I was at Disneyland the first time I discovered Ridley Pearson’s Kingdom Keepers series. I went to the park after a session at Pacifica, during which my cohort and I were discussing the intricacies of modern fairy tales. During the class, I had the epiphany for the perfect video game, one that would fuse the principles of Kingdom Hearts (i.e. a hero who is assisted by the Disney characters over the course of his adventure) with a murder mystery or some other mystery of some sort, and this particular mystery would be set at Disneyland. Each attraction would hold some clue toward the solution of the mystery. And if you remember that old Nintendo game that was set in the Magic Kingdom (whose name has long left me), then you understand the premise that us, the player, would have to wind our way through the virtual attraction in order to get the clue.
So imagine my happiness that someone had already written the story for me!
The Kingdom Keepers series is about 5 kids who are hired by Disney Imagineering to be turned into DHIs (or Digital Hologram Imaging), which act as digital hosts through Walt Disney World, becoming themselves an attraction. Unbeknownst to the kids, the Imagineers (or rather, at least one key old timer) did some wonky programming that gave the kids the ability to turn into their DHI while they sleep. The reason? The Overtakers, primarily comprised of Disney’s villains and other shady characters, were threatening to, well, over take Walt Disney World to destroy the magic. Being villains, they are easily able to do this, but just can’t get organized enough to actually succeed easily (something about the evil ego). The point of the series seems to be the continual thwarting of the OTs in the interest of preserving the magic. Thus far, there are four books to the series: Disney After Dark, Disney at Dawn, Disney in Shadow, and Power Play. The first three books are set in a different park at on the WDW resort, and the fourth one is currently all over the place. Pearson has hinted on his Twitter (or maybe others have hinted for him) that at least one of the future books will take place on the Disney Cruise line.
Hey, Ridley! When are the OTs going to threaten Disneyland!? Or what about the other resorts around the world?
There are a few different mythic themes at play in this series that makes it so fascinating, and I don’t just mean the obvious setting in Disney:
1. Collective hero/collective villain – In the traditional frame of the ubiquitous (perhaps now cliché) Campbellian hero’s cycle, the hero ventures into a magic “otherworld” and undergoes this journey to get the boon or some other reward, depending on the nature of the quest. While this hero does have magical friends and other helpers, the hero must ultimately conquer the villain alone. However, in recent popular mythologies, we are seeing more and more a trend for a collective hero. While Finn is considered the “leader,” he recognizes that each of the other Keepers has his or her own strength, which always comes in handy to succeed in the task. Recognizing this, the OTs also realize that they have to work as a collective if they are going to overshadow the Keepers. Typically, in Western literature, the evil villain got to that point by being extremely ego-driven, often perceiving his or her helpers as a means to an end, and easily disposable. However, in these books, the OTs are learning (because they’re out for power) that by working together, they become a force that can almost completely trump the Keepers. A collective fighting a collective, not solo hero versus solo villain. That there are a number of stories emphasizing the concept of the collective (hero more often than not) suggests to me that there is a shift happening in our cultural psyche, perhaps even in our collective unconscious, that recognizes that the black-and-white paradigm of previous heroic myths will not restore the balance to our swiftly-tilting planet (as evidenced by Avatar: The Last Airbender).
2. The use of technology – Technology is scary. Many commentators – and you know who they are – are quick to point out that technology is bad for us, pointing to various social issues that underscore this point: movies such as Terminator, Blade Runner, or even Avatar; or the astonishing statistics that technology makes kids stupid (which, let’s be honest, is really the fault of a poor educational system, not that they play video games). The Kingdom Keepers, however, utilize technology as the means by which they can enter into the mythic realm or otherworld and play on the same plane as the OTs. However, they also utilize technology as their primary means to communicate and coordinate. In the first novel, VMK (Virtual Magic Kingdom) was still open (and I wish it would re-open!), and the kids used their virtual avatars to communicate. Despite what one may think, technology is here to stay, and the Kingdom Keepers demonstrates a good use of it, rather than the super scary, apocalyptic use – that’s for the OTs.
3. A meta-fairy-myth setting – Disney theme parks are a fairy tale setting unto themselves. They are a real life otherworld that all of us are capable of visiting, and having that mythic experience that we otherwise can only read about. The Kingdom Keepers are a myth, tackling our culture’s images of “evil villain” and keeping the evil at bay (the whole good versus evil thing). They are acting out the myth in our culture’s fairy tale setting. This is really groovy.
Now there are games you can play at the Kingdom Keepers website, making the books an interactive experience. Next step? Actual DHIs or maybe a virtual Kingdom Keepers attraction at Disney? (BTW, Disney, if you’re interested, I’ll be glad to send you a prospectus of the latter.)
These are the perfect books for any lover of suspense fiction, young adult fiction, and fairy tales/myths. And now, to finish the fourth book.