Times Staff Writer

The deal

United Artists Films options the “Ranger’s Apprentice” novels by John Flanagan, a young adult series pitched as “The Sword in the Stone” meets “The Lord of the Rings.”

The players

Flanagan is represented by Rick Raftos Management on literary rights and by Intellectual Property Group on film rights. United Artists began preliminary talks with Paul Haggis (“Crash” and “Million Dollar Baby”) to possibly adapt and direct, but those discussions are on hold because of the writers strike. The books are published in the United States by Philomel, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group.


The back story

Flanagan, an Australian ad copy writer and developer of TV sitcoms, had a concern familiar to millions of other parents: His teenage son had lost interest in reading, and rarely picked up books. So Flanagan took matters into his own hands and wrote a young adult novel that he thought his son would like, an action-packed fantasy about children in a medieval-like setting who join a group called the Rangers to defend their mythical kingdom. The young adult fantasy genre has become hugely competitive, amid the Harry Potter bonanza, but Flanagan’s formula succeeded. His three novels have sold in excess of 500,000 copies, according to his publisher. Naturally they began attracting Hollywood interest.

Although three studios wanted to option the material, United Artists Films recently won the rights. Flanagan’s briskly written and concise novels (all under 300 pages) “lend themselves to screen adaptation, because they have broad appeal for children and adults,” said a studio spokesperson. “Family entertainment is very popular, and the success of films like ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks’ and ‘Enchanted’ show it’s the kind of material that draws all ages. That’s especially true if you’re talking about a literary series like this that has such a strong readership base, which you can build on.”

Flanagan said he was thrilled by the deal, and conceded the challenge would be to keep his distance during the film adaptation process. “I don’t expect to peer over [the director’s] shoulder saying ‘No, no! You can’t change that!’ ” the author said. “But if anyone decides that Halt, the bearded, grim-faced Ranger, should be played by Scarlett Johansson, you’ll hear me screaming all the way across the Pacific. Or not.”