I have updated an earlier post to reflect the recent release of a film, The Lost City of Z, based on Grann’s book of the same name. Both tell the true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett who went into the Amazon in 1925 with his son looking for an ancient lost city. They both disappeared. For decades, explorers and scientists have tried to find evidence of his party and the Lost City of Z. Since then, perhaps another hundred people have died or disappeared searching for Fawcett.
I read David Grann’s The Lost City of Z in 2010 and halfway through it I realized what attracted me to it. It takes me back to a book of my youth – The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – which was a novel I loved as a kid. I probably read the Classics Illustrated Comic version before I actually read the book. That was the case with many books from Treasure Island to Hamlet. The comics didn’t replace the originals; they led me to them.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is much better known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Even if you have never read any of his fiction, you probably know a few of his stories and characters because according to the Internet Movie Database there are at least 215 films based on his writing.
I took out my old comic book version and also my paperback of the novel and rediscovered Doyle’s little introductory verse:
I have wrought my simple plan
If I give one hour of joy
To the boy who’s half a man,
Or the man who’s half a boy.
There was another book titled The Lost World which was Michael Crichton’s sequel to Jurassic Park, but I have nothing to say about that book. To me, The Lost World is the one published in 1912 and it is the fictional story of an expedition to a place in the Amazon where prehistoric animals still survive. (Hmmm, did Mr. Crichton get inspiration for Jurassic Park from it?) The book introduced the character Professor Challenger who appears in other books by Doyle.
Exploration and lost worlds captured the fancy of the public and authors in the early part of the 20th century. In 1916, Edgar Rice Burroughs (who is better known for his Tarzan and science-fiction stories) published The Land that Time Forgot, which was his version of a lost world story. In that rather ridiculous tale, sailors from a German U-Boat discover a world of dinosaurs and ape-men in Antarctica.
I read all of them. I didn’t really pay attention back then to the chronology of publication. If I had noted the dates, I would have realized that another one of my childhood author heroes, Jules Verne, had introduced the whole prehistoric-animals-in-the-present-day adventure story with his novel Journey to the Center of the Earth which was published back in 1864. Those explorers find a prehistoric world of people and dinosaurs inside the Earth.
By the way, you can read The Lost World as an “e-book” free online at Project Gutenberg – if you can handle reading on a screen. I can’t.
Now, to get back to where this post started, the setting for The Lost World was probably inspired by reports about British explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett’s expedition to Venezuela and Brazil, in a mountain region called Mount Roraima.
The modern-day non-fiction book, The Lost City of Z , tells the tale of Fawcett who launched his final expedition in 1925 into the Amazon.
His goal was to find the fabled lost city of El Dorado, the “City of Gold.” El Dorado has captured the imaginations of kids, armchair explorers, and real anthropologists, adventurers, and scientists for about 400 years – even though there really has never been evidence that it ever existed. That hasn’t stopped hundreds of expeditions from going out looking for it.
Fawcett was financed by the Royal Geographical Society in London. It humbles me to think that at age 57 he headed out again because he really believed in El Dorado, which he called the City of Z.
He set out with only his 21-year-old son Jack and one of Jack’s friends. He wanted to travel light and fast, eat off the land, and not harass the natives. They vanished in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil. Subsequent attempts to find Fawcett and the city have failed.
What happened to Fawcett? David Grann thinks he knows. The author is not an adventurer, but he ended up in the jungles of the Amazon to try to find an answer.
Fawcett’s expeditions inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel of a lost world. Grann wrote an earlier book, The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession.
I’m not ready for any Amazon adventures, so I’m happy to follow Grann’s digging through Fawcett’s old diaries and logs for clues and doing my own armchair adventuring.
I liked that the book also deals with how in the past 40 years in Brazil alone, the Amazon has lost some two hundred and seventy thousand square miles of its original forest cover. That’s an area bigger than France. Tribes are being threatened with extinction. Many animals and plants, some we never even knew existed, are also vanishing.
Much has been lost in those jungles.
Vanished!: Explorers Forever Lost
The Lost City