When The Book of Atrus begins, Gehn, then 19, is stamping around the garden his
mother has made in the Cleft, muddying up the pool of precious water and ruining the delicate plants. He had married, and his pregnant wife had become very
ill. In desperation, as a last resort, he brought her to Anna, but it was
too late and the girl died giving birth to Gehn's son. In a fury
of anger and despair, Gehn left his infant son with his mother, not even bothering to name him, and disappeared.
The book then jumps ahead in time and takes us through a series of little
vignettes showing the life that Anna and Atrus (for Anna has named him after
his grandfather) lead together. She has spent the years teaching him well.
Anna has taught Atrus to see "the whole," all sides of things. She's
trained him to be thorough, to take his time and do things well. She's
told him stories of the D'ni all his life. She's taught him their spoken
language and their common written language, but hasn't begun training him in the special language of the Art, feeling that's he's too young. He's never known
any other place or way of life, and his temperament is very much like hers, so he's content with their life together.
When he is fourteen, Atrus conducts an experiment within the crater of the volcano. He hopes to be able to charge a battery he's made so he can automate the drawing of water, which would make things easier for them. While trying to charge the battery, there is an explosion, which uncovers a cave or tunnel of some kind that looks almost as if it had been carved from the rock. Before he can
investigate, his grandmother calls him away, telling him to leave the
battery as it is just too dangerous down there in the crater.
Later when Anna isn't watching, Atrus returns to retrieve his battery and to
investigate the tunnel. In the tunnel he finds a huge carving in the
wall - a D'ni word! Now he's really excited! Up until now he's only
half-believed the stories his grandmother has told him about the D'ni. He also finds a fire-marble in the tunnel. He hurries away, meaning to raise his battery
before his grandmother notices he's gone.
Anna finds him while he is dragging the battery to the Cleft and helps
him move it the last of the way. She doesn't scold him, though he has
disobeyed her, but tells him it is time she told him a story. Then she
tells him about the Fall of D'ni and Ti'ana's role in it, but doesn't tell
him that she is Ti'ana.
"... and so, when Veovis finally returned, the fate of the D'ni was sealed.
Within a day the great work of millennia was undone and the great caverns
of the D'ni emptied of life. and all because of Ti'ana's misjudgment."
Atrus was silent a while, then he looked up at Anna. "So you blame Ti'ana,
"But she couldn't have known, surely? Besides, she did what she thought
"To salve her own conscience, maybe. But was it best for the D'ni? There
were others who wanted Veovis put to death after the first revolt. If
their voices had been listened to... if only Ti'ana had not spoken so
eloquently to the Great Council..."
Anna fell silent again, her head lowered.
Atrus frowned, then shook his head. "I didn't know..."
"No..." Anna stared a moment longer at her hands, then looked to him and
smiled. "Nor does it really matter now. All that is in the past. The
D'ni are no more. Only the tales remain."
Atrus tells her about the fire-marble and where he found it. At the sight
of it her whole countenance changes. She tells him not to go there again.
It is very dangerous down there and he isn't ready yet. She makes him
promise. He does and keeps it.
After that she mentions to him the ideas behind the special D'ni language
used in The Art, and thinks about being able to teach him soon, but before
she can begin, Gehn comes up out of the volcano. He has been living in the ruins of D'ni and has returned to claim his son. In spite of Anna's protests, Gehn takes Atrus with him down into D'ni, leaving her behind.
On the way down Gehn constantly consults a notebook. Noticing this, Atrus develops a deep respect for him, thinking of how Gehn must have spent a long time alone in the dark, braving great dangers, searching out the paths to find his goal. The way was so complicated, that he had had to record the directions in that notebook. The trip is torturous, long, and dangerous. There are great beauties as well as dangers. At last, foot sore and very weary, they reach D'ni.
We are treated to a fascinating picture of the vast ruins of D'ni. We learn all sorts of interesting tidbits of D'ni culture. Because The Book of Atrus was published a year before The Book of Ti'ana, many people read it first. After reading The Book of Ti'ana, and then reading The Book of Atrus again, many of the things that Atrus sees in D'ni make more sense.
