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It is winter in Area X and there are people inside.


Saul Evans, the lighthouse keeper, experiences the beginning of Area X.

The director leads the Southern Reach until her death.

Ghost Bird goes home to Area X and meets the biologist.

Control finds Grace and accepts the light.

a black and white illustration of a lighthouse along a coast

Saul's Story

Saul is the lighthouse keeper. He's in a relationship with a man named Charlie and spends a lot of time with a little girl named Gloria. There's friction between him and Henry and Suzanne from the Seance and Science Brigade (the S&SB), who try to apply scientific principles to paranormal phenomena.

Henry and Suzanne go to the top of the lighthouse and investigate the lens. Saul hears something break and discovers the lens has been chipped.

One day, when out doing lighthouse keeper chores, Saul sees something swirling and glowing in the grass and touches it. Like a splinter, it lodges itself inside his hand.

One night he hears people in the lighthouse. He goes upstairs and finds Suzanne, Henry, and a stranger. He tells them to leave, forcefully, but Henry stays behind and babbles about how he broke the lens and that by doing so something had happened.

He has a vision of something crashing into the earth. Later that day, Gloria leaves to go stay with her father. Saul tells her, "Don't forget about me!"

There came an incandescent light. There came a star in motion, the sun plummeting to Earth. There fell from the heavens a huge burning torch, thick flames dripping out behind it. And this light, this star, shook the sky and the beach where he had walked a second ago under the clear blue sky.

Saul and Charlie go to a bar. Charlie leaves for the night and Saul stays behind. Terrible things happen in the bar.

Someone was crawling across the floor, or pulling themselves across the floor because their legs didn't work. Someone was bashing their head against the dark glass near the front door. Sadi spun and twitched and twisted on the floor, slamming into chairs and table legs, beginning to come to pieces.

He drives to the lighthouse and sees Henry and a vision of all of the journals at the top. Henry has killed Henry and Suzanne and then throws Saul and himself off of the top of the lighthouse.

Henry dies, and Saul runs away. Something happens to him.

an illustration of a fig branch

The Director's Story

The director grew up with the name Gloria but adopted the name Cynthia when hiding her identity to increase her chances of working at the Southern Reach. She went by this new name for over thirty years. We don't know what she'd call herself, so we call her "the director" or "the psychologist."

Her story is told in second person.

The director decides to cross the border into Area X without permission and without an expedition, risking the wrath of Jim Lowry at Central, who keeps the secret of her birthplace. She invites Whitby Allen, an energetic ecosystems expert, to go with her, and he agrees willingly. Without Whitby's agreement, the director might have called it off.

They head to the topographical anomaly, what the biologist called "the tower," where the director descends and sees Saul Evans sitting there as if he'd been frozen in time. At the top of the tower, Whitby is attacked.

A prickling engulfs your head under your mask, a kind of smooth, seamless insertion of a million cold, painless needles, ever so subtle, ever so invisible, so that you can pretend it is just a spreading heat against your skin, a taut feeling across the sides of your nose, around your eyes, the quiet soft entry of needles into a pincushion, the return of something always meant to be there.

They head to the lighthouse where Whitby meets Whitby in the room with all the journals and the two Whitbys fight to the death. Dead Whitby's backpack contains a plant and a cell phone.

Then, and only then, are you drawn to wonder whether your Whitby won—and who this other Whitby might have been, who in death would have seemed preternaturally calm, face smooth and unwrinkled, eyes wide and staring, only the angle of the body suggesting that some violence has been perpetrated upon it.

Lowry is furious and upset when the director returns from her trip, but he won't reveal her secrets. But he doesn't know them all: the director has cancer when she goes on the 12th expedition. Not the same kind as experienced by the last 11th expedition, but aggressive cancer nonetheless.

Just before going on her expedition, she confronts Lowry about Jackie Severance's involvement with the S&SB. Severance is the stranger who Saul saw that night with Henry and Suzanne. She's also Control's mother. Lowry confesses that's true. Then the director asks Lowry if it's his phone that she found in Dead Whitby's backpack. It is.

She goes on the expedition, bringing with her a letter to Saul, and dies by throwing herself off of the lighthouse, running away from something nameless and formless.

a black and white illustration of a pig skull

Ghost Bird and Control's Story

After swimming into Area X from the jagged hole at Rock Bay, Ghost Bird, who is not the biologist, and Control start to walk to the island off the coast of Area X. Ghost Bird is exploring her home, and Control feels the pull of assimilation.

They reach the island and Grace Stevenson, the assistant director, is there. She has been there for three years, despite only weeks passing since the border's advance. Among the many things she's collected, Grace has acquired the biologist's final journal, which Ghost Bird reads.

In the journal is the biologist's story.

a brown and white owl crouched low with its beak open

The Biologist's Story

As she made her way to the island, the biologist encountered the moaning creature. It perfectly matches the description of Whitby's painting of it on the wall.

