HIMYM & Love in the Time of Cholera

himym love in the time of cholera purple

It’s been a couple of years since the end of How I Met Your Mother, but I still get questions about how HIMYM & Love in the Time of Cholera are connected. We know that it’s Ted’s favorite book, and something that connects him to The Mother. One of my commenters broke down all of the connections between the plots, characters, and themes of both the book and TV show. Credit for the research and writing goes to Mark Zajac, a reader who was kind enough to enlighten us all! I tried to do a summary, but I couldn’t do it justice, so I’ve left all of his comments as is for you to peruse…I just added some bolding to help you along the way.

HIMYM & Love in the Time of Cholera

Part 1

Parallels Between Characters, Plot Points, & Symbolism

Dear Ms. Writes,

You seem to enjoy various “How I Met Your Mother” theories. With the finale upon us, it gives little away to observe that “Love In The Time of Cholera” and “How I Met Your Mother” are in detailed correspondence, or at least they were, for many years. To save typing, I will refer to “Love In The Time of Cholera” and “How I Met Your Mother” as “the novel” and “the show” respectively.

The novel is Ted’s Favorite (Season 1, Episode ). The show has a running joke about doppelgänger (Season 5, Episode 24). Perhaps this is no coincidence. The novel tells the story of a love-triangle among, Fermina Daza, Florentino Ariza and Juvenal Urbino. These are the true doppelgängers for Robin, Ted and Barney, on the show. In fact, the novel provides doppelgängers for many of the show’s major characters — (salute) Major Characters!

Robin Scherbatsky and Fermina Daza are doppelgängers. Fermina is raised by a harsh father. He has a shadowy background. He is outraged by Fermina’s first adolescent romance. Fermina is sent to a convent, where her burgeoning femininity is suppressed. Robin is raised by a harsh father. He has a shadowy background (Season 8, Episode 13). He is outraged when pubescent Robin kisses a hockey teammate (Season 4, Episode 6) . Robin is sent to military academy, where her burgeoning femininity is suppressed (Season 8, Episode 4). In exile, at the convent, Fermina loses faith in organized religion. Robin does not believe in miracles (Season 3, Episode 20). In the novel, Fermina sets herself a deadline for getting married. On the show, Robin suggests that she and Ted should mary at age 40 by default (Season 4, Episode 17). Ted agrees. In the novel, smoking is one of Fermina Daza’s salient character traits. On the show (Season 2, Episode 18), smoking is revealed as one of Robin Scherbatsky’s salient character traits; she is arguably the most committed smoker among the major characters — (salute) Major Characters! For a while, Fermina’s house was FULL of animals, which became a point of contention, in the novel. Early on (Season 1, Episode 1), Robin’s apartment was FULL of dogs, which became a point of contention on the show (Season 2, Episode 16). At one point in the novel, Fermina’s entire menagerie of pets is killed, except for a tortoise. This is like the substitution of a tortoise for Sir Scratchewan, on the show (Season 3, Episode 20). Infertility is a major plot point for both Fermina and Robin (Season 12, Episode 7).

Ted Mosby and Florentino Ariza are doppelgängers. In the novel, Florentino is a hopeless romantic who falls in love with Fermina at first sight. On the show, Ted is a hopeless romantic, who falls in love with Robin at first sight (Season 1, Episode 1). Florentino initially lacks the courage to approach Fermina; he watches her from afar and schemes of ways to meet her. This is classic Ted. In the pilot, he is devising a complicated scheme for meeting Robin, when Barney initiates “Have you met Ted?” preemptively. Ted then stages three parties in hopes of casually meeting Robin (Season 1, Episode 2). Early in the novel, Florentino declares his eternal love and devotion to Fermina at an inappropriate moment. Fermina is shocked and sends Florentino away. On the show, Ted says “I love you” to Robin on their very first date. She is shocked and sends him away (Season 1, Episode 1).

Music figures prominently in the courtship of Fermina by Florentino and the courtship of Robin by Ted. In the novel, Florentino serenades Fermina with a violin concerto, which he composes in her honer. On the show, Ted (repeatedly) steals a blue French horn for Robin (Season 1, Episode 1). Ted later surprises Robin with a string quartet, in her apartment (Season 1, Episode 22). Ted ultimately offers to steal an entire orchestra for Robin (Season 2, Episode 22).

