How I Met Your Mother: Don Giovanni lives again…

This week, allonymbooks author Cadell Blackstock wonders how old the story of HIMYM really is.

The massively successful American sitcom How I Met Your Mother, which recently began its ninth and final season on US television, is a clever, brilliantly constructed series which is worth watching if you’ve never seen it before (though how can anyone on Planet Earth not have seen it, seriously?). Architect Ted Mosby is telling his children how he met their mother in a seemingly endless series of instalments from his largely unsuccessful love life. His journey is contrasted by the true love partnership of his college friends Marshall and Lily, the conquest-driven sexual adventures of his would-be best friend Barney, and the lingering presence of his erstwhile girlfriend Robin. The comedy is perfectly pitched,  from satire to farce to slapstick, parodying itself and its favourite cultural reference points, as well as glorifying and celebrating its home of New York. It’s also really cleverly constructed both visually and narratively, using fragmentation, flashbacks within flashbacks, deconstructed story-telling and multiple points of view both within episodes and, unusually, across the series. The characters might spend a good portion of each episode in their favourite booth at MacLaren’s, but the stories are never static, and not merely because they are propelled forward by the journey to find out who Ted eventually marries.

But what if Ted isn’t really the star of this show?

The narrative is certainly evenly pitched across the five central characters, but what if this is really Barney’s story, not Ted’s? Think of a man of independent means, for whom seduction and sex are the greatest pleasure in life. Think of his accomplice, a well-meaning, practical fellow who will help his friend whenever he can, but doesn’t exactly share his goals. Think of a couple, happy and devoted to each other, but all too aware of the wandering eye of this local lothario who, despite his generosity to both, would like nothing better than to steal the wife away for just a moment or two. And what of the jilted girl, once seduced by the great lover, once delighting him but all too soon abandoned in favour of the quest? Sound like a story you already know, or an opera you’ve seen?

The similarities are uncanny. Barney is Don Giovanni, of course, who even has a numbered list of all his girls (“Right Place, Right Time”, S4). His favourite wingman, Ted, is the intermittently reluctant Leporello, usually doing his master’s bidding even if he doesn’t quite agree with it. Don Barney must have a wingman at all times, and unsuccessfully tries both Marshall and his brother James when Ted is unavailable, but neither quite masters that enabling yet moralising elasticity that Ted offers Barney.

Don Barney is also quite the meddler, and his mostly harmless infatuation with Marshall’s girlfriend/wife Lily often drives him to interfere and manipulate his friends, professedly with their best interests at heart. Marshall does have something of the peasant Masetto’s lumbering innocence about him, and Lily has a sense of Zerlina’s sexual adventure about her, occasionally confessing to fantasising about Robin, and when required, revealing her pregnancy boobs to Barney just so that he won’t touch them (“Ducky Tie”, S7). She will never give in to Barney’s lust, but she concedes more than once to Barney’s manipulation of them, just as Zerlina does to Don Giovanni.

And then there is poor Robin, a hybrid in many senses of Donna Anna and Donna Elvira. She is a Daddy’s girl just like Donna Anna, who gives in to her attraction to Don Barney and then spends three seasons trying to deal with the consequences. Yet like Donna Elvira, her misery is public, particularly when Don Barney returns to his seductions (“The Playbook”, S5), and her desire for both revenge and restoration is utterly confused (“The Stinson Missile Crisis”, S7). At her most objective, she is a sort of conscience to Barney, especially as he wrestles with his feelings for her. But at her least objective she is even aided in her Anna-esque pursuit of emotional justice by her very own Don Ottavio, the shrink Kevin who, though much later on the scene than Don Ottavio, plays  the same role in trying to bring sense and stability to Donna Robin’s state of mind.

It’s a story as old as the hills of Andalucia and there are times when I wonder what happened to Leporello after Don Giovanni went off to meet his fate. There are some who might argue that Barney getting married is akin to a state of hell – including Barney himself – and one could argue that it is only after Barney marries that Ted is set free to find his own future.

But then, maybe it’s just about 5 people falling in love.

Crash Cole in 'The Rake Spared' coverCadell Blackstock is the author of Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’, a satire on sex and celebrity, and a contemporary rewriting of the Don Giovanni story. Download a sample from Amazon (UK, US and other sites) or find out more about the book and Cadell’s other blogs on his page.

Magical Realism for Men? No swords or flowing beards here…

allonymbooks author Cadell Blackstock chips in with a few words of his own about magical realism.

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Reading fellow allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore‘s blog for the Magical Realism Blog Hop this week, and surveying the other intelligent and fruitful discussion on the subject, I was struck by two things. One, that the majority of participants in this blog hop are female authors. And two, that when I talk about magical realism to other men they tend to think – rightly or wrongly – of fantasy and magic, more than the realism. Even the guy who cuts my hair – a 30 year old new dad with a serious devotion to beer – has abandoned his customary delight in sharing his favourite zombie movies to tell me about his latest enthusiasm: Game of Thrones. ‘I’ve never read the book – I don’t read books, me,’ he informed me with great pride, ‘but the telly series is magic.’

Crash Cole in 'The Rake Spared' coverWhen I wrote Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’, I didn’t want just to write about a failing TV star, ensnared quite literally in the trappings of his own celebrity. I wanted to blast down the walls of privacy that tenuously protect us as individuals. I wanted to push the idea of loving fans to a new level. I wanted to take an actual situation that was covered very prominently in the media (British TV personality Richard Hammond’s high speed dragster crash in 2006) and explore it from a different point of view – the subject, not the observers. In my novel Crash Cole, a motorcycling TV actor (no resemblance to Mr Hammond is intended whatsoever (nor even believable), let me be Absolutely Clear), has a serious accident and wakes up to find that all his fans have literally loved him back from the brink of death. But there’s a price. He can hear every one of their voices in his head.

But there’s no magic wand here. I don’t think it’s a huge leap in imagination to appreciate the pressure that a figure in the public eye must feel at times. Even this very morning, with the birth of the Prince of Cambridge, third in line to the British throne, questions are already being asked about what it will be like for him to grow up in a world of unprecedented public interest. All I did in Crash Cole was to manifest that interest as real, to make the pressure physical, identifiable, tangible.

Some of the bloggers on the blog hop have talked about alternative realism, rather than magical realism. That seems like a good label for what I’ve written. Crash Cole is a contemporary satire on celebrity, sex and scandal. I’ve said elsewhere it has a supernatural twist. Which I suppose it does, if hearing voices counts as supernatural. But for men who would be put off by flowing beards and long swords, I think alternative realism is a good way of describing a funky twist on the world we know.

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To find out more about Cadell Blackstock and Crash Cole, visit Cadell’s page.

Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’ is available on all Amazon sites, including UK and US.

To read the other excellent blogs in the Magical Realism Blog Hop, visit these links:

Zoe Brooks (and Zoe’s second post and this one) – Kirsty Fox – Karen Wyld (and this one)

Leigh Podgorski – Tad Crawford Lynne Cantwell – Murielle Cyr (and this one )- Joel Seath

Edie Ramer – Laura at Curated Bookshelves Christine Locke – Susan Bishop Crispell

Jordan Rosenfeld – Eilis Phillips – and Evie Woolmore’s first blog hop blog