The Mountain and the Valley, by Ernest Buckler, was first published by Clarke Irwin in New York, 1952. It tells the story of David Canaan, set in the decades leading up to the Second World War. The novel opens with a Prologue which describes thoughts and feelings David experiences just prior to his final climb up the South Mountain and his death of a heart attack at the age of 30. The story then shifts to his seemingly idyllic childhood in the rural Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia, and goes on to chart the progressive dissolution of all of his closest relationships and the thwarting of his considerable gifts and abilities. The novel closes with an Epilogue describing David's journey up the mountain and his death, which occurs just after he has experienced an epiphany of self-awareness and hope for his future as a writer.
Because the story of David's life is framed by a Prologue and an Epilogue, which both deal with the final hours before his death, and because of the apparently self-willed inevitability of David's downward spiral, the novel has been interpreted in a variety of ways. David's death on the summit of the South Mountain has been often read as the ironic climax of a life spent indulging in grandiose and unrealized dreams. The novel has been also interpreted as the tragic story of a gifted boy betrayed by the limitations of his own personality, of language itself, and of a community which can offer him no real support or understanding.
Buckler's prose style has been the subject of considerable critical debate over the years as well: some critics see it as intensely lyrical and evocative, while others find it over-written and laboured in its descriptions of landscape and the inner life of the novel's characters. With the publication of Marta Dvorak's full-length study, Ernest Buckler: Rediscovery and Reassessment (2001), critical attention has focused on reinterpreting Buckler's narrative strategies and, in particular, the frame within which the main narrative is situated. Working with these and with the intricate scaffolding of symbols used throughout the novel invites the realization that David's entire story can be read on one of its levels as a metaphor for shifting states of consciousness, making the novel far more than a picture of a "failed artist." Jungian and mystical notions of the several stages of awareness and inner growth that individuals may experience, stages that move them outside the confines of everyday "ego" awareness, permeate the Epilogue, which also features a recurring emphasis on the idea of "translation." This underscores the ways in which, throughout the novel, Buckler tests the limits of language, and explores the nature of storytelling itself.