Barney Stinson and Dr. Juvenal Urbino are doppelgängers. In the novel, Dr. Urbino provides a stark contrast to the romantic idealism of Florentino Ariza. This is precisely the contrast between Barney and Ted, on the show. Dr. Urbino is cosmopolitan, popular with women and is know for being a snappy dresser. Barney is a man about town, a ladies man and a tireless advocate for suits (Season 4, Episode 12). In the novel, Dr. Urbino is always pushing for progress and modernization just as Barney says “newer is always better” on the show (Season 6, Episode 5). Dr. Urbino is known for living his life by strict principles. Barney lives by the “Bro Code” (Season 3, Episode 17). On the surface, Fermina and Dr. Urbino appear to be a very happy couple, but in reality, they are quite dissatisfied. This mirrors the public affection and private fights between Robin and Barney (Season 5, Episode 6). In the novel, Fermina parts from Florentino, after two years, and ultimately agrees to mary Dr. Urbino. On the show, Robin parts from Ted, after two seasons, (Season 2, Episode 22) and ultimately agrees to marry Barney (Season 8, Episode 12). On the show, Barney Stinson’s doppelganger is a doctor (Season 6, Episode 13), specializing in fertility.

Dr. Urbino is naive and childlike, in some respects — his first name is Juvenal from the Spanish “juvenil ” or “juvenile” in English. Barney shares his name with the dinosaur host of a children’s television program. Barney plays laser-tag with children. Barney is prone to petulance and tantrums, like when Ted refuses to wear a “brobe” (Season 7, Episode 19) or when Ted refuses to play along with the Jor-El hologram in Barney’s apartment (Season 8, Episode 19).

Rosalba and Amy, the tattooed nanny, are doppelgangers. For a brief period, it seems that Florentino and Fermina will be united. Fermina is then taken on a long journey, with the intention that time and distance will cause her to forget Florentino. This is like Robin going to Argentina, in hopes of forgetting Ted (Season 3, Episode 1). Upon her return, Fermina has (literally) grown into an almost unrecognizable person, just as Robin has (figuratively) grown by the time she gets back.

When things go awry, Florentino initially refuses to consider that any woman could replace Fermina. This is like the period when Ted paints his apartment and grows a beard (Season 3, Episode 1). In the novel, Florentino grows a mustache when Fermina leaves. Florentino is then assaulted by a woman named Rosalba. This sets Florentino on a course of pursuing other women in hopes of filling the void that Fermina leaves in his heart. The corrupting influence of Rosalba, in the novel, makes her like Amy, the tattooed nanny, from the show (Season 3, Episode 1). The next morning, Florentino has no clear memory of his encounter with Rosalba. The next morning, Ted has no clear memory of his encounter with Amy — he is shocked to discover that he has gained a butterfly tattoo (perhaps representing a loss of purity).

Stella Zinman and Olimpia Zuleta doppelgängers. In the novel, Florentino begins his courtship of Olimpia Zuleta by chasing her parasol, when it blows away in a storm. On the show, the third season starts with the yellow umbrella blowing down the street. This is the year that Ted meets Stella Zinman. In the novel, Olimpia Zuleta is resistant to courtship and reluctant to have sex because she is married. On the show, Stella is resistant to courtship (Season 3, Episode 13) and reluctant to have sex (Season 3, Episode 18) because she has a daughter with Tony Grafanello (Season 4, Episode 5). Stella is effectively married to Tony, at first, and literally married in the end. Both Olimpia, in the novel, and Stella, on the show, have husbands who are capable of violence — Tony Grafanello is a karate instructor.

Zoey Pierson and Leona Cassiani are doppelgangers. In the novel, Florentino initially mistakes Leona Cassiani for a prostitute. This mirrors the first meeting of Ted and Zoey, on the show (Season 6, Episode 5). Leona comes from a poor family, just like Zoey (Season 6, Episode 22). In the novel, Leona is nick-named “the lion” by Florentino (and, of course, “Leona” is the feminine of “Leo” which is the lion from the zodiac). On the show, an ornate stonework lion-head is pivotal to the interaction of Ted and Zoey (Season 6, Episode 23). In the novel, Leona Cassiani attains high rank in the shipping company of rich and powerful Don Leo XII Loayza. This is like the marriage of Zoey Pierson and George “The Captain” van Smoot, on the show (Season 6, Episode 8). Don Leo XII Loayza and George “The Captain” von Smoot are doppelgängers.