The body had the consistency of form of a giant hog and slug commingled, the pale skin mottled with mangy patches of light green moss. The arms and legs suggested the limbs of a pig but with three thick fingers at their ends. Positioned along the midsection near what I supposed was the stomach were two more appendages, which resembled fleshy pseudopods. ... And this face in its slumber formed a mask of utter uncomprehending anguish, the mouth in a perpetual O as it moaned out its distress, as its limbs gouged at the ground, as it made its wounded, halting progress in what amounted to circles.

On the island, the biologist settles in to a new life. With the lighthouse far away and the coast ahead, the only supernatural thing that she dealt with besides her own brightness was the attentive friendship of an owl, possibly her husband.

She investigates what she calls the Seeker & Surveillance Bandits. They're obsessed with the twin lighthouses and are trying to detail either an object or a phenomena. The rest is unclear.

After 30 years, the owl dies. The next week, she writes her final journal and then agrees to let the brightness take her.

The biologist, transformed, arrives at the ruined lighthouse.

It had many, many glowing eyes that were also like flowers or sea anemones spread open, the blossoming of many eyes—normal, parietal, and simple—all across its body, a living constellation ripped from the night sky. Her eyes. Ghost Bird's eyes. Staring up at her in a vast and unblinking array.

Control, Ghost Bird, and Grace return to the tower. Grace stays at the top, and Control and Ghost Bird descend to find the Crawler, who shows her unimaginable things.

A brilliant gold-green light erupted from the globe and plunged into the heart of her and an icy calm came over her, and through the calm bled a kind of monumental light and in that light she could see all that could be revealed even as Area X peered in at her.

Control runs down and into the light.

Ghost Bird returns to the surface and searches for the border with Grace.

an illustration of a baleen whale's head, mouth open

our thoughts

about the linguist

When the director lets the linguist go, she excises the biggest source of Lowry's influence over her expedition, but she also does lose the linguistic perspective. She knows that linguists have been pouring over the words for decades alongside her, even if it is done with a sort of superstitious appreciation. She herself has poured over the meaning of the words, and she came to no solid conclusions. She had whole divisions on her team dedicated to it, and even then they made no progress. By letting the linguist go, she was also in effect letting go of the power the words had over her, too.

the biologist's fate

the biologist says in no uncertain terms that she found the idea of using pain to stave off the brightness to be “pathetic.” then she spends 30 years doing so. sure, she says she has a change of heart when she sees the moaning creature, but that could also be out of character. she stated so strongly that her intentions were to come to area x and for it to be her story, that she was not going for her husband. are we supposed to believe that she was lying and that actually the whole time everything she’s done in area x has been for him?

just because he asked before he left doesn’t mean he gets to be her answer. she didn’t answer. that’s not a question she had an answer to.

i don’t know if the story is supposed to be, the director sent in the biologist thinking she could be a weapon but actually she was just a woman looking for her husband. we want the biologist to be her own person, to mean something to the narrative, for her statements to be true and not just evidence of an unreliable narrator. like her last word to us is “him” and like… that’s not how i wanted her to go.

and then she doesn’t technically go, she does appear mere moments later for real, in the flesh, to see what she has really become, but that’s the woman i wanted throughout the whole thing, not the reward for sticking it through with her man, not the prize after waiting 30 years and a week before giving into the world around you.

30 years of fighting. pathetic. but was she? did she have to be?

an illustration of a baleen whale's head, mouth open


But the whisper isn't done with you yet.
You're not down there.
You're up here.
And there's still an interrogation going on.
One that will repeat until you have given every answer.

"One day," he said, leaning on the shovel, "they got all through the kitchen window by standing on top of each other and jiggling the latch."

"Armadillo pyramid!"

Once at the rocks, she climbed away from them, and then turned around and began to climb back, shrieking with delight and shouting, for no good reason, "I'm a monster! I'm a monster!"


Out of this landscape, Henry rose, too, at the lighthouse door, with a beatific smile on his face that kept growing larger until it curled off the edges of his jaw. Words erupted from him, but not aloud. And God said, Let there be light. God said that, Saul, and He has come from so far away and his home is gone, but His purpose remains. Would you deny Him His new kingdom?


"I'd tell her, 'You made a lot of fucking mistakes. You made a lot of mistakes, and yet I love you. You're a mess and a revelation, but I can't be any of that. All I can do is work out things myself.' And then, knowing her, she'd probably look at me funny and take a tissue sample from me."

And from the wash and churn, the thrashing around him, a familiar hand grasped his drifting wrist and yanked him upward. So that he was not just a swirl of confused memory, a bruised body, a cipher, but apparently something worth saving, someone in the process of being saved.


John Rodriguez elongated down the final stairs, jumped into the light.


an illustration of a fig branch 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
an illustration of a lighthouse along a coast 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
an illustration of a lighthouse along a coast 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
a sketch of a rabbit control

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