JACK WEYLAND: POPULAR FICTION
A Contribution to Mormon Literature
Literature of the Latter-day Saints
Instructor: Eric Eliason
Brigham Young UniversityWinter
JACK WEYLAND: POPULAR FICTION
A Contribution to Mormon Literature
…..by Bryant P. Castleton
- OVERVIEW OF STUDY
- SOURCES OF INFORMATION AND TYPES
- OF DATA USED IN THE RESEARCH
- THE CONTRASTING WORLDS OF LDS FICTION
- INTRODUCTION OF POPULAR FICTION INTO LDS LITERATURE
- CRITICISM OF POPULAR FICTION IN MORMON LITERATURE
- A BALANCE OF CRITICISM AND PURPOSE
- JACK WEYLAND – POPULAR LITERATURE: A PURPOSE OF ITS OWN CONCLUSION
Overview of the Study
From the first day I attended English 368, LDS Literature, I knew that I would be experiencing a wide variety of works written within the LDS community. I have always been an avid reader and thought myself to be fairly well read in what I knew to be LDS literature. I was pleased with myself to find that I had in fact read a good variety of works that would be considered Mormon Literature. Throughout the semester I was impressed at the amount of talent and ability within the LDS writing community displayed in several great works. However, I was also disappointed by the lack of the same in several other required pieces of work.I do not purport myself to be a great literary critic. But rather as a student of literature and in becoming more familiar with many of the writers of LDS fiction and those scholars that study them, I have observed a tendency in these individuals to take themselves a little too seriously. My case in point came to a climax when I read the rebuttal of Orson Scott Card in response to Susan Wakefield and her hammering on the works of Jack Weyland.This article prompted me to find out what Weyland’s reaction was to such an attack, and to find out what he would say if he were to write his own rebuttal. As a former adolescent and an admitted teen fan of Jack Weyland, I was convinced that in the high society of Mormon Literature there had to be a place and an acknowledgement of the works of Jack Weyland. Popular fiction or not, Jack Weyland has had an impact on Mormon Literature. This paper is a compilation of my research and findings as they relate to the contributions of Jack Weyland to Mormon Literature.As a note I have used numerous quotes from various interviews with sources including Professor Weyland. I tried to write down each quote and response verbatim. If various quotes are not in the exact words of the individual being interviewed, they are as I remember them and in the spirit of our conversation. If I in any way misquoted any of my sources, it is not by intention or the desire to shape comments to match the focus of my paper.
Sources of Information and Types of Data Used in the Research
At the first attempt to prospect for information and commentary on the works of Jack Weyland I quickly became discouraged. Mormon Literature is read and supported by a relatively small community when compared with the modern and historical works of literature. Consequently I found that critiques, commentary, and general information on Mormon Literature are found by mining within the select academia that studies such works. My special thanks to Professor Eric Eliason for directing me to Professors Christopher Crowe and John Bennion who were able to provide me with great information and give me further resources for research.A vast majority of my research resulted from my interviews with these two professors and from their own research on the subject. It was during these interviews that I was encouraged to contact Jack Weyland myself and interview him on specific questions I had. I soon learned that is was Professor Weyland, a physics instructor at Ricks College. To my delight Professor Weyland responded with enthusiasm at the idea of being interviewed by me. In his response e-mail he also directed me to his web site, http://www.ricks.edu/Ricks/employee/WEYLANDJ/default.htm, where I was able to learn a little more about his writing and prepare for a telephone interview we had arranged.
