Just two weeks before the world is assaulted with the first in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, New York-based Walden Media has announced its acquisition of the best-selling fantasy classic The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe by CS Lewis. Walden has optioned the seven-part Narnia Chronicles of which The Lion... is the second instalment and will partner with The CS Lewis Company to produce it with a view to future films as a potential franchise.

The project will be overseen by Douglas Gresham, stepson of CS Lewis, along with Joel Stillerman, executive vice president of film & television, and Perry Moore, vice president of production and development.

Published in 1950, The Lion... was the second of a series which also includes The Magician's Nephew, The Horse And His Boy, Prince Caspian, The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair and The Last Battle. The Lion... is the story of Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy who step through a magic wardrobe into Narnia, a once peaceful land of Talking Beasts, dwarfs, giants and fauns, but now frozen into winter by the evil White Witch.

Gresham said in a statement that the films would remain faithful to the novel - a fidelity which has already been exhibited by film-makers Chris Columbus on his film of JK Rowling's Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone and by Peter Jackson on his film of JRR Tolkein's The Lord Of The Rings.

"The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe is one of the best-selling children's novels of all time," said Cary Granat, co-founder and CEO of Walden Media. "Through fantasy C.S. Lewis has held up a mirror to the lessons of the real world, and we are honored to partner with The C.S. Lewis Company to bring Narnia to life."

According to the statement, the Narnia books fullfill Walden's mission statement of marrying popular entertainment and education because of the "resonance between its educational mission and the book's universal themes of truthfulness, loyalty and courage."

Walden was formed early last year by former Dimension Films chief Cary Granat with backing from The Anschutz Company, the Denver-based empire run by billionaire Philip Anschutz, who is also teamed with Howard Baldwin in backing Crusader Entertainment and who has entered the beleagured world of exhibition by acquiring stakes in United Artists, Edwards Cinemas and Regal Cinemas.