I suspect that Karen, Ted’s girlfriend from college (Season 4, Episode 16), and The Widow Nazaret might be doppelgängers, simply because flagrant promiscuity is the salient character trait of each.

Carly Whittaker and America Vicuna are doppelgangers. Near the end of the novel, Florentino romances a much younger woman named America Vicuna. This is like Ted and Carly Whittaker, on the show (Season 8, Episode 14). In the novel, America is only 14 and is directly related to Florentino — ew, gross! In a minor switch, that makes the romance (slightly) less creepy Carly is a bit older and related to Barney, not Ted, on the show. Still, the relationship retains a slightly “forbidden” quality.

Nora and Miss Barbara Lynch are doppelgängers. In the novel, Miss Barbara Lynch and Fermina Daza are principal rivals for the affection of Dr. Urbino. On the show, Nora and Robin are principal rivals for the affection of Barney Stinson. Both the novel and the show feature main characters of predominantly European descent, with Miss Barbara Lynch and Nora are conspicuous exceptions.

The correspondence or Nora and Miss Barbara Lynch is not perfect. Dr. Urbino cheats on Fermina with Miss Barbara Lynch but, in a reversal of roles, Barney cheats on Nora with Robin. Also, on the show, Quinn Garvey is a third significant rival for Barney’s affection, with no counterpart from the novel that I could discern. Discrepancies, like these, suggest that the novel and the show might end differently. This brings us to Jeanette Peterson…

Brace yourself, the novel provides NO DOPPELGANGER for Jeanette Peterson! In the novel, pursuit of America Vicuna was Florentino’s last attempt to distract himself from Fermina. That should have meant no new girlfriends for Ted after Carly Whittaker. Note, however, that Ted and Jeanette were both reading “One Hundred Years of Solitude” when they first met (Season 8, Episode 15). It occurred to me that “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and “Love In The Time of Cholera” were both written by Gabriel García Márquez. There is a character in “One Hundred Years of Solitude” named Fernanda del Carpio. She is mentally and emotionally unstable. She fails to gain acceptance among the other characters. I think that Fernanda del Carpio and Jeanette Peterson might be doppelgänger but that is (literally AND figuratively) a whole different story!

Series creators Craig Thomas and Carter Bays spoke of changing gears when plans for a ninth season were announced. I think that Jeanette Peterson signals a departure from “Love in the Time of Cholera” as a source of doppelgängers when she trashes Ted’s apartment (Season 8, Episode 18). After all, it is Jeanette Peterson who LITERALLY (and perhaps figuratively) throws “The Play Book” out the window!

On that note, it is amusing to consider that perhaps “Love In The Time of Cholera” and “The Play Book” are doppelgangers. This would mean that the source of all doppelgängers is a doppelgänger itself. I can easily imagine Craig Thomas and Carter Bays referring to “Love in the TIme of Cholera” as “The Play Book” and then deciding to work that into the show, as sort-of an inside joke.

The novel is not just a source of doppelgängers. The show borrows many symbols, metaphors and plot points from the novel. For example, the female leads on the show are named for a bird and a flower. Time and time again, the novel returns to birds and flowers as major recurring motifs — (salute) Major Recurring Motifs!

In the novel, manatees represent the danger of infatuation with a person who is not seen for who they truly are. This is based on the idea that sailors would mistake manatees for mermaids. This is a recurring theme, on the show, including an episode that refers to manatees explicitly (Season 6, Episode 11). Consistent with this theme, Robin chose a mermaid-style wedding dress.

Gabriel García Márquez employes a literary device called “prolepsis” throughout the novel. This involves giving the reader a tantalizing glimpse of an unexpected future event, raising questions that go unanswered for a long time. This technique contributes to the distinctive style of the show. There are countless examples. In one scene (Season 3, Episode 17), Ted lets slip that he and Robin will eventually live together. In another flash-forward, Ted inexplicably arrives at MacLaren’s in a green dress, (Season 6, Episode 11). On both occasions, the audience is then held in suspense for a LONG time.

