Marsh and Cope appear in my science fiction novel, Mesozoic. They are actually a reference to an infamous pair of Palaeontologists from the late 19th century, Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope. These two erudite academics developed a passionate feud fuelled by a hatred for each other that developed slowly but became almost all consuming. In Mesozoic, however, they are not so dedicated to loathing each other.
Cope is already a qualified Palaeontologist; Marsh is studying to become one. Their relationship is more of a mentor and a student, except they indulge in a verbal duel throughout the book that might appear to be almost as hostile as their more famous influences. Actually, what they are doing is engaging in banter. To someone on the outside it might appear like verbal violence, but to those involved it is anything but. I very much wanted to have something like this in one of my novels simply because I have been involved in such a situation myself.
When I was growing up I was very lucky to have a group of friends who included me in their banter. The fact that I was disabled was never a consideration. I was not allowed to use it as an excuse for anything. Basically, you had to give as good as you got or concede defeat. Surrender was never an honourable option, however. If anyone started to complain then they were reminded that they were not sat in ‘sympathy corner’. This experience stood me in good stead for later life when I was subjected to verbal insults and generally negative attitudes from other people.
As with most of my books I wanted a character who was disabled so that I could portray them in a positive light and Marsh is that person in Mesozoic. Dr Eva Keisler comments at one point that an observer might consider Cope’s behaviour towards a disabled person as unacceptable, but Marsh is quick to defend his friend. He explains that what Cope is doing is actually treating him as an equal. He behaves like that with most people, especially those he considers to be friends. Rather than walking on eggshells around Marsh because of the fact that he is disabled Cope treats him exactly the same as anyone else. His disability is neither a consideration nor an excuse to go and sit in sympathy corner.
I think most disabled people would agree with that. Certainly, all I have ever wanted is to be treated the same as other people. My friends did that for me and it was one of the best things that they could have done. It is a feature of their relationship that the more insulting they get towards each other the closer Marsh and Cope become also. They look out for each other and Cope is actually quite defensive when it comes to other people treating his friend badly. In the story they find themselves in several dangerous situations, but they know that they can rely on each other.
Here is an example of Cope, Marsh, and their colleague Lizzie enjoying a bit of verbal sparring.
“You know, you’re devilishly sexy when you talk science,” Lizzie commented.
“Yeah, well, sometimes I have to remind myself that I am a scientist.”
“And a devilishly sexy one at that!”
“What?!” Cope turned to look at Marsh.
“I’m just saying what she said.”
“She’s a girl!”
“A woman actually,” Lizzie insisted.
“It was meant as a compliment.”
“Hey, Marsh, I’ve told you before, I don’t share your inclinations.”
“I’m not…I mean, I don’t like you…I mean, not that way. Oh come on, you know what I meant!”
“Yeah, I sure do, and because I do I don’t want you walking behind me appraising my sexy ass in this encounter suit that I make look so good, you sleaze.”
“Well, that went back to normal pretty fast.” Lizzie scowled.
Marsh comes off worse in that encounter but he does have his moments. It might not be apparent but respect is present in their relationship. Eva comes to recognise this and understands that Cope’s approach might appear to be unconventional but for someone like Marsh, a man who has too many reasons to doubt himself, having a man who is popular, athletic, good looking, and intelligent as both his mentor and his friend is a significant boost to his self-confidence. He is a very good role model because he can see the potential in people like Marsh and not just their disability. I wish I had met a few more people like Cope in my working life.