On his website, Dr Charles Foster identifies himself as “a writer, barrister, veterinarian and traveller,” but this initial introduction fails to mention that he’s also spent the majority of his life living as a badger – or an otter, or an urban fox, depending on the day.
The 53-year-old, who is a fellow of Green Templeton College and teaches Medical Law and Ethics at the University, has spent the majority of his life attempting to live as an animal.
Recalling an upbringing that afforded him close proximity to nature, Foster reconnected with the wilderness after completing his O Levels. Once his papers were complete, he mirrored the lifestyle of a hare, spending a day in a valley near his home as a reprieve from the academic grind of school and exams.
Foster went on to study veterinary science and law at Cambridge University, but says he started to lose touch with his identity and felt unfulfilled by his professional pursuits.
In his mid-30s, he began to devote more of his time to understanding the perspective of various animals. From foraging for squirrels to being chased by a bloodhound, Foster seems willing to go to any length to reach the connection he seeks.
The idea of Foster, who is six foot three inches tall, burrowing in forests and feasting on earthworms may be amusing to imagine. A law student at St Hilda’s told Cherwell,“It’s just not what you expect of your medical law lecturer, especially one who’s been a barrister as well. I’ll definitely see him in a new light now!”
Foster’s book, Being a Beast, was released yesterday. In it, details of his zoological lifestyle mix with musings about his own life and identity. He has published several other works about medical law, religion and his travels. There are moments of reflective clarity in the excerpt, when Foster’s animalistic experimentations manage to bring him closer to his sense of self.
“Those first few days taught me a lot,” Foster writes. “They taught me that, despite my shaggy, anarchic pretensions, I was dismally suburban: I preferred a whitewashed wall to the endless fascination of a real earth one. I preferred my ideas of badgers and the wild to real badgers and real wilderness.” Apart from the days when he sheds his human persona, Foster maintains a normal lifestyle with his wife, Mary, and six children. At least one of his sons, Tom, has accompanied Foster on his excursions.
In his book, Foster chronicles one such outing in which he admires his son’s lack of inhibition and superior ability to relate to a badger as they crawl through the earth, sniffing the ground somewhere in Wales.
Foster hopes that finding relatability with animals might increase his chances of meaningful human connectivity, both with himself and those around him.
“If I can have a relationship with something that is as different from me as a fox or a badger, then there’s a possibility that I might be able to know my wife or my children or my best friend,” he said in an interview with The Guardian.
A third year lawyer at Magdalen told Cherwell that, at the end of the day, Foster’s distinctive hobby was probably an advantage. “I’m not sure this is what careers advisers mean when they say you need something to make you stand out, but each to their own. I still don’t know what to make of this, but I think I have a new-found respect.”
One second year historian at St John’s, however, found this revelation somewhat worrying. Speaking to Cherwell, he said, “I don’t know about his own law students, but I would be seriously spooked out if I discovered my tutor got his kicks by acting like a fox. These guys are meant to be intellectual heavyweights, not complete weirdos.”
And a first year lawyer at Balliol echoed this sentiment, stating to Cherwell, “I am going to avoid Foster’s classes like the plague. I know medical law is seriously useful, and probably pays quite well, but there is absolutely no way I am being taught by a guy who might have spent last night in a rabbit warren. Absolutely no way.”