Pivotal events in the novel coincide with stormy weather. On the show, pivotal events invariably coincide with precipitation. Ted first connects with Robin when he triggers rain-storm (Season 1, Episode 22). By the way, that was NOT a coincidence, Ted really made it rain! An unexpected shower (Season 3, Episode 12) prompts Ted to first appropriate a yellow umbrella, which becomes a recurring prop, in key scenes, throughout the show. Marvin W. Eriksen is conceived as Hurricane Irene rages. During that same storm, Barney and Robin rekindle their romance after an exchange in the rain (Season 7, Episode 9). It is raining when Ted first speaks with Stella, after her desertion (Season 4, Episode 22). It starts to snow at the moment that Robin agrees to marry Barney (Season 8, Episode 12). Marshal and Ted sip beers while waiting for the (apparent) marriage of Barney and Robin. Ted mentions, ironically, that it is not raining. It then begins to rain (Season 6, Episode 1). The rain continues throughout the reception (Season 8, Episode 13) and it is still pouring when Ted finds himself at the train station (Season 8, Episode 1).

In the novel, cholera represents the debilitating nature of love. On the show, characters often make pivotal love-related decisions while in hospital. Ted decides to marry Stella Zinmann while in hospital (Season 2, Episode 20). In the same episode, Barney is also in hospital when he has an epiphany about his feelings for Robin. Years later, after rounds of denial, Robin and Barney admit complicated mutual feeling for each other in a hospital, where Ted is being treated for goat-related injuries (Season 4, Episode 24).

Now, here’s a bit that I have covered before, in an earlier post here. Under maritime law, ships fly a yellow flag as the warning for cholera on board. The link between love and cholera, in the novel, makes yellow the “love-sick” color, on the show. For example, Robin wears a yellow raincoat in her pivotal exchange with Barney, during Hurricane Irene (season 7, episode 9). My feeling is that the art department then gave purple a role as the color-wheel opposite of yellow. Of course, the all-important umbrella is yellow. At the end of the novel, raising a yellow flag grants privacy and enables abiding love to prevail.

How will the show end? I’m so unsure that there seems little danger of spoilers. It is fun to speculate. In the novel, Fermina has kids who are outraged at the final turn of events. On the show, Ted has kids… Will Ted’s kids be outraged? There are rumors that Carter Bays and Craig Thomas filmed the final reaction shot of Ted’s kids while the actors were still young. I would love to know what ending had been planned before deciding to give the show a ninth season. I really feel that Jeanette Peterson signaled a departure of the show from the novel, with a possible change of the ending. To me, this would be a shame, after such faithful correspondence, over the years. I console myself that perhaps Carter Bays and Craig Thomas have been planning to change the ending, all along, right from the start. The novel begins with a suicide, setting a macabre and somber tone. The show begins with a suicide ATTEMPT instead, disrupting the first date of Ted and Robin (Season 1, Episode 1). Reporting for Metro News 1, Robin says “The man came down off the ledge, giving this bizarre story a happy ending.”


[:-)] Mark

Mark Zajac

HIMYM & Love in the Time of Cholera

Part 2

Milk, Star Wars, & the Predicted Ending

Dear Ms. Writes,

At long last, I have seen the conclusion of “How I Met Your Mother” and I can start to comment on episodes from the final season.

Way back in the first season, we were told that “The Mother” was doomed. We learned from “Milk” that Ted wanted to name his kids Luke and Leia, after the “Star Wars” characters. We know that Carter Bays and Craig Thomas are huge “Star Wars” fans. In the “Star Wars” mythos, “The Mother” always dies early. Anakin’s mother died early, setting him on the path to becoming Darth Vader. Luke’s mother died early, setting him on the path to becoming a Jedi (cool fact: my spell-checker complained when I left “Jedi” uncapitalized).

In some ways, “Milk” might be the most pivotal episode of the entire series. This was also the episode in which we learned that “Love in the Time of Cholera” is Ted’s favorite novel. I have already mentioned that “How I Met Your Mother” and “Love in the Time of Cholera” are in detailed correspondence. Robin was fated to marry Barney but end with Ted, just as Fermina married Urbino but went back to Florentino.

