Ridley Pearson Interview Part 1: Kingdom Keepers VI Dark Passage

Recently, I interviewed Ridley Pearson, New York Times Best-Selling Author of the Kingdom Keeper series of books.  The sixth book in the series – “Dark Passage” was released earlier this month.  In our chat, Ridley Pearson discussed Kingdom Keepers VI – Dark Passage, his inspiration for the series, and how you can get involved to write the seventh (and final) “Kingdom Keepers” book.  Continue reading and/or listening (full audio of the interview is embedded) for what Ridley Pearson has planned after the “Kingdom Keepers” ends as well as his thoughts on a “Kingdom Keepers” film.  Later this week, we’ll also be posting our book review of “Kingdom Keepers VI – Dark Passage.”


Click on the “play” button to listen to the interview with author Ridley Pearson

[audio:http://www.adventuresbydaddy.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Ridley-Pearson-interview.mp3|titles=Ridley Pearson interview April 2013]

Ridley Pearson

One night, while leaving Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, the idea for “Kingdom Keepers” struck Ridley Pearson.  As the throngs of tourists exited the theme park, Ridley turned and noticed all the Disney characters still left behind.

I had a Toy Story moment,” Pearson quipped, “and wondered – what do the characters do once the park is closed and empty and all the families are home sleeping?

His writer’s imagination schemed up a war raging inside the parks over the past 40-50 years between the good characters and the Villains for control of “the magic.”  In the “Kingdom Keepers” novels, five teenagers are set inside the Disney theme parks, after-dark, and they find themselves caught in this epic battle between good and evil.  The Keepers want to join the good side and prevent the Villains (or Overtakers) from having their day and taking over.

Disney Dream at Sea

Disney Dream at Sea © Disney. All Rights Reserved


“Kingdom Keepers VI – Dark Passage” is set aboard Disney Cruise Line’s ship, the Disney Dream, for its inaugural passage through the new Panama Canal.  The Overtakers are also on board trying to get to Disneyland, and the Villains are attempting to awake a destructive force that’s been dormant for decades – Chernabog (from Walt Disney’s Fantasia).  Of course, the Kingdom Keepers want to prevent the return of Chernabog, considered one of the fiercest, most evil creatures ever created by Walt Disney, but the Villains plan on making the Keepers Chernabog’s first victims.


CHERNABOG from Walt Disney's "Fantasia" ©Disney. All rights reserved.


Don’t worry if you haven’t read any of the previous “Kingdom Keepers” books, Pearson promises you can start with “Dark Passage” and easily follow the story.

You can pick up the books individually, or start the books from the beginning and go all the way through and have a good sense of what’s going on.  As in any series you get a stronger sense of character and a stronger chronology to the story if you happen to read them all, but many, many kids and adults alike jump into the series midway and often back up and start reading from the beginning after they finish one or two books.

it's a small world

it's a small world - Magic Kingdom © Disney. All Rights Reserved


Disney has given Ridley Pearson extensive access to its theme parks to go backstage, after-hours, in order to conduct research for the books.  However, being in the Disney Parks after dark isn’t quite all it’s cracked up to be.  “It’s not the most magical place, it’s sort of the creepiest place on Earth,” Pearson joked, “because it’s like a ghost town.”   He recounted an experience riding it’s a small world.

One of my first visits was to “it’s a small world.”  I went in at 4:35am in the morning, and it was shut down, under emergency lighting, they turned on one of the boats and let me go with my Imagineer friend.  We were maybe 3 scenes into “it’s a small world” when out of the corner of my eye I see two of the audioanimatronic dolls move.  I jumped 5 feet out of the boat, and when I landed the Imagineer said, “what is with you?”  I replied, “two of those dolls moved,” and he said “Ridley, it’s shut down, there’s no way those dolls moved.”  But, I saw them move.  So I went back and wrote about that, and brought all the dolls alive and snapping at the kids and going crazy which, to this day some of the reader’s favorite scenes.

