Beowulf vs. Dante

Once upon a time, Neil Gaiman gave an interview talking about imagination.  Okay, he gave several, but we’re only talking about the one here, so focus.  In this interview, Gaiman paraphrased something that Neal Stephenson¹ said about Beowulf writers versus Dante writers.

I, Neal, will quote Neil, paraphrasing Neal:

The Dantes are people who need patrons. A lot of time these days a patron is a University that pays you to teach and looks after you. Whereas some writers are Beowulfs. We go from town to town telling our story. They give us coins and food. They give us sex, they give us love. They give us somewhere to sleep. And that’s why we do it.

The Internet gives us many different campfires and villages to visit.  Each community wants a slightly different story.  In the old days, there were mostly Dante cartoonists who worked at a newspaper and drew on the side.  As the profession morphed, these Dante cartoonists gathered in syndicates that distributed there comics to newspapers.  The door, nowadays, has been kicked open for a flood of Beowulf cartoonists like us who publish their work in a myriad of ways (online or otherwise) and, in some cases, even make a living.

I will leave you with this final thought from Stephenson that applies to comics:

It has happened many times in history that new systems will come along and, instead of obliterating the old, will surround and encapsulate them and work in symbiosis with them but otherwise pretty much leave them alone (think mitochondria) and sometimes I get the feeling that something similar is happening with these two literary worlds.


¹ Neil Gaiman on Neal Stephenson, “spells his name wrong, but … still a lovely man.”

  • Swagner

    Very interesting! But I think something went wrong posting this, it looks like two different versions of the essay got superimposed on each-other? “I’ll leave you with this final thought from Neal Stephenson” and the accompanying quote/footnotes both appear twice, once halfway through.

  • MoogkSoulis

    Yeah, our bad. I’m going to pretend, however, that it has not been fixed so that anyone who looks at it from here on out will wonder what they are missing. Heh.