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area x

& the southern reach trilogy


Welcome to our shrine of Area X, including the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer and the movie adaptation Annihilation (2018). Weird things happen to people involved in Area X. We really enjoy the lush descriptions, disappearing and reappearing people, fantastical chimeras, government hypnotists, and impossible genome mutations.

The shrine below is separated into four sections, one for each book of the trilogy and then the movie. Different musings about the book appear first, then favorite quoites, and finally a plot summary and character guide to follow along if you haven't read the books and don't mind spoilers. Spoilers are hidden by default.


our thoughts

The biologist is autistic. Undeniably so. Whether Jeff intentionally wrote her as autistic, her sense of isolation and separation from other people is a palpable theme from the beginning of the book through the end.



The twelfth expedition into Area X consists of four women: an anthropologist, a surveyor, a psychologist, and a biologist. They are exploring Area X, an area in the southern coast severed off from the rest of the world.

This story is told from the biologist's point of view.


Every evening in Area X, there is a loud moaning sound.

The four women discover something. A large structure of stone steps leads down into the earth multiple stories. The biologist calls it "the Tower" while the others call it the "tunnel." As they explore, they discover words written on the walls in something like lichen or fungi. The words furtively releases spores, which the biologist inhales.

The spores have created what she calls a "brightness" inside the biologist and she learns she is immune to the hypnosis that the psychologist wields against them.

The psychologist says strange things, but they go to bed.

In the morning, the anthropologist is gone and the psychologist is injured. The psychologist says that the anthropologist was returning back to the border early. Later, they go back to the tower to explore. The psychologist stands watch as the surveyor and the biologist carefully navigate the stairs.

The biologist discovers that the tower is not made of coquina and stone but is a living entity, something that is breathing. They discover the anthropologist's body and the evidence of the psychologist's presence. "The Crawler" was the creature the biologist decided was writing the words and killed the anthropologist. When they return to the surface, the psychologist is gone.

The biologist goes to the lighthouse and discovers a trapdoor at the top that leads to a room full of journals, far too many to be from only 11 previous expeditions. She reads them, and discovers her husband's.

After leaving the lighthouse, the biologist discovers the psychologist, who has thrown herself off from the top. She's dying. The biologist questions her and the psychologist gives little answer, but she does tell that the biologist looked like she was on fire.

As the biologist is walking back to base camp, she is chased by the moaning creature and sees its face. Its lifeless mask resembles the psychologist of the previous expedition, the one her husband went on.

When the biologist returns to base camp, the surveyor shoots her. Using newly heightened senses from the brightness, she is able to shoot the surveyor in the head.

The biologist descends into the Tower and encounters the Crawler. She endures unimaginable pain as she is excavated by the Crawler in every facet of her existence. But the Crawler does not consume her. She escapes and returns to the lighthouse to finish her journal, the text you're reading. She vows to set out for the island, where her husband may be.


the biologist

12th expedition

  • biologist studying transitional ecosystems
  • intense and passionate
  • empathic to environments
  • stubborn and self-reliant
  • married to the medic of the 11th expedition
  • inhales the spores of the words in the tower & discovers a new brightness inside her
  • watches the psychologist die
  • kills the surveyor
  • finds her husband's journal
  • leaves her journal as a goodbye as she heads for the island
the psychologist

12th expedition

  • psychologist hired by the southern reach
  • trained the expedition members
  • focused and intent
  • smiles in a cruel/pained way
  • hypnotizes the rest of the expedition members
  • kills the anthropologist by hypnotizing her to go and interact with the crawler
  • sneaks off to the lighthouse
  • jumps off the top of the lighthouse when she sees the biologist coming toward her engulfed in flames
  • dies after the fall
the anthropologist

