We are in the depths of winter here in Upstate New York. Aside from an occasional expedition to the mailbox or the woodpile, we are pretty much snowed in. With the snow eighteen inches deep and the nights twelve hours long, I have turned to armchair adventures beside the comforting warmth of a blazing wood stove. What else can one do when the bank accounts are drained from the holidays and the airports are socked in?
I have been reading my way through the hot, steamy and
unexplored depths of 1930’s South American jungle with Peter Fleming, on a rollicking sojourn through his finest book, Brazilian Adventure. Oh, what an amusing and observant guide he is!
(Robert) Peter Fleming (1907–71) was the older brother of another well-known writer — Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond. Peter Fleming was a journalist who was special correspondent for The Times and writer for The Spectator. He served with the Grenadier Guards during World War II, did some undercover work in Southeast Asia, and was believed to be somewhat of a type for brother Ian’s character development of James Bond.
He traveled widely and penned marvelous books on his adventures. His writing style is unusual for an adventure writer; full of subtlety, honesty and humor. With him there was no stretching of the truth to manufacture heroics, which ironically makes his writing far more riveting and realistic than the tales of chest-banging type adventure writers.
Having long been amused by the personal or “agony” columns in The London Times, Peter Fleming’s “Brazilian adventure” began when he spotted this ad placed there in the Spring of 1932:
‘Exploring and sporting expedition, under experienced guidance, leaving England June, to explore rivers Central Brazil, if possible ascertain fate Colonel Fawcett; abundance game, big and small; exceptional fishing; ROOM TWO MORE GUNS; highest references expected and given. – Write Box X, The Times, E.C.4.”
Fleming couldn’t resist the temptation to respond, thus his fate was sealed. Paying 400 British Pounds each to join the adventure, he and a good-humored friend named Roger Pettiward were soon sailing for South America along with four other bemused and resolute men, plus a bull mastiff.
In case you are wondering who the “lost” Colonel Fawcett was whose fate the expedition was trying to ascertain, here is a photo of him from the pages of Brazilian Adventure:
And here’s a summary of Colonel Fawcett and his mysterious journey taken from Wikipedia:
“Lt. Colonel Percival Harrison Fawcett (18 August 1867 – in or after 1925) was a British artillery officer, archaeologist and South American explorer. Along with his eldest son, Fawcett disappeared under unknown circumstances in 1925 during an expedition to find “Z” – his name for an ancient lost city, which he (in all likelihood, accurately) believed to be El Dorado, in the uncharted jungles of Brazil.
During the following decades, various groups mounted several rescue expeditions without results. They heard only various rumors that could not be verified. In addition to reports that Fawcett had been killed by Indians or wild animals, there was a tale that Fawcett had lost his memory and lived out his life as the chief of a tribe of cannibals.”
Peter Fleming and his party never satisfactorily determined the fate of Colonel Fawcett. But, lucky for us, Fleming produced a highly satisfactory account of his South American trip. Brazilian Adventure is a classic book to be savored, page by page, for its exploration of the interior of human nature as well as the interior of a continent.
The book is quite scarce and collectible in both the UK and US first edition (Jonathan Cape, London, 1933; U.S. First Edition published by Charles Scribner, NY, 1934). The book remains in print. For collectors, we currently have a first U.S. edition available here at Old Scrolls Book Shop.
Below is a list of additional works by Peter Fleming:
1933 Brazilian Adventure
1934 One’s Company: A Journey to China in 1933
1936 News from Tartary: A Journey from Peking to Kashmir
1940 The Flying Visit
1942 A Story to Tell: And Other Tales
1952 The Sixth Column: A Singular Tale of Our Times
1952 A Forgotten Journey
1955 Tibetan Marches
1956 My Aunt’s Rhinoceros: And Other Reflections
1957 Operation Sea Lion
1957 Invasion 1940
1957 With the Guards to Mexico: And Other Excursions
1958 The Gower Street Poltergeist
1959 The Siege at Peking
1961 Bayonets to Lhasa: The First Full Account of the British Invasion of Tibet in 1904
1961 Goodbye to the Bombay Bowler
1963 The Fate of Admiral Kolchak
Peter Fleming was one of the greatest travel writers of the 20th century. He died in 1979 and is buried in Nettlebed, Oxfordshire, England. The Fleming Award is given in his honour by the Royal Geographic Society. The grant has been awarded annually since 2004, for a research project that seeks to advance geographical science.