Nollop decree that this is clearly a sign from the spirit of Nevin Nollop and “Z” is dutifully removed from the vocabularies of every Nollop citizen on punishment of banishment. Ella Minnow Pea, along with her friends and family, finds the decision strange, but they take it in stride. Those with a “Z” in their given name choose a new moniker, and all the books from the library that contain the offensive letter are removed. (This turns out to be almost every book.)

Unfortunately, the monument does not stop there. Other letters soon follow “Z” into exile.

 

The Ties That Bind

 

Both authors pay very close attention to self-enforced language rules while telling their stories.

In William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, most characters speak in iambic pentameter complete with Victorian-era words like verily, hither, goest, and doublet. Scenes end with rhyming couplets. These were the main language restrictions Ian Doescher followed in Verily, a New Hope, but with each successive play he has added more rules. Yoda speaks in haiku. Han and Leia speak in rhyming quatrains to each other when alone (like Romeo and Juliet).  Boba Fett speaks in prose. All Admiral Ackbar’s line-endings rhyme with “trap”. There are more, but I’ll let you figure those out on your own. Doescher mentions many of them in his afterwords.

Ella Minnow Pea is an epistolary novel, meaning that the story is told through notes and personal letters rather than a conventional narrator. As each letter of the alphabet falls from the monument, it is removed from the permissible Nollopian language. By extension, Mark Dunn also had to follow these rules when writing the notes and letters that tell the story. Just flipping through the book shows a distinct change in the narration. The first few chapters are full of intelligible and flowing prose. With the elimination of letter after letter, however, Ella’s writing becomes shorter, choppier, and less precise.

Writing a book or a play is plenty hard on its own. Both authors decided to challenge themselves even further by imposing restrictions on themselves. The effect in both cases in to add a sense of authenticity to the story each writer is trying to tell.

Inspired by these works, I decided to create my own Star Wars themed riff on Nollop’s favorite 35-letter pangram: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” After several hours and many, many attempts, the best phrase I could come up with was an appalling 92 letters:

The quickest stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking
Nerf-herder in the galaxy jumps lazily back into hyperdrive.

 

Up Next

The Color Master by Aimee Bender and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

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