His first novel, Peace Shall Destroy Many (1962), set in a community similar to that in which he had grown up, began as an exercise for his MA. It is a powerful problem novel concerned with the split between pacifist principles and the urge to violence in the hero and in the congregation in which he lives during WWII. On publication it caused bitter controversy among Mennonites. It was followed by First and Vital Candle (1966), set in a Native community in northern Ontario and dealing didactically with moral and religious issues. In 1970, his first "epic" novel, The Blue Mountains of China, presented a saga of the Mennonite people dispersed yet enduring in Russia, Paraguay and Canada.
Wiebe then turned to historical fiction. The Temptations of Big Bear (1973) is a long, intricate novel centred on a Plains Cree chief (see BIG BEAR). It won a Gov Gen's Award. The Scorched-Wood People (1977) is set in the same period and offers an interpretation of Louis RIEL from the viewpoint of the Métis. Both books are based on detailed historical research, and each offers a sympathetic but not idealized portrait of a complex and controversial figure.
Wiebe has also published 4 volumes containing short stories, Where Is the Voice Coming From? (1974), Alberta/A Celebration (1979) and The Angel of the Tar Sands (1982), and River of Stone: Fiction and Memories (1995); a play, Far as the Eye Can See, written in collaboration with Theatre Passe Muraille (1977); a novella, The Mad Trapper (1980), based on the RCMP hunt for Albert Johnson, and, with Bob Beal, War in the West: Voices of the 1885 Rebellion (1985) and an illustrated collection of documents and memoirs; Chinook Christmas (1992), a children's book outlining Christmas festivities in Southern Alberta; and Playing Dead (1989), a collection of essays about the Canadian North.
Wiebe holds a bachelor of theology degree from the Mennonite Brethren Bible College, Winnipeg (1962), and for 18 months edited the Mennonite Brethren Herald. In 1967 he began teaching English and creative writing at U of Alberta. He is remarkable for the ambitious scope of his fiction, his treatment of important moral issues, and a craggy style which, though sometimes ungainly, frequently results in an eloquence that is both appropriate and evocative. Wiebe was awarded the Royal Society of Canada's Lorne Pierce Medal in 1987.
Author W.J. KEITH
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