12th expedition

  • wary and cautious
  • killed by the crawler
the surveyor

12th expedition

  • brave and stubborn
  • can handle guns well
  • suspicious of the biologist and others
  • killed by the biologist
the linguist

did not go on the 12th expedition

the biologist's husband

medic of the 11th expedition

  • calls the biologist "ghost bird"
  • spoilers
    • returned home after leaving area x inexplicably
    • died of cancer months later


    our thoughts


    Control followed the progress of one white brute, larger than his fellows—or larger than her fellows—who sought the higher ground in limitless leaps and bounds. There was something defiant in its stride. Or Control was projecting that onto the animal, just as he was projecting onto most of the other rabbits a peculiar stillness and watchfulness.
    For example, the eleventh expedition series had been composed of all men, while the twelfth, if it continued to X.12.B and beyond, would continue to be composed of all women. He wondered if his mother knew of any parallel in special ops, if secret studies showed something about gender that escaped him in considering the irrelevence of this particular metric. And what about someone who didn't identify as male or female? control's just a big silly dog
    "The terror," Whitby had said during the morning meeting, staring at the plant and the mouse. "The terror." But oddly, slurring it slightly, and in a tone as if he were imparting information rather than reacting or expressing an emotion.
    Everything had been fine just a second before. Why would anything be different now? this line appears in annihilation
    They talked for a while. Then the Voice said, "Good," while Control kept looking, at irregular intervals, at his sheet. "Just stabilize and do your job. Paralysis is not a cogent operation, either. You will get a good night's sleep tonight."
    Stabilize. Paralysis. Cogent. As he hung up, he was alarmed to realize that he did feel as if he had been stablized.
    spoilers evidence of the voice's hypnosis on control, the psychologist says a similar line in annihilation


    no spoilers




    john rodriguez

    • third generation spy
    • acting director of the southern reach
    • son of agent jackie severance
    • carries his father's animal sculptures
    • paranoid
    • discovers whitby's paintings
    • watches the footage of the 1st expedition
    • watches the footage of thousands of white rabbits being herded into the border
    • antagonistic relationship with grace upon his arrival
    • escapes the expansion of the border
    • follows ghost bird to rock bay and confronts her
    • jumps into area x through the door in the ocean created by ghost bird
    the director

    the director of the southern reach

    • subject of control's inquiry
    • the little girl in the photograph with saul evans
    • lived alone and brought area x documents with her
    • entered area x for two weeks with whitby
    • served six months suspension from lowry
    • did not return from area x
    ghost bird
    • the biologist's double
    • develops a rapport with control
    • escapes and goes to rock bay
    • created a portal into area x

    the assistant director of the southern reach

    • hates control
    • fiercely loyal
    • sympathetic to the expedition members
    • airs control's dirty laundry with rachel mccarthy right out in front of everyone
    • formerly married with grown up children, now partnered with a woman
    • ascertains control over the southern reach, leaving control just a figurehead
    • is inside the border when it expands

    environmental scientist

    • dedicated to his work
    • introduces control to terroir
    • sympathetic to the expedition members
    • gives control a tour of the facility and offers to show him a special room
    • works late
    • concerned with the catalyst for area x; control jokes that whitby is the reason why they haven't uncovered area x's secrets and that bothers him
    • the secret room is above the utility closet, where whitby has painted the various members of the southern reach as fantastical creatures
    • hiding inside shelving, reaches out and touches control's hair, then returns his hand
    • is inside the border when it expands

    head of the science division

    • talks a lot
    • dismissive of others, including whitby
    • is inside the border when it expands
    jackie severance

    control's mother

    • spy
    • absent from most of control's life
    • daughter of jack severance
    • former southern reach employee
    • confesses the identity of the voice
    • sent control to the southern reach on purpose
    • prompts control to leave after escaping the border
    the voice

    the one who orders control

    • abusive
    • demanding
    • manipulative
    • connected with central
    • hypnotizing control to obtain his information
    • control throws the voice's phone away, severing contact between him and central
    • is jim lowry

    survivor of the 1st expedition

    • only one to survive the first expedition
    • works for central
    • filmed disturbing events of the 1st expedition
    • is the voice
    • uses advanced hypnotic techniques to brainwash control into doing his bidding


    our thoughts



    no spoilers



    the director

    the director of the southern reach

    • lived on the forgotten coast
    • went on the 12th expedition as the psychologist
    • knew the lighthouse keeper
    • goes into area x with whitby
    • sees saul evans in the tower
    • sees whitby's double killed
    • answers to jim lowry
    • discovers that the cell phone recovered from area x from dead whitby's backpack belongs to lowry
    saul evans

    the lighthouse keeper

    • lived and worked on the forgotten coast
    • in a relationship with a man named charlie
    • ex-preacher
    • touches a glinting point of light next to a small white plant that stings him
    • reports a fire on failure island
    • sees a doctor because he feels "different"
    • is consumed by his old apocalyptic sermons
    • sees a vision of the pile of journals
    • is thrown off the top of the lighthouse by henry
    • becomes the crawler
    ghost bird

