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[C. S. Lewis was the greatest Christian apologist of the twentieth century, and in recent decades has become a familiar figure in modern culture thanks to various movies and television programmes made about him. He is also phenomenally popular on the internet. But how, one wonders, would his life have turned out if he had failed the scholarship examination he sat for in Oxford in the winter of 1916? In this passage from his autobiography he makes it clear that he was aware how much hung in the balance, but he also explains how the circumstance of war preserved his equanimity.]

Boys who have faced this ordeal in peace-time will not easily imagine the indifference with which I went. This does not mean that I underestimated the importance (in one sense) of succeeding. I knew very well by now that there was hardly any position in the world save that of a don in which I was fitted to earn a living, and that I was staking everything on a game in which few won and hundreds lost. As Kirk (his tutor) had said of me in a letter to my father, “You may make a writer or a scholar of him, but you’ll not make anything else. You may make up your mind to that.” And I knew this myself; sometimes it terrified me. What blunted the edge of it now was that whether I won a scholarship or no I should next year go into the army; and even a temper more sanguine than mine could feel in 1916 than an infantry subaltern would be insane to waste anxiety on anything so hypothetical as his post-war life.

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