Disney Cruise Line also allowed Ridley Pearson on the Disney Dream’s Panama Canal cruise from Port Canaveral, FL to Los Angeles, CA.  The cruise stopped at Disney’s private island Castaway Cay, Aruba, Costa Rica, through the Panama Canal, and into Mexico.  The entire trip, Pearson gathered notes, captured photos and shot video for the novel.  All that detailed research went into “Kingdom Keepers VI – Dark Passage.”

Ridley Pearson on Disney Dream

Ridley Pearson is currently working on “Kingdom Keepers VII,” to be set in California’s Disneyland Park.  This will be the final book in the series, and there is a way for fans to get involved in the writing of the book.  Kingdom Keepers Insider is a website and free app where readers of the series can follow along with Ridley Pearson’s writing, vote on plot points, character involvement, and location.  Pearson had this to say about the initiative.

We are engaged in what I think is one of the more exciting writing projects around.  I got into this and had no idea how wonderful and crazy “Kingdom Keepers” readers would be.  Some of these kids have read the books 5, 6, or 11 times.  They know the people, they know the characters, they know the places, they know the books, in ways even I don’t know – and I wrote them.  I thought, this is kind of unfair of me to finish this series and leave them out of the process.  For 2 years, I’ve been trying to figure out how we could involve readers.  I finally ran into an amazing electronic publishing company called Colliloquy out of Palo Alto, CA.

Kingdom Keepers Insider

Colliloquy teamed with Disney to create a free app and website where young readers (as well as adults) can come in and vote on what characters should be in what scene, where the scenes should be set, what should happen next, and they can even contribute fan fiction.  Last week I asked for, “what would a Mayan temple that had just experienced an earthquake look like?”  I got 800 submissions.  We sifted through all of them, found two that we really loved, and I edited those and put them in the book.  They will be in the published best seller when it’s all done.  It gives young writers a chance to see their words in print in a best-selling novel.

To our knowledge this has never been done where an entire community has written the final book of a best-selling series.

Parents can also rest assured because it’s Disney.  Ridley Pearson and the publishers have worked to ensure Kingdom Keepers Insider is a totally safe online environment.  There’s no way for children to be identified or exposed to anything inappropriate, and everything is done with parent’s permission.

Ridley Pearson's Kingdom Keepers

We opened up the interview and took some questions from twitter.  Dillon Riera (‏@13d_riera) asked, “What are your plans after you finish the Kingdom Keepers series?”  Ridley Pearson replied,

Disney Publishing did not want me to end the series, but I really insisted that this be a closed loop.  So this series is coming to a close, but in some shape or manner, whether it’s Disney Hologram Images (DHIs) inside the parks… or whether it’s these same characters… somehow, the Kingdom Keepers idea/concept will continue for at least 3 or 4 books.

A number of readers were also curious if there were any discussions for a “Kingdom Keepers” film, and Pearson answered,

Yes, there has.  I’m, of course, always up for it.  The company seems to go in and out of their interest, and I think the stronger the showing in the bookstores, the more likely we might get a movie.

That said, “Peter and the Starcatchers,” the book I co-wrote with Dave Barry, went to stage and was eventually launched on Broadway (and won 5 Tonys last year) and has now moved Off-Broadway for an extended run, Disney has committed to making it into a motion picture – to be directed by Gary Ross who directed The Hunger Games.

Peter and the Starcatchers

Speaking of “Peter and the Starcatchers,” in Part 2 of my interview with Ridley Pearson we talk about that series of books co-authored with Dave Barry and the magical inspiration for the story.  Also, as Ridley Pearson travels the country on his book tour, he also gives some advice for family travel from a traveling Dad.  Remember to keep watching for our review of “Kingdom Keepers VI – Dark Passage” to be posted later this week.

So are you a “Kingdom Keepers” fan?  Have you read the books, or are you thinking of picking them up and giving them a try?  Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts.  For more family entertainment news, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.