The Contrasting Worlds of LDS Fiction
In the history of literature and its years of evolution, Mormon Literature is a newcomer to a field that has been shaped and defined since the advent of the written word. With the restoration of the gospel and the establishment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came a new religion, a new culture, a new people, and eventually a new form of literature. As LDS literature has evolved, many distinct periods have been identified and many classes and sub-categories have been established within the LDS writing community. With the creation of these categories came divisiveness and debate among those who studied and researched these works. Mormon fiction, in particular, became the battleground where arguments over “simplicity and sentiment met faithlessness and cynicism”.”The debate is not new. Critics have followed a tradition of dividing Mormon literature into two or more camps. Although each critic crafts terms carefully, trying to be objective, the implication is always that one kind of literature is superior and the other inferior (Bennion – Bib. 1). In his article Popular and Literary Mormon Novels: Can Weyland and Whipple Dance Together in the House of Fiction?, Professor John Bennion cited evidence of this type of divisiveness among his students whose own attitudes reflected their partiality to the works of either Jack Weyland and Gerald N. Lund or of Maurine Whipple and Levi Peterson.In his article Bennion pinpoints the fissure among the fiction audience when he states:
Despite the ambiguity of these critical categories and terms, Mormon readers and publishers feel a definite difference between the works of popular fiction written by the camp of Weyland and the works of literary fiction written by the camp of Whipple. We still bemoan either the weakening influence of popular, sentimental forms or the damning influence of humanism, feminism, and other isms. From opposite windows of the house of fiction, we continue to praise our view of the drama of experience, proclaiming other positions as simplistic or faithless, sentimental or cynical, unsophisticated or tainted with the philosophies of men.
Introduction of Popular Fiction into Mormon Literature
In an interview with English professor Christopher Crowe, he characterized the introduction of LDS popular fiction when he stated, “I think that when it comes to Mormon literature, Dean Hughes cracked the door open to the idea that popular/modern fiction could be successful in the LDS community. However, if Dean Hughes cracked the door, Jack Weyland kicked it wide open.”In his own research Professor Crowe has tried to gauge the impact that Jack Weyland has had on the LDS literary community. Though his efforts at obtaining specific sales numbers were unsuccessful, Professor Crowe was able to take available information combined with educated calculations to establish that Weyland’s first novel Charlie, which is still in print today, has sold over 250,000 copies. Crowe stated the significance of such a number in pointing out that church membership is at 10 million. Of those 10 million members only 5 million speak English. By just guestimating how many households fall into the 5 million, it is clear to see, as Crowe pointed out, that Jack Weyland has received “universal coverage” within the LDS community.”Jack Weyland is great with dialogue. He is able to incorporate consistent elements so that when you open one of his books you know what you are getting. There is a bit of a McDonald’s factor to his work. You know what type of book to expect each time you open the cover. He is able to consistently write novels that create a reaction. When members of the church bare their testimony in sacrament meeting they often cry. We assign this reaction to being overwhelmed by the spirit. Weyland is able to tell a story that can make you cry. He is able to evoke a reaction. Whether that is to make you laugh or cry, the point is that his work prompts a reaction” (Crowe, Bib. 2).
Criticism of Popular Fiction in Mormon Literature
Like any other form of literature, the works of popular fiction by Jack Weyland are subject to criticism. “Despite the fact that his works are open to criticism like anyone else, when compared to other works within Mormon literature, the works of Weyland almost have to be judged by their own standard” (Bennion, Bib. 3). In his BYU Studies article John Bennion states that problems arise when the two genres of fiction, specifically literary fiction and popular fiction, are equated and judged by one standard. He quotes Jonathan Penner who wrote, “In fact, literary and popular fiction cannot compete. Competition implies similarity. Male walruses compete for mates, but only with other male walruses. At county fairs, pigs are not judged against poultry. All readers sense that literary fiction and popular fiction are radically different enterprises” (Bennion, Bib. 1).From this type of unique statement it can be argued that a few select literary figures may be taking themselves a bit too seriously. Credit must be given to the reader. When was the last time that anyone internally classified a work by Maurine Whipple in the same category as a fiction piece by Gerald Lund?
“Some criticism towards the way that Jack Weyland writes stands. Even Jack would agree to that. The point is that Mormons can be harsh to each other. Just like 5th grade girls like to read about horses, the average reader likes to enjoy and read popular fiction. There is nothing terribly wrong with this. Admittedly there can be cons to this. The potentially harmful effects of popular fiction are that its readers will only read one genre or that they will only look towards a certain quality of book. But this worry can’t deter from the fact that there is a market and a place for this type of literature” (Crowe, Bib. 2).”Too many times critics just look at the text of a novel. Professors can be guilty of this type of criticism. Most professors act as mediators between pieces of literature and their students. If the literature is popular, this tends to mean it has sold to the “common” reader and that it doesn’t require interpretation. In a sense, this type of literature circumvents the purpose of the professor. Consequently, this circumvention can lead to “snobbery” among a certain group of critics. If the unwashed masses like it, it can’t be good” (Crowe, Bib. 2).
