A DRAGON trained in the Highlands to defeat the French during the Napoleonic wars is to become the next blockbuster hero of the Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson.
The man behind the Lord Of The Rings and King Kong has snapped up the rights to a series of fantasy novels by self- confessed "geek" Naomi Novik, a little-known American writer who features Scotland heavily in her debut work.
With his JRR Tolkien trilogy, Jackson propelled New Zealand to the top of the world's must-visit tourism destinations. Now plans are under way for Scotland to make the most of a potential multi-million-pound windfall.
Set in the British Isles, Scotland and China, Novik's novels are set to receive a multi- million-dollar makeover in line with the scale and profile of Jackson's previous projects.
Jackson's involvement could mean a major windfall for Scotland's tourism and film industries. The country grossed 6m worth of global publicity following the film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code earlier this year. The blockbuster, based on Dan Brown's best-selling novel featured a series of iconic locations, including Rosslyn Chapel in Midlothian.
Set in the time of the Napoleonic wars, with a fantasy element of airforce dragons and aviators, Novik's first book sets key chapters around Loch Laggan - also the setting for hit BBC series Monarch Of The Glen. Scotland's film agency, Scottish Screen, expressed its own excitement and pledged to do everything in its power to make the most of Jackson's profile.
In Novik's first novel, His Majesty's Dragon, Loch Laggan - between Kingussie and Fort William - is the site of the training camp where Laurence and the dragon, Temeraire, train for battle. Last night, Novik, 33, revealed that Edinburgh's Princes Street Gardens and the castle would feature in her fourth book of the series, due out early next year.
The writer said she may also feature Glasgow in the fifth instalment of her series, presenting Jackson with ample inspiration to feature Scotland on screen.
Novik, a former computer programmer, first visited Scotland in March 2003. She told Scotland on Sunday: "I did a lot of research online and originally though that Scotland would be too romantic a setting. But then I arrived and started walking near to where Monarch of the Glen was filmed and it was just one of the most incredible experiences. I hadn't anticipated the way that Scotland has four seasons in one day - it's beautiful.
"I live in Manhattan and don't see too many trees or mountains, so I knew immediately that I had found the place. I could just envisage my dragons swooping down and resting on the lake.
"It was so unspoiled. Scotland will feature again and again in my books. Edinburgh is just one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. It has kept that really ancient quality to it and has so much character. I liked Glasgow too, so it may make an appearance in book five."
Novik said she hoped Jackson would stay faithful to the book and set the scenes in the Highlands. "I'm a big geek and I don't want to jinx anything, as I know nothing about film-making," she said. "I think someone like Peter Jackson could create something wonderful anywhere, but I would certainly love to see Scotland on screen."
Plans for the film adaptation are still in the early stages, but Jackson has said of the project:
"I'm really excited to be working with Naomi and to explore the world she has created. I can't wait to see Napoleonic battles fought with a squadron of dragons. That's what I go to the movies for. The Temeraire trilogy is the perfect blend of two genres I particularly love: historical war and fantasy. That blending will generate all kinds of creative possibilities."
Industry insiders said Jackson's involvement was good news for Scotland. Former director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Mark Cousins, added: "Jackson is leading a crusade for the fantasy film genre. Since 9/11, the focus has very much been on realism films around the world - and that's something Scotland is very good at.
"If Jackson was to come here it could really kick-start a genre that has been a bit ignored in Scotland and really broaden the scope for what we make films about here. That would be great for the film-making industry in this country."
British fantasy fiction writer China Miville added: "The fantasy genre is doing very well at the moment and Jackson is a very important figure in that. He'll give any adaptation of the books a real epic sweep. He's a real fantasy geek and has an obvious passion for the genre. Whatever he does with it will be extremely high profile."
Scottish Screen is already preparing a plan of action to sell the country to Jackson. Spokeswoman Celia Stevenson said: "We fully appreciate that Peter Jackson may want to film a lot of it in his native New Zealand, but we will be fighting our corner to be involved in what would be an incredible project for Scotland."
Scotland's national tourism agency, VisitScotland, said: "There is considerable evidence to show that having big blockbuster films that capture the beauty and character of a country provide inspiration, and are a real draw for visitors from all over the world and in Scotland. We have seen this with the success of Braveheart 10 years after it was filmed and most recently with The Da Vinci Code phenomenon."
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