The lecturer, a short, thickset man with a ruddy face and a big voice, was coming to the end of his talk. Gathering up his notes and books, he tucked his hornrimmed spectacles into the pocket of his tweed jacket and picked up his mortarboard. Still talkingto the accompaniment of occasional appreciative laughs and squeals from his audiencehe leaned over to return the watch he had borrowed from a student in the front row. As he ended his final sentence, he stepped off the platform.
The maneuver gained him a head start on the rush of students down the center aisle. Once in the street, he strode rapidly his black gown billowing behind his grey flannel trousersto the nearest pub for a pint of ale.
Clive Staples Lewis was engaged in his full-time and favorite jobthe job of being an Oxford don in the Honour School of English Language & Literature, a Fellow and tutor of Magdalen College and the most popular lecturer in the University. To watch him downing his pint at the Eastgate (his favorite pub), or striding, pipe in mouth, across the deer park, a stranger would not be likely to guess that C. S. Lewis is also a best-selling author and one of the most influential spokesmen for Christianity in the English-speaking world.
Since 1941, when Lewis published a witty collection of infernal correspondence called The Screwtape Letters, this middle-aged (49) bachelor professor who lives a mildly humdrum life ("I like monotony") has sold something over a million copies of his 15 books. He has made 29 radio broadcasts on religious subjects, each to an average of 600,000 listeners. Any fully ordained minister or priest might envy this Christian layman his audience.
Something like Hell. That audience is the result of Lewis' special gift for dramatizing Christian dogma. He would be the last to claim that what he says is new; but, like another eloquent and witty popularizer of Christianity, the late G. K. Chesterton, he has a talent for putting old-fashioned truths into a modern idiom.
With erudition, good humor and skill, Lewis is writing about religion for a generation of religion-hungry readers brought up on a diet of "scientific" jargon and Freudian cliches. His readers are a part of the new surge of curiosity about Christianity which in Britain has floated, besides Lewis, a whole school of literary evangelists (T. S. Eliot, Graham Greene, Dorothy Sayers, et al.). Detective Story Writer Sayers has explained this new interest in Christianity as "spontaneous . . . and not a sort of 'Let's-get-together-and-pep-up-Christianity' stunt by excited missioners, than which nothing could be more detestable. . . . People have discovered by bitter experience that when man starts out on his own to build a society by his own power and knowledge, he succeeds in building something uncommonly like Hell; and they have seriously begun to ask why."