To such “snobbery” and criticism the question must be posed, surely there is a literary value to the works of LDS authors such as Jack Weyland, Gerald Lund, and Orson Scott Card. Minus an acknowledged literary value, their sub-standard works force them to be criticized all the way to the bank. These popular authors have been able to find niches within a readership and have been able to maintain a following. It is clear that those writers and supporters of literary fiction do not want to be recognized with those who create the popular fiction. Some irony must be recognized in the fact that many of those popular fiction writers stand indifferent to any association or disassociation they may receive from the more esteemed or recognized authors and critics – Enter Jack Weyland.
A Balance of Criticism and Purpose
It can be said that there is a balance to be found between the tendency to see many Weyland critics as pompous marksmen with an easy target, and an understanding that perhaps the root a much of the criticism comes from lack of understanding and an unwillingness to recognize a unique genre with a significant place in Mormon literature. The works of Jack Weyland are not beyond criticism, nor are they without their flaws. On the whole they are simple, predictable, reliable novels where, as John Bennion states, “The reader can be confident that the narrator and one or more of the characters have a reliable map that clearly marks good and evil and will lead everyone back to safe ground”. Of the criticisms that have been given to Weyland, some have very valid points. But you must forgive the Jack Weyland or Gerald Lund follower who likes to be able to escape to a place where the good guys win, the righteous are rewarded, change is possible, and a “warm and fuzzy” ending is guaranteed.It is not the levelheaded review and critique that raises the eyebrow of those who have been fans of so many of these “simplistic, sentimental, and unsophisticated” works. Rather it is the rabid attack of those who simply do not understand the nature of popular fiction or the role that it plays in Mormon literature. It doesn’t take a literary genius to see that Weyland is not playing to those who yearn for the “symbolic, complex, challenging, and subtle” works of literary fiction.
Jack Weyland – Popular Literature: A Purpose Of Its Own
So what exactly does an author like Jack Weyland hope to accomplish with his writing? How does he react to sharp criticism and a seeming never-ending disapproval of his work from those who consider themselves in a position to comment? Finding the deep meaning and motivation behind Jack Weyland is as easy as going to his FAQ page on his home page and reviewing question number 5.
5. Why do you write books for youth?
I write for youth because I hope that I can make a difference. I remember the struggles of growing up and I hope that my books give youth something to relate to. This is a tough time to grow up in. I try to give whatever help I can through my writing. (Questions, Bib. 5)
How does an author such as Weyland react to the prospect of a “Dance Together with Whipple in the House of Fiction”? “I was a little taken aback when someone came up to me at a party and asked me about my dancing with Maurine Whipple. My wife was with me and she looked at me like I was skipping out on her for a woman named Maurine. If you are judging me on some literary scale, you’re judging me on a level that I don’t aspire to. I am not trying to write books that meet the standards they are using” (Weyland, Bib. 7).If anything can be said for Professor Jack Weyland it is that he makes no pretension to be a great literary writer. “I don’t agonize on any one sentence – if I had a great sentence people would stop and get out of the story. You don’t want them to do that and distract from what you have if you have a great story. If I write a great sentence (anything symbolic or profound) – if it’s there – it wasn’t intentionally put in. I don’t do symbols – I don’t like that – I can’t even talk to other writers about their writing. I find that they take themselves way too seriously” (Weyland, Bib. 7).”I have always been interested at the many different definitions of LDS literature. I always thought LDS literature was simply stories about Mormons. I know that there are a lot of other definitions out there, but that is the definition that I use.” Weyland is consistent in identifying those he hopes to read with his books. “I receive 3 or 4 letters a week – people, mostly teens telling me how I have helped them change their outlook on life. Many tell me that I have helped them to be more sensitive to other people. I really play for that audience – those are the people that I can help. I understand that there is a definite interval of time that I can be of value to my readers.”Eleanor Knowles, former Executive Editor at Deseret Book described Weyland’s writing efforts by pointing out that, “Few except those most directly involved realize how much writing, rewriting, and polishing are necessary before his works are ready to be published” (Nitty-Gritty, Bib. 4). Following the fourth revision out of six on one of Weyland’s manuscripts, a Deseret Book editor stated the following:
August (fourth draft): “I like this better than the last version, but don’t think he’s got the answer yet. I wish he would just drop the silliness and get serious.” “This is a big improvement over the previous version. What it needs now is a good strong dose of conflict, of overwhelming obstacles that must be overcome”(Nitty-Gritty, Bib. 4).