    not the biologist

    • the biologist's double created by area x
    • still working out her identity
    • wants to go to the island
    • with control, heads to the island
    • is drugged by grace stevenson when they arrive at the island
    • meets the biologist, who has been transformed by the brightness inside her
    • goes with grace and control back to the tower
    • encounters the crawler and watches control descend to the light
    • escapes with grace to search for the border

    john rodriguez

    • spy from central trapped in area x
    • struggling to hold onto the terroir pages
    • holds his father's wooden sculpture of a cat
    • with ghost bird, heads to the island
    • feels the infection of area x on him
    • meets grace at the old lighthouse on failure island
    • returns to the tower with ghost bird and grace
    • descends down the stairs
    • runs past the crawlery
    • transforms
    • runs into the light
    jim lowry

    ruler of central's hand in the southern reach

    • survived the 1st expedition
    • awful to work with
    • abusive prick
    • married four times with kids
    • knows the director's secret that she was raised on the forgotten coast
    • missing his phone from area x
    • tries to kill an otter
    grace stevenson
    • survivor of the border expansion
    • lived on the island for 3 years between the expansion and meeting control and ghost bird again
    • guards the entrance to the tower when control and ghost bird descend to look for the crawler

    annihilation (2018)

    our thoughts

    we love that they decided to make the psychologist autistic this time. at least, that's how it feels. they made lena a competent soldier with emotional intelligence even if she makes poor decisions, but in this one the psychologist is obsessed in a way that comes across as more intense than lena's fascination with the world.

    making lena, the protagonist and, in a way, audience surrogate into area x, more normal makes more sense for the movie, so making a side character have more of her other traits also makes sense.



    no spoilers




    member of the 12th expedition

    • professor of biology
    • married to kane, a member of the 11th expedition
    • former soldier
    • joins the 12th expedition while kane is unresponsive, because she felt that she owed him after cheating on him with daniel
    • finds the video from the 11th expedition showing kane cutting someone open and showing off their unnerving insides
    • sees cass get taken away by a bear and later finds her dead body
    • lies to anya and josie, saying they can leave by the coast when really she just wants to go to the lighthouse
    • anya catches her locket with kane's picture in it so she's tied to a chair along with ventress and josie by anya
    • after anya's death, she watches josie disappear before following ventress to the lighthouse
    • finds ventress in the center of the lighthouse before she bursts into a rainbow fractal
    • encounters her doppelganger and manages to make it blow itself up with a phosphorus grenade, destroying the terroir of area x

    member of the 11th expedition

    • soldier
    • lena's husband
    • gets cheated on by lena and learns of the affair before he goes to area x
    • the man who returns is not actually lena's husband
    • the double returns from area x after a year of no communication
    • the double can't remember anything of the events over the past year
    • the double starts coughing up blood and lena calls an ambulance while his organs start to fail
    • the double is stabilized by the southern reach, but nonresponsive
    • when the shimmer destroys itself, the double feels better

    the psychologist of the 12th expedition

    • wants to go to the lighthouse
    • has aggressive cancer
    • intent on discovering the secrets of area x

    the medic of the 12th expedition

    • strong constitution
    • ouroboros tattoo on her forearm
    • a former alcoholic
    • scared by the video of kane and the other members of the 11th expedition
    • distrusts lena after cass dies
    • knocks out and ties up the remaining members of the expedition and confronts lena about her relationship with kane
    • attacks but is killed by the bear / cass creature

    the astrophysicist of the 12th expedition

    • shy
    • studies the life-cycles of stars
    • has a history of self-harm
    • gets scared of the video of the 11th expedition members, so is drugged by cass to sleep better
    • is tied up along with lena and ventress when anya freaks out
    • after anya dies, decides to accept area x and disappears into a bright green grassy area filled with flowers with tangled stems in the shapes of people

    geologist of the 12th expedition

    • sturdy
    • compassionate
    • observant
    • daughter died of leukemia
    • literally announces the movie themes when she describes the experiences that changed them that leave them different people
    • attacked by the bear creature
    • her dying screams and the bear's roar combine
    • lena finds her dead body

    made up for the movie

    • in like two scenes
    • lena has an affair with him
    • they both teach at the same university
    • married


    • asking questions
    • interviews lena after she returns from area x