At first Atrus thinks his father is wonderful. He has a strong case of
hero worship. He rationalizes Gehn's bluntness and rudeness by thinking
that he's not been around people for so long, that he's lost his manners.
But Gehn is more than merely blunt. He's impatient, dictatorial, arrogant,
and easily offended. He frequently jumps to wrong conclusions in many
matters and is difficult to please.
Gehn eventually tells Atrus that Anna is Ti'ana and that the Fall of D'ni
was indeed her fault. His version of the story is as flawed as everything
else about him, but it has an affect on Atrus. For a while Atrus is angry
with Anna for not telling him, but over time he comes to his senses and
begins to see the "whole" again and understands what Anna had tried to
teach him. Understanding this gives him a better understanding of The Art
of Writing Ages.
Gehn has taught himself enough of The Art to write Ages, but they are
always flawed and unstable. He is sure that there are magic formulas for
the Writing and feels that if he just gets the right combination of
phrases copied out of other Descriptive Books, he'll be able to write stable Ages. He doesn't realize that you must look at the big picture, or that you must plan and write with an understanding of the smallest details and with great care.
After a few years, Gehn takes Atrus to his 37th Age, secretly hoping that
when Atrus studies it, he'll find out why his Ages are always unstable. Gehn
experiments a lot, making drastic changes in the Age in an attempt to save
it, but it just keeps getting worse.
Meanwhile, he's given Atrus the opportunity to write his first Age. Atrus
writes a beautiful stable Age, which he names Inception. When he and Gehn
inspect it, Gehn is impatient to return to D'ni and Write more Ages. He doesn't
want to stay and explore at all. He doesn't value the Age itself. Gehn
doesn't value or even name his own Ages. He merely numbers them. He tells
Atrus they have to return for a Korfah V'ja ceremony.
Back in D'ni in his library on K'veer, Gehn tells Atrus the ceremony is for a
new god, a god-crowning ceremony. He claims that they are gods, because
they create worlds. He says that the people of Age 37 need to be reminded
of that. He's been writing in the Descriptive Book for that Age again,
making more drastic changes. When Atrus questions what he's doing, Gehn
bursts into a rant.
He criticizes Atrus because out of all the notebooks on Ages Atrus was
keeping, only one was thorough enough to be a proper Age, and then in the
same breath, he criticizes him for sticking to the conventional kind of
writing and not experimenting and writing more quickly. He contradicts
himself and confuses Atrus, who wonders what his father wants, stable
worlds or quick worlds.
"Gehn huffed, exasperated. "You are no good to me if you work at this pace
all the time. I need Ages. Dozens of them. Hundreds of them! That is
our task, Atrus, don't you see? Our sacred task. To make Ages and
populate them. To fill up the nothingness with worlds. Worlds we can own
and govern, so that the D'ni will be great again. So that my grandsons
will be lords of a million worlds!"
Gehn hurries Atrus off to Age 37, where he's arranged for the Korfah V'ja
ceremony. As soon as they link in, they realize that something has gone
terribly wrong. Gehn has ruined the Age. The world is falling apart. All
the people, Atrus' friends and acquaintances, are going to die. The frightened people beg Gehn to help them. Gehn rushes them through the ceremony and then
leaves the Age with Atrus following behind.
Back in the library on K'veer again, Atrus nags Gehn to fix Age 37, as Gehn
claimed he could. Gehn crosses out enough of the changes in the Age to
take it back up the tree of possibility, so that the Book now links to a
different, but similar Age. He didn't fix anything in the damaged Age, he just changed the link to another Age. Atrus goes to see the new Age and comes back knowing the truth.
When he returns to his father, he finds him drugged on that pipe he smokes.
Atrus is really angry and yells at his father. In his anger, he says that all
Gehn's Ages are unstable, because he doesn't understand what he's been
doing all these years, he doesn't understand the "whole."
