Zach Weinersmith is an American cartoonist and author. He is the creator of the webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. On 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, BeowulfRoberts and Weinersmith consider the different avenues of interpretation for Beowulf, and the inspiration behind Weinersmith’s new adaptation, along with the power of poetry generally.


1- Roberts and Weinersmith discuss David Whyte’s interpretation of Beowulf as a metaphor for how people must confront their demons. Whyte proposed that Grendel is a representation of one of our darkest problems, while his mother is the source of all demons which must be confronted.

How do you read Beowulf in terms of its moral lesson? What makes the ‘mother’ of our issues so difficult to confront?


2- Weinersmith defines ‘kennings’ as unique, metaphorical riddles. Kennings were often used in Norse and Old English poetry. Two examples mentioned in the podcast are ‘sea wood’- boat and ‘battle swept’- blood.

Are there any other kennings you know of that are particularly impressive? What kennings can you create? What modern works could benefit from the use of kennings?


3- Weinersmith and Roberts speak of their love of the power of poetry. They discuss whether students should be asked to memorize poetry to be able to encounter its meaning more fruitfully.

What is it about memorization that could produce a more fulfilling interaction between the reader and the poem? What poetry has been impactful for you in terms of its beauty or its morals?


4- Weinersmith and Roberts allude to the lack of attention span required to consume popular media today. There is power in focusing on one thing, like poetry.

What is rewarding to us about experiences that require great focus to master or learn something from? To what extent have we lost touch with the value of virtues like patience, humility, and grit? What have you done that required a great deal of focus and was both particularly challenging and extremely rewarding?


5- One lesson in Weinersmith’s new book Bea Wolf, is living well in knowing that living will end. Weinersmith was surprised at the great reception of his book from all ages, but he acknowledges that he was being too cynical about the world in his expectations.

What is the value of living well each day knowing that everything is temporary? Are you able to cultivate living well while also making ends meet? Roberts says that we are all children of old works of art, how valuable is Weinersmith’s expression of art given that it is inspired by both Beowulf and his young daughter?

[Editor’s note: This Extra was originally published on June 19, 2023.]

Brennan Beausir is a student at Wabash College studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and is a 2023 Summer Scholar at Liberty Fund.