Friday, June 12, 2009

HIMYM meets Jane Austen

For the first time in my life, I read a Jane Austen book this Spring. Since then, I have read 3 and have a 4th waiting on my nightstand. There is an immense satisfaction in finishing an Austen novel, beyond the usual "I finished a book!" high I still get every time I turn the last page. The reason Austen's finales are so satisfying is simple - all the pieces come together.

Most storylines follow a simple pattern - make a mess and then clean it up. However, Austen makes a highly detailed mess that is both complex and a bit mundane upon first read. For instance, in "Persuasion", Austen spends many chapters discussing a character that seems to have no other purpose than to provide a friendship to Anne. Her backstory is detailed and seemingly unnecessary in the context of the situation.

Many times when reading an Austen book, I drudge through the beginning and middle wondering what I am reading and why it is interesting. Her social commentary is spot on, of course, but as far as a storyline goes, it seems to sort of drag on and go on all sorts of rabbit trails. I get the idea that it's a love story, but I don't see it anywhere for a long time. It's more a story of life than of love.

Then suddenly, through the course of the last few chapters (never just one), there is a big reveal. Suddenly even the mundane details of the first part of the book make so much more sense. All the characters, situations, moments of dialogue piece together a wonderfully complex love story. A story that would have no depth without the details.

A story that reminds me that love isn't a simple plot - boy meets girl, boy likes girl, conflict of some sort, boy marries girl. That simple plot is what I unfortunately was used to in love stories, so I must be forgiven for getting impatient with Austen. However, true love stories really are that drawn out. A love story that only involved 5 characters is not a true love story. The really good ones may involve hundreds of people - which is evident in discussions overheard at weddings. "I was there when they met" "I helped him plan the proposal" "I helped her get over her first heartache before she met him" etc.

Then I realized, that's exactly the reason I love the CBS TV show, "How I Met Your Mother." It has currently finished 4 seasons and hopefully has several more. The overall theme, as guessed from the title, is an older man in 2030 telling his kids how he met their mother. This is the narration over the modern day scenes of NYC as the main character, Ted, goes through all the necessary moments to get where he needs to be to meet the titular mother.

The beautifully realistic part is that this deeply complex love story between him and the mother of his children cannot simply be started when they met. It has to go way back to when he met a woman named Robin, through the ups and downs of his best friends' relationship, the new jobs of him and his friends, and even further back to college days. Some episodes don't appear to have anything to do with Ted at all, but somehow, each of these highly detailed episodes is piecing together a story.

And along the way, the pieces start fitting together. The audience realizes that every moment - the mundane, the scary, the painful, the happy - all are necessary to build the best love story ever told (at least to these kids).

A love story any simpler or less populated with characters would be a shame.

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