Zach Weinersmith is an American cartoonist and author. He is the creator of the webcomic Saturday morning breakfast cereal. In this episode of EconTalk, Russ Roberts welcomes Zach Weinersmith to talk about his new children’s book, Bea Wolf which is based on the famous Old English poem, Beowulf. Roberts and Weinersmith consider the different avenues of interpretation for Beowulfand the inspiration behind Weinersmith’s new adaptation, as well as the power of poetry in general.
1- Roberts and Weinersmith talk David Whyte’s interpretation of Beowulf as a metaphor for how people have to face their demons. Whyte has proposed that Grendel is a representation of one of our darkest issues, while his mother is the source of all the demons to be faced.
How to do You read Beowulf in terms of his moral lesson? What makes the “mother” of our problems so difficult to confront?
2- Weinersmith defines “kennings” as unique and metaphorical puzzles. Kennings were often used in Norse and Old English poetry. Two examples mentioned in the podcast are “sea wood” – boat and “swept up battle” – blood.
Do you know of any other particularly impressive kennels? What kennings can you create? What modern works could benefit from the use of kennings?
3- Weinersmith and Roberts talk about their love of the power of poetry. They discuss whether to ask students to memorize poetry so that they can more fruitfully discover its meaning.
What about memorization that might produce a more satisfying interaction between the reader and the poem? Why poetry had an impact You from the point of view of its beauty or its morals?
4- Weinersmith and Roberts allude to the lack of attention needed to consume popular media today. There is power in focusing on one thing, like poetry.
What is rewarding for us in experiences that require great concentration to master or learn something? To what extent have we lost touch with the value of virtues like patience, humility and courage? What is You it required a lot of concentration and was both particularly difficult and extremely rewarding?
5- A lesson in Weinersmith’s new book Bea Wolf, it is to live well knowing that life will end. Weinersmith was surprised at his book’s wide reception from all ages, but he admits he was too cynical about the world in his expectations.
What is the value of living well each day knowing that everything is temporary? Can you live well while making ends meet? Roberts says we are all children of ancient works of art, what is the value of Weinersmith’s artistic expression given that it draws inspiration from both Beowulf and his granddaughter?