The Mountain and the Valley Essay - Critical Essays

Ernest Buckler

Critical Context

The Mountain and the Valley was Buckler’s first novel and remains his best. In addition to novels, Buckler published prize-winning short stories and articles in Maclean’s, Saturday Night, Esquire, and The Atlantic Monthly. His short story “The Quarrel” won the Maclean’s fiction award in 1948, and in 1957 and 1958 he won the President’s Medal for the best Canadian short story with “The Dream and the Triumph” and “Anything Can Happen at Christmas.”

While The Mountain and the Valley received some strong critical support in the United States and Canada, it has held little popular appeal. The slow pace of the plot, the unfamiliar rural setting, and the detailed probing of the protagonist’s mind are not the stuff of a best-seller, yet this painstaking portrait of the conflicts within a young artist coming of age is worthy of being considered a Canadian classic. “I will tell it, he thought rushingly: that is the answer. I know how it is with everything. I will put it down and they will see that I know.” Buckler tells his thoughts, not the actions, rushingly; he knows “everything” about his region, and from that knowledge proceeds to universal significance.

Buckler’s later novels were not as successful, partly because he employed the same laborious style and explored the same farming region. His second novel, The Cruelest Month (1963), focuses on Paul Creed, who, like David Canaan, is inwardly scarred; this novel once again explores the nature of perception and intuition. In Ox Bells and Fireies (1968), Buckler examines the unity of interior and exterior, unconscious and conscious, in the pastoral world of Nova Scotia.