Gehn becomes furious at his son's words. They hit home too well. He yells
at Atrus that he, Atrus, is the one who doesn't know what he's doing. He
says that Atrus couldn't possibly learn to Write in three and a half years.
He says that he, Gehn, has been studying for thirty years, since he was four.
He takes Atrus' Age, Inception, and begins criticizing how it's written,
and then he takes up the pen and starts crossing out what he calls
unnecessary phrases. He thinks that Atrus has gotten them all out of
books, but Atrus has written it from scratch by himself, a concept that
Gehn doesn't begin to understand. Atrus is horrified at what Gehn is
doing. He begs him to stop, but Gehn is unstoppable. He ruins the Age.
Looking coldly at his son, Gehn accuses Atrus of being like his
grandmother, headstrong and inclined to meddle.
Atrus tells Gehn that he had claimed to fix the 37th Age, but instead he
had changed the link to a different Age and really fixed nothing. He asks
Gehn to let him, Atrus, fix it. Gehn contemptuously says the Book is
defective and throws it into the fire. The link is lost and his friends
will perish in the terrible destruction that Gehn has caused in their Age.
Atrus is stunned and heartsick. He has learned that his father is mad. He
doesn't know what he's going to do, where he's going to go, but he knows he
can't stay with Gehn. He decides to say goodbye to him rather than just
running away like a child with his tail between his legs.
He finds Gehn in his study heavily drugged with his pipe, and there just beside his
father's outstretched hand is the notebook he was always consulting on the way down into D'ni. Curiosity overcomes Atrus' feeling that it would be wrong to look at it. He takes it up and opens it to the first page, reading what is written there,
"The Book of Atrus..." At first he is confused, but then he realizes that it
refers not to himself, but to Gehn's father.
"He read on, then stopped, the last thread that had connected him to his
father broken in that instant. Slowly he sat down in Gehn's chair, nodding
to himself, a bitter laugher escaping him."
"There he'd been, admiring his father, exalting him almost, for his courage,
his patience in finding a path through the darkness of the tunnels back to
D'ni. And all the while the path had been clearly marked, here in his
grandfather's notebook. It wasn't Gehn who had taken the risks, but Gehn's
Under the painful weight of his disillusionment, Atrus takes the notebook,
the Book of Atrus, and leaves K'veer. He tries to make it back up the
tunnels to the surface to where he had left Anna nearly four years before,
but Gehn's paranoia has served him well. He has removed a crucial page
from the notebook and kept it locked in a metal box in a locked drawer in
his desk. When he realizes that his son is gone, Gehn summons his servant, Rijus, and they pursue Atrus, catching up with him in the tunnels. They return him to D'ni and lock him up in the deepest room in the island mansion of K'veer.
There seems to be nothing in the room but a desk and the Descriptive Book
of Gehn's Fifth Age. Atrus thinks this is a trap, so he leaves it alone
and searches for secret passages or a way out, but can't find any. He does
find an old stonecutter and using the blade from it, he makes a crack in the
wall by the locked door. Instead of freeing him, it brings down the
pillars and ceiling in that part of the room, trapping him there.
Turning his attention back to the desk and the Book of Age 5, Atrus wonders why Gehn left the Book there. What does he want? Why did he leave him pen and ink,
and a linking book from Age Five back to this room? He realizes that Gehn
never does anything without some self-serving reason. Though he now has
little choice, he decides to read the book before he visits the Age.
"For several hours he sat there, slowing leafing through the pages, noting
all the flaws, all the possible contradictions that Gehn's particular
writing style threw up. More than ever, he could see his father's limited
vision on every page, like a hideous tapestry quilted together from
exquisite patches of silk. The entire work was shortsighted and disjointed
and yet it was also, paradoxically, quite clever. Surprisingly so."
"Even so, it was one single thing which, in the end, caught Atrus's
imagination; one element which made him catch his breath and make him want
to go and see."
In the next part of the book there is a wonderful and fascinating view of Riven before the land split into five islands. Atrus is saved from drowning by two Rivenese natives, cousins of Katran, and comes in this way to meet her and become known to the natives.
