Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Being a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide

Both fantasy and science fiction often deal with people or animals who are either transformed into a different species or are hybridized with another species. When I saw the book Being a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide by Charles Foster at my library, I thought it might provide me with some insight into animal senses or behavior. Unfortunately for me, the author took a completely different approach that didn't provide me with useful tidbits of information.

Foster set out to live like five different types of creatures: a badger, an otter, a fox, a red deer, and a swift. Among other things, he digs out his own badger home in the dirt, eats worms, scavenges garbage, spends hours in a river during all parts of the year, and allows himself to be tracked by a bloodhound. I should point out Foster is British, as I doubt his escapades would be tolerated so well in the United States, especially when his children are involved. Foster takes a shamanistic approach to his communions with different animals, and he describes his experiences in poetic language.

Can anyone really enter the mind of another creature, particularly one whose senses are much different from ours? By the end of the book, Foster reports he's learned much more about sorting out various odors and navigating the world by smell. However, he still seems to impose his own human interpretations on his experiences, and I suppose that's impossible to overcome. For writers writing from an animal's point of view, this book might make an interesting supplement to traditional research on an animal's physiology and habitat. At the very least, you won't have to crawl in the dirt and eat worms yourself.

4 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Or it might convince you that Foster was nuts.
We can't know how an animal thinks, we can only guess what basics would go through its brain.

Pat Dilloway said...

I'm going to live like a bulldog and nap 20 hours a day and beg for food.

Maria Zannini said...

Since I keep so many animals on my farm, I'm particularly interested in knowing how they feel. I've spent many hours watching them. I won't be pecking the dirt for bugs, but I can observe their reactions and behavior. Experience and observation are the best tools in keeping them healthy.

Sandra Almazan said...

Alex, if the shoe fits....

Sounds good, Pat!

Maria, I agree it's important to observe animals if you want to figure out what they might be feeling.

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan, Science Fiction/Fantasy Author

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