Am I the only one to notice that Randy Wayne White’s recurring character, Dr. Marion Ford, bears a slight resemblance to the classic Florida boat bum character, Travis McGee, created by John D. MacDonald and played out over the course of 21 novels? Or maybe it’s such an obvious observation that no one else believed it was worth the exertion of energy to mention. Regardless, we have two middle-aged men with military/covert operation experience in their early adult life, athletic as youth, able to still handle themselves well in a brawl, and somewhat obsessive with their routine for getting back into shape once they detect the beers are beginning to outnumber the pushups.
Let’s take a look at the cohorts.
So many excellent creations of fiction have a second fiddle to play off, a trusty companion loosely orbiting the same planet, though kept at a certain distance, who can be counted on to swoop in and save the day now and then. Where would Batman be without Robin?. Ernie without Bert? Butch Cassidy without the Sundance Kid? Travis McGee was accompanied on his adventures by a short, stalwart, bull of a man named Meyer. Economist by trade, fellow boat bum by nature, Meyer was covered with a thick “black pelt” of hair. On the other hand, Doc Ford’s sidekick was a scrawny, psychic, sarong wearing hippie by the name of Tomlinson. If you judge a man by the company he keeps, I’m going to have to call it a draw when choosing which man would be preferable to have your back when the you know what hits the you know where.
Women. You can’t truly discuss either Travis McGee or Doc Ford without mentioning the parade of female companionship in their lives. Each has loved and lost viciously, though Ford seems to be intent on leaving a trail of illegitimate children across the planet. So far, he’s got one in Central America and one in Iowa. In both cases, fate intervened, as it often does in fiction, to frustrate our hero’s best plans. He genuinely wanted to marry the mother of each, but the first didn’t want him and the second returned to her lesbian roots. Ouch! It can’t be said that Travis McGee has fared much better. Though apparently more knowledgeable in the area of birth control, he loves and loses with equal abandon.
Physically, McGee is taller and, as a former college football player, ready to rough and tumble with the best of them. Ford was a high school wrestler and fights with a grim tenacity borne of his psyche and military training as a “special” agent. What would happen if you tossed them in the ring together and put a damsel in distress in the middle? Interesting question. One which we leave to MacDonald and White fans to resolve in their own minds. As for me, I’m going with Travis by a smidgen in this contest.