Such notes do not easily discourage Weyland as he works through his writing process. “I keep a huge binder with every critique sent me – with each version comes 4 or 5 pages of things they don’t like. I write fast – I throw away things that don’t work”. Of particular concern to Weyland is accuracy. “I know writers who spend years researching for a book without ever putting anything down on paper. That is not the way I write. I try to be as accurate as possible in my writing and my research. There is a fine line, particularly when you are writing for an audience like mine. Regardless of the extent I try to go to in my research, I find that I am frequently criticized.” In one particular circumstance, Weyland wrote an article based on a black student who was attending Ricks College. The article was the story of this girl’s conversion to the church. “When I wrote about Tamu and her conversion to the church, the story was based on a true story, and I worked closely with her as I wrote the article and I know that I wouldn’t have been able to write the article without her. When she took the article to her grandmother, her mother said that it was as if I was there during her conversion. It was ironic to read the response from my critics who said that my article was stereotypical of the black community and an embarrassment” (Weyland, Bib. 7).ConclusionJohn Bennion concluded his article with the following:
So we might, through careful criticism and careful writing, gradually achieve a compromise between faithful and literary writers and critics, beginning by recognizing that each is different and each culturally precious. I am encouraging a grudging friendship, an occasional dance where readers of faithful and literary fiction each take turns leading (and not with a strong right). Through such efforts, we might overcome the divisiveness that dominates much discussion of Mormon literature.
For those parties, the literary writers and critics, this seems to be the solution. For Jack Weyland his role seems to remain the uninvolved and unconcerned professor of physics doing what he loves for a readership that loves him. “I couldn’t live without writing. I am sure I would slip into a deep depression if I weren’t able to write. It is my recreation in life. My motivation is just to tell a story – not to create some lasting piece of Mormon literature.”Professor Weyland is not interested in dancing or in grudging friendships. As a humble writer his stories are his hobby, his recreation in life, and are there for those who love them. It is true that his readers eventually grow older and move on, but that is after all the nature of his work – to help those through the teenage years by giving them stories of hope and happy endings. Weyland leaves his mark on Mormon literature – gladly giving up the chance to lead in a delicate dance for the simple knowledge that his books evoke a reaction in those who read them. Of course Professor Weyland, writing stories that help teens through their youth reserves you a spot in literary history. This is a designated spot that is not sought after, but nevertheless earned.Bryant P. CastletonEnglish 368
- Popular and Literary Mormon Novels: Can Weyland and Whipple Dance Together in the House of Fiction?: The two major streams of Mormon fiction seem to be radically at odds with each other, but an occasional dance together might lesson divisiveness. Author: John Bennion, BYU Studies 37, no. 1 (1997-98).
- March 29, 2000 Interview with Christopher Crow, Professor, English Department, College of Humanities, Brigham Young University. Topic- The Value and Impact of the Works of Jack Weyland.
- March 29, 2000 Interview with John Bennion, Professor, English Department, College of Humanities, Brigham Young University. Topic- The Value and Impact of the Works of Jack Weyland.
- Jack Weyland and His Books
: The Inspiration…and the Nitty-Gritty Truth; Eleanor Knowles, Executive Editor, Deseret Book. Found on Ricks College faculty website:
- QUESTIONS MOST OFTEN ASKED OF JACK WEYLAND – Found on Ricks College faculty website