The Reach

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For the 2014 film, see The Reach (film).
Not to be confused with the fictional creators of the Blue Beetle scarab, Reach.
"The Reach"
Author Stephen King
Original title "Do The Dead Sing?"
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Short story
Published in Yankee (1st release),
Skeleton Crew
Publication type Magazine (1st release)
Media type Print (Periodical & Paperback)
Publication date 1981

The Reach is a short story by Stephen King. First published in Yankee in 1981 under the title "Do the Dead Sing?", it was later collected in King's 1985 collection Skeleton Crew.

Plot summary[edit]

Stella Flanders, the oldest resident of Goat Island, has just celebrated her 95th birthday. She has never crossed the reach, the body of water that separates the Island from the mainland, in her entire life. She tells her great-grandchildren when they ask, "I never saw any reason to go." Stella comes to the realization that the cancer that she's known she has, and kept to herself, is in its final stages when she starts seeing the deceased residents of Goat Island. Her visions start with her dead husband inviting her to "come across to the mainland."

As her impending death draws near, Stella encounters more apparitions of the dead of Goat Island, and she makes peace with the knowledge that it is her time to go. Dressed in her warmest clothes, plus her son's long johns and hat, Stella heads across the frozen reach toward the mainland.

As she starts her trek, it starts to snow - the blowing wind, along with the snow, makes it difficult for her to find her way and she becomes afraid of being lost in the storm. Along her walk, she meets up with the woman who was her best friend, Annabelle, as well as several others. When the wind whips the hat off of her head, her dead husband, Bill, is there and gives her his hat. She is surrounded by her friends and family and they sing to her as she crosses over from this life.

Stella Flanders is found, dead, sitting up right on a rock on the mainland. Her son, Alden, recognizes his father's hat. He comes to believe that the dead sing and that they love those still living.

Inspiration[edit]

Stephen King's inspiration for "The Reach" came about from the story his brother-in-law, Tommy, told him while in the Coast Guard. The real-life alter-ego of Stella Flanders lived and died on a small Maine Island, never stepping foot on the mainland. She remained on a small stretch of land with a community so close, they were more like family. She had everything she needed on this island and had no need to cross the Reach until the day she died. Being intrigued by the idea of the Reach, and flabbergasted with Flanders' counterpart, King came up with the idea for this short story.

"The Reach" was the original title, but King changed it to "Do the Dead Sing?" when it was published in Yankee. When it was published in Skeleton Crew, King changed it back to the original title.

Major themes[edit]

Throughout King’s work, New England has played a vital role. It has lent its often gloomy atmosphere and harsh winters as unforgiving elemental characters in his frightening tales. King did an interview on the TODAY show in which he said "The Reach" is the one story he would want to be remembered for because "it's the Maine that he grew up in and the people he knows."[1]

New England, Maine specifically, is where King spent most of his childhood and adult life. The towns he writes about are fictitious, but have their basis in fact. They are usually small, close-knit communities where the inhabitants are dependent upon one another and treat each other more like family than neighbors. The primary reason for that is the seclusion of the communities - they don't have the ready availability of assistance from external sources.

Death and dying is the predominant theme in “The Reach”. Stella Flanders’ reminiscences focus as much on the dead as they do the living, and it is the dead that give support to Stella when she is crossing the Reach. The realization that her illness is progressing creates the desire to cross the Reach. The journey from Goat Island to the mainland is a metaphor for Stella’s crossing from one life to the next. When she becomes lost in the snow, her environment is described as otherworldly; she describes it as gauzy and grey thus setting the scene for the appearance of her long deceased husband and friends.

"The Reach" is about one woman's end of life experience. Stella Flanders is aware that she is terminally ill and reaching the end of her life. The story takes us with her on her journey as she first denies her impending death, by ignoring the ghosts that appear to her, to her coming to terms with it (when she first responds to her dead husband, Bill), and finally to her acceptance of it - when she decides to "cross over" the Reach with her dead companions.

Do you love? Is asked multiple times throughout the story. In the beginning of “The Reach”, this question sneaks into Stella’s thoughts while she is reflecting on difficult times, yet she does not cry. When she is crossing the Reach with her dearly departed she is asked again, Do you love?, and tearfully answers, “yes I will, yes I did, yes I do.” She is crying for the first time, and crying for everything she never cried for during her difficult life. She is accepting her death, letting go of the past, and finding that she will not be alone, but rather embraced by those she loved during her lifetime.

Gothic elements[edit]

Typical gothic fiction uses drafty castles and gloomy estates for settings; Stephen King uses fictional Goat Island in Maine and its unforgiving winters as the ominous home for Stella Flanders and her familial community. The location takes on the role of the wilderness as used in early American gothic fiction. The remoteness of Goat Island and Stella's willingness to allow it to be her entire world is evocative of the "world within a world" that appears in gothic literature.

King uses the gothic element of foreshadowing by giving the reader glimpses of the illness that is advancing in Stella Flanders. When Stella attempts to cross the Reach and becomes lost, she likens herself to the damsel in distress; when the dead come to her aid, the supernatural characteristic strengthens the gothic influence. King’s use of unsettling words to describe the island, weather, and events further evoke gothic standards.

Perhaps the most obvious of the gothic elements used here, is that of ghosts. Ghosts often appear in gothic fiction. Their appearance is usually of a pivotal nature to the other characters in the story. Stella sees the dead and is able to interact with them, although they cause her fear because she is aware that this means that her time is short. As Stella comes to accept her death, she puts her trust in them to help her cross over. It is their kindness and comforting nature towards her that finally allows Stella to accept them and the help they can provide her with as she makes her final transition.

Critical overview[edit]

Upon introducing Stephen King to an audience at Princeton in 1997, Joyce Carol Oates lauds King as a gothic storyteller with his "startling images and metaphors, which linger long in the memory". Oates continues to praise King's New England saturated atmospheres as "a poetic evocation of that landscape, its history and its inhabitants". Oates mentions some of King's more gothic horror stories, most notable "The Reach", which she considers "elegantly composed".[2]

Adaptations[edit]

"The Reach" has been adapted by artist Glenn Chadbourne for the book The Secretary of Dreams, a collection of comics based on King's short fiction released by Cemetery Dance in December 2006.


See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Stephen King Q & A"
  2. ^ "Joyce Carol Oates Speech

External links[edit]