In addition, “Milk” presents Ted with his “perfect match” — a bass player who shares his quirks and will bear his children — and yet, in the end, Ted is still in love with Robin. There you have it! Carter Bays and Craig Thomas telegraphed the whole thing, right from the get-go.

I can’t believe that people were shocked and outraged. I can’t believe that people complained so bitterly about the finalé. It was preordained. It was, in a word, legen… dary!


[:-)] Mark

Mark Zajac

HIMYM & Love in the Time of Cholera

Part 3

Sunrise, Ghosts, & Balloons

Dear Ms. Writes,

You did not review “Sunrise” so I will post my thoughts here.

I have already mentioned that Jeanette Peterson and Fernanda del Carpio from “One Hundred Years of Solitude” might be doppelgängers. Throughout the novel, many of the principle characters are visited by ghosts. So, it seems fitting that “Sunrise” features ghosts and Jeanette Peterson in the same episode.

The novel also features a character name Remedios the Beauty, who is so impossibly perfect that she simply ascends into heaven one day. It seems that Robin recreates this when she floats away at the end. The overt message is that Ted is letting Robin go but the parallel with Remedios perhaps reminds us that, even then, Ted still saw Robin as worthy of apotheosis.

The writers were careful to lay the foundation by having Marshall collect that picture of Ted’s balloon friend when Marshall passed through Cleveland.


[:-)] Mark

Mark Zajac

HIMYM & Love in the Time of Cholera

Part 4

From Death, New Life

Dear Ms. Writes,

I have already mentioned that Don Leo XII Loayza and George “The Captain” von Smoot are doppelgängers. It strikes me now that both have multi-part names.

Don Leo has an odd proclivity for singing at funerals. So, when “The Captain” is singing, we are led to expect a funeral but, like The Mosby Boys, we have jumped to the wrong conclusion. The writers pull a switch-a-roo. Instead of death (cigarettes), we get new life — a baby!

Note that daisies have appropriately dichotomous symbolism: they can represent new beginnings and innocence — Lily is innocent! — but daisies can also can symbolize death — “pushing up daisies” for example. In Celtic lore, daisies represent the spirits of unborn children. The daisy might also correlate with Marshall’s decision about supporting Lily in her dream of going to Italy: will his marriage to Lily live or die? By tradition, the game of “he loves me / he loves me not” is played by plucking the petals from a daisy. It seems that daisy had an odd number of petals!

The theme of “from death, new life” may have a parallel with Marshall receiving confirmation of fertility on the same day that he learns of his father’s death (season 6, episode 13, unluckily).

It seems that Becky — boats! boats! boats! — should have a doppelgänger but I am stumped. Where are those Mosby Boys when you need them?


[:-)] Mark

Mark Zajac

HIMYM & Love in the Time of Cholera

Part 5


We know that “Love in the Time of Cholera” is Ted’s Favorite novel. In that story, a yellow flag enables abiding love to prevail. Rain also signals key events in the novel, just as it does on the show.

Somebody mentioned lilacs in the boutonnières. The white flowers in the boutonnières appear to be Calla Lilies. These flowers are also known as marsh-lilies, which is cool, for obvious reasons. But wait, it gets better! Calla lilies are the flower associated with a sixth wedding anniversary and, by my reckoning, Marshall and Lilly have been married six years at the time of the “Farhampton” wedding.

So what do you think? If I had read the novel, I would have had much more accurate predictions when I blogged about the show! Still, it’s fascinating to see how much of the show was influenced by the book. It also makes me slightly less annoyed by the ending, which I personally thought was crap. I feel like they did a disservice to the fans by breaking up two relationships that they led us to fall in love with. But at least they were doing it for the sake of staying connected to a literary inspiration, versus just being stuck on an idea that they thought was shocking and clever. Anyway, if you have additional info on the book/connections, please comment below. And of course, thank you so much to Mark for his legendary comments, detailed analysis, and dedication. :)

7 thoughts on “HIMYM & Love in the Time of Cholera

  1. I honestly didn’t get the connection to “Love in the Time of Cholera” until after the series finale. But I have a confession. I was rather relieved that Robin and Barney’s relationship didn’t last. I just didn’t see it happening.

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