Study Guide

Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett in The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

By David Grann

Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Colonel Percy Fawcett is one part Colonel Mustard from Clue, two parts Indiana Jones, and one part Nintendo's Professor Layton. David Grann describes this dude, who was 57 years old in 1925, as "a tall, distinguished gentleman" (1.1). Contrary to what the nice guys of Tinder would have you believe, Fawcett didn't get to be a gentleman by wearing fitted trousers, growing a beard, and drinking from mason jars.

Fawcett was was educated in elite private schools and spent twenty-one years as a lieutenant in Royal Artillery. In fact, he was the ultimate Victorian gentleman. Grann describes the essence of gentlemanliness like this: "Gentlemanliness, though, was about more than propriety. Fawcett was expected to be […] "a natural leader of men" (4.9). It's also more than wearing a monocle, but that's another story.

Being a natural leader of men means there's a lot of pressure on you. To live up to Victorian expectations for a dude like him, he joins the Royal Geographic Society; as Grann puts it, "He actually went to school to become an explorer" (6.28).

Seriously, this place is like Hogwarts for Indiana Jones wannabes.

Fawcett has drive and ambition, and the Royal Geographical Society gives him the tools necessary to succeed at exploring the Amazon rain forest. Literally. They show him chronometers, sextants, compasses. We've got more on those in our "Symbols" section; here we're focused on the man, not the tool.

If He Goes Crazy, Then Will You Still Call Him Superman?

Actually, this man could be a tool, literally, if we're being perfectly honest. What we mean is that physically, Grann is superhuman. He's resistant to every jungle disease and fearless of even the toothiest predators. Everyone thinks he's pretty much invincible, like Mario after grabbing a star.

The downside is that Fawcett sees his fellow explorers as less than human when they fail to live up to his impossible standards.

As Grann writes, "The very things that made Fawcett a great explorer—demonic fury, single-mindedness, and an almost divine sense of immortality—also made him terrifying to be with" (12.18). Fawcett may be overflowing with strength, but his well of empathy is dry. He pushes his men to their limits, and he becomes angry when he must deviate from his course to save their lives.

"Ugh, you just had to go and die didn't you?" Right?

Okay, that's not a real quote, but we wouldn't be surprised if Fawcett said it at some point during an expedition.

On the other hand, Fawcett does extend empathy toward the tribes of the Amazon, something most of his fellow explorers do not do. Fawcett makes friends with the natives, who teach him how to find food and show him herbal treatments. In fact, his friendships with natives strengthen him further. Perhaps Fawcett identifies with and admires the natives because they, too, are able to survive in the jungle, while most men he knows cannot.

Destiny's Child

Raised to be a gentleman and a leader, Fawcett has always believed in destiny. When serving as a spy for the British, he writes, "Destiny intended me to go, so there could be no other answer!" (8.9). Still, after serving as a spy and mapping most of the Amazon, Fawcett finds himself at the top of his game. Where can he go from there?

Like Beyoncé after leaving Destiny's Child, Fawcett goes solo. And the more time he spends by himself the jungle, the more he convinces himself that a magical city exists and that only he can find it. In fact, the dude treads the fine line between confidence and delusions of grandeur.

To be fair, Fawcett spends more time in the Amazon than any other explorer, so it's not such a stretch for him to think that if he believes something, it must be true. And actually, it turns out that that Fawcett does seem to understand some things better than others—thing like native culture, for example. Grann shows us Fawcett's thought process and his "growing belief that the Amazon and its people were not what everyone assumed them to be" (14.25).

Fawcett is surprisingly open-minded. He gives credit to the native people because he knows them, which other scientists and anthropologists do not. However, Fawcett is sometimes so open-minded his brain falls right out. He becomes obsessed with Z to such an extent that starts to believe questionable psychics and risk his own life and the life of his family. A part of him believes he will find Z and become immortal.

Oops. Wrong.

Fawcett and his son may have gone missing on their quest, but their expedition wasn't entirely fruitless. Thanks to Fawcett's findings, and the findings of those trying to find Fawcett, we know more about the Amazon than ever before. And we all know Fawcett's name. In that way, we guess he did become immortal.