Gehn has established himself as a god on Riven. He has selected certain of
the natives to be in his Guild, and he's taught some of them to copy D'ni
symbols, withholding certain key words without which it is impossible to
Write Ages. Katran alone seems to have understood at once the true meaning
of the symbols she is copying. Though not as talented as Atrus, Gehn feels
she is much more docile and easier to control. He tells her that he has
decided to marry her.
"Yes, Katran," he said, looking at her fondly now. "You are to be my wife.
You will sit at my right hand and rule a thousand worlds with me."
He gives her thirty days before the wedding. In turn, without telling
Atrus why, Katran tells him that he must fix the Age of Riven within thirty
days. She has stolen blank Books from Gehn's study which Atrus will use to
make his experiments so he can make the right changes to the Descriptive Book of Riven.
Katran shows Atrus the split in the Great Tree that appeared as a
punishment and warning from Gehn. At least that's Gehn's story. One of
the Guild spoke out of turn, questioning something that Gehn said to him.
In a fury, Gehn forced the villagers to sacrifice the man, in what Katran
vaguely calls feeding him to the sea. Gehn then threatened the people,
telling them that if they question him again, he will destroy their world.
Katran has written an Age of her own, and she lets Atrus read the Book. He
doesn't even recognize some of the symbols she's used. Gehn never taught
those to him. Katran merely shrugs that off. Atrus tells her it's
wonderful writing, but it won't work, which is what he thinks until she
gets him to link to there. It is a marvel of imagination, something out of
While on the light side of her Age, Katran tells Atrus what Gehn has
planned for her and says she would rather die than marry him. They decide
to work together to save Riven from destruction. Atrus conducts his experiments, and, meanwhile, Katran tells him she's written them an Age, a place where they can go to be safe from Gehn. She's called it Myst.
He notices that Myst is very different from her other Age. It has a restraint
and a deep understanding of D'ni principles that surpasses his own. Atrus
realizes, now that he's seen the worlds that Katran has written, that it is
possible that Gehn could create countless slave worlds, subjecting the fate
of millions to his will. He sees only one solution: to trap Gehn on his
Fifth Age. He intends to leave Katran safe on Myst while he does this, but
she has other ideas.
(quotes from Epilogue of BOA)
"Only a remarkable woman would have done what Anna did, following us down
through that labyrinth of tunnels and broken ways, into D'ni. She had
known, of course, that Gehn would not keep his word. Had known what I, in
my innocence, could not have guessed - that my father was not merely
untrustworthy, but mad. All those years I spent on K'veer she had kept a
distant eye on me, making sure I came to no harm at my father's hands,
while she awaited the moment of my realization."
"Anna saw me flee K'veer and sought to find me in the tunnels once again,
but Gehn had got there first. Even then she would have intervened, but for
the mute. Seeing them carry me back, unconscious, to K'veer, she had known
she had to act. That evening she had gone to K'veer and, risking all, had
entered my father's study, meaning to confront him. But Gehn was not
there. It was Catherine she met. Catherine who, after that first moment
of shock and surprise, had chosen to trust and help her."
"I should have known at once that Myst was not Catherine's. But how was I
to know otherwise? I had thought Anna lost. Lost forever"
"And how was I to know that, just as I made my preparations, so the two of
them made theirs, pooling their talents - Anna's experience and Catherine's
intuitive genius - to craft those seemingly cataclysmic events on Age Five,
in such a way that after a time they would reverse themselves, making
Catherine's former home, now Gehn's prison, stable once more."
"I realized the moment I fell into the fissure that the book would not be
destroyed as I had planned. It continued falling into that starry expanse,
of which I had only a fleeting glimpse. I have tried to speculate where it
might have landed, but I must admit that such conjecture is futile. Still,
questions about whose hands might one day hold my Myst book are unsettling
to me. I know my apprehensions might never be allayed, and so I close,
realizing that perhaps the ending has not yet been written."