Jill Freud, Inspiration for Lucy in 'Narnia,' Reveals C.S. Lewis Memories

Jill Freud Wedding - H 2014
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Jill Freud Wedding - H 2014

"He had a reputation amongst his students — he was so sharp on them," says Freud, who has been cast in an upcoming movie about Lewis' relationship with J.R.R. Tolkien

There are multiple films in the works that will explore the relationship between literary fantasy giants J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, one called Tolkien & Lewis from Attractive Films and another called Jack & Tollers from Third Dart Studios. Still another from Fox Searchlight will focus only on Tolkien and is titled, appropriately enough, Tolkien. While the films are in the early stages, one of them — Tolkien & Lewis — is set to announce an interesting castmember: Jill Freud, aka the real Lucy Pevensie from Lewis’ books about Narnia.

Long before she married Sir Clement Freud — the grandson of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud — June Flewett (she changed her name to Jill Raymond as an actress) was evacuated as a British teenager during World War II to The Kilns, the home of Lewis and his companion, Jane Moore (they called her "Minto"). Lewis wasn’t known for his love of children, but he took such a liking to Flewett that he based his Lucy Pevensie character on her. In Tolkien & Lewis, Freud will play a social worker who brings, well, herself, to the Lewis household. The actress, now 87, spoke to The Hollywood Reporter via email about her unusual upbringing.

How did you find out that you were the inspiration for the Lucy character in the "Narnia" books?

Douglas Gresham, Jack’s stepson, wrote me a letter. He needed answers to something or other and ended with, “I suppose you realize that you were the inspiration for Lucy?” I hadn’t known until then — perhaps 10 years ago. I was absolutely thrilled. It’s like being told you were the real Lady Macbeth!

In the Narnia books, Lucy has brothers and a sister — were they based on any of the children Lewis knew?

I have no idea. He didn't know many children — and the only ones he knew were the evacuees.

What do you think of the Narnia movies?

I saw the first one, and I enjoyed it.

Was there a wardrobe closet at the house similar to the one in the movie?

Yes, there was. It was just an old cupboard. But he did use it rather cleverly.

So there was never any indication that this cupboard might become an important part of future books and movies?

No, it was just a cupboard to store linen.

Do you see any of yourself in Lucy?

It’s years since I read it, but in the stage version I saw a few years ago, Lucy was very likable — it was quite flattering.

When the movies were released, there was some debate as to the Christian allegory. Was Aslan representative of Jesus and the Resurrection, or not?

Jack wrote all six books in one year — each one to illustrate a Christian belief, so that children could absorb the message without being preached to. The first was obviously the death and Resurrection of Christ.

What kind of man was Lewis?

Lovely. He had a reputation amongst his students — he was so sharp on them — he didn't let them get away with any kind of woolliness. They were quite scared of their tutorials. To me, at home, he was generosity itself. He would let me buy any book I wanted. He would talk to me about things — never make me feel small. If I said anything really silly he just wouldn’t answer. He was kind, generous, good humored, helpful. I was 16, and it was what you would call a schoolgirl crush. Jack put me in his educational covenant and paid all my fees. All the royalties from his religious books were put into a covenant and were used to help people in education because there were very few grants in those days.

Did you ever see Tolkien in those days?

I used to play in his garden. There were other children from my class who were evacuees with him, so I used to go over there and have tea. He would be around, walking through, but I don't think he would have remembered me.

What did you think of Tolkien?

I absolutely adored The Hobbit. It was his first book about the whole landscape that merged into The Lord of the Rings. I absolutely loved it. I was a fan and the fact he was in Lewis’s circle and one of the Inklings (a literary group at the University of Oxford) was lovely to know.

How did you first come to the Kilns?

I was to be evacuated there — it was arranged to be at the end of the summer term. I went up there and was introduced to Minto, who sort of vetted me. She said to the convent, "she’ll do." We had ration books in those days — and you got one egg a week. But Minto had 25 hens and she needed hen food. So she asked whether she could use my ration book for hen food and she would send me some eggs. So once a month I got a box containing 12 beautiful fresh eggs — whereas everyone else was getting one stale egg a week from the grocers. I did very well — so every month I wrote and thanked her, and that's why she said when I had finished my O levels (at age 16), "Would you like to come down for a little holiday?"

What were your first impressions of Lewis?

When I first went up to the Kilns, Jack was away giving one of his lectures to the RAF, and he came back there after a couple of days — and I didn't know he was C.S. Lewis. He was just "Jack," and I thought he was Minto’s adopted son. I had already read The Screwtape Letters, which was my favorite book. So I was devastated when I looked at the bookshelf and put the two names together and realized that Jack Lewis was C.S. Lewis. For three days I couldn't bring myself to speak to him — I was so overawed.

What about Warnie, Jack’s older brother?

He was much more of an uncle. He was older than Jack and to my young eyes then he seemed to be an old man. He was so kind to me — and we went on having a good friendship after Jack died. I used to go down and see him once a year and bring him a Christmas present and we would sit and chat.

How did Minto take to him?

Minto hated him and resented him very much. I think it was probably due to the alcohol problem — which I know nothing about. And I suppose she was probably jealous and resented that he was living with them.

And you stayed how long?

It was arranged that I would stay with them for two weeks. When I got there I found Minto was in a very bad way. She had ulcers on her legs and the doctor said the only way to cure them was to lie up. But she couldn’t as she had a house to run. I started taking on some of the chores — and the only help they did have, a mentally handicapped boy, left. So I realized if I left they would be in trouble. In the meantime, I had taken the entrance exams to RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) and had been accepted. So without telling Jack or Minto, I wrote to RADA asking if they would postpone for a term. They said yes and I told Jack I could stay on for another three months. And that continued, as every term I wrote to postpone again. Eventually, after two years, my father said to Jack that I had to go back to RADA and that's why I left the Kilns.

What kind of conversations do you remember with Lewis?

We all had supper every evening.… Round the table would be Minto and Warnie, Jack and myself. They would discuss books and things of interest, like in the home of any Don. I had nothing to contribute, really, except my ridiculous confidence, so when I opened my mouth I had something to say. But I was imbibing in it all the time. He was lending me books and encouraging me to read because I missed doing a Higher Certificate, but in a way, I had a sort of education in literature for the two years that I was there. I don't think I missed out that much, although I left school at 16.

Email: Paul.Bond@THR.com