17 June 2011


Character Connection 28

Did I really say that I would be resuming the Faerie Tale Theatre Production Smackdown today? Really and truly?

You're never going to anything I say again, are you? =/

But I hope that the following character, from a novel that has just slipped into the June Giveaway pool, will at least persuade you to forgive me. He's really wonderful, and I can't think of anyone worthier of leading out this month's crop of Character Connection posts.

Bernardo Hipolito
Tall Story
by Candy Gourlay

Bernardo was my dead father's name, the only thing that once belonged to him that I claim as my own. This I explain to anyone who will listen. But nobody ever does.

Your name is Bernardo? God be praised! Bernardo Carpio!

Bernardo Carpio? No, no! I say. My name is Bernardo, after my father. And my surname is not Carpio. It's Hipolito. Hi-PO-li-to. Bernardo Carpio is a giant, everyone knows that. He's a story, an old legend.

And then they laugh. They laugh because they look at me: my feet so wide and so long . . . they look at my shoulders, so rounded from the effort of squeezing through low doors, they look up, up, up to the top of my huge head . . . and they know better.

I've racked my brains for an analogy from "world folklore" that will drive home the point of Bernardo Hipolito's burden, and this is the best I can do:

Pretend you're hiking somewhere in the woods and meet a huge man holding a massive axe. He introduces himself as "Paul." Before your rational mind can tell you that it's all just a crazy coincidence, you'll probably blurt out the question: "Is your last name Bunyan???" And he would have heard it all before, poor guy.

Bernardo has a similar problem. It's bad enough that he is eight freakish feet tall in a country where most grown men don't even reach a height of six feet. It just takes the cake that he also happens to share a name with the most famous giant of Philippine legend. And the people who see him and make the connection aren't just loving the literary allusion; some of them actually believe he is that very giant, come back to life.

You see, the legendary Bernardo Carpio is best known for preventing an earthquake by jumping into a deep fissure in the earth and holding two walls of stone apart before they could collide. And this Bernardo lives in a province which gets so many tremors a day that it has been called "The Land of Rock and Roll". Note that they are just tremors, not big earthquakes: there hasn't been a single dangerous quake since Bernardo cleared the six-foot mark in his very early teens. To slightly fey country folk who can still make out the form of slumbering giants in the mountains and hear the groans of frustrated giants in the tropical storms, the conclusion is obvious: Bernardo Hipolito and Bernardo Carpio are one and the same.

An unfortunate name can be an awful burden, but it's nothing compared to the fears and superstitions of an entire community. Sixteen-year-old Bernardo's neighbours hold him responsible for the safety of the whole province. They don't react very reasonably to the news that he is moving away to live with his mother in the UK, telling him his departure will mean their death. And although it is a reunion he has been looking forward to for years, his happiness is overshadowed by worry--a kind of survivor's guilt--for those he has left behind.

I love what Candy Gourlay does with the Bernardo Carpio myth in this Contemporary YA novel, plaiting it tightly with what must have been her own experience of being a Filipina immigrant in the UK. Thankfulness for the chance at a better life is always laced with some guilt for being lucky when others are not. Like her own Bernardo, Gourlay knows that being so obviously unique can be a real burden--one that sometimes takes a giant to bear with grace.

Image Source: Tall Story by Candy Gourlay


Candy Gourlay said...

This has got to be the most perceptive and well written piece on my character Bernardo - and I love that you totally got the idea of immigrant guilt and privilege. Bravo!

And thank you.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thank you, Candy! =D I'm so pleased you took the time to visit my blog and leave a comment.

Bernardo is my favourite character in Tall Story. Andi is great, too, but I think I like their mother better. She's hysterical!

IntrovertedJen said...

Poor guy! What a terrible burden to bear!

Enbrethiliel said...


I know! Seven feet is already pushing it, but eight?!

Part of Gourlay's skill is in convincing us, even without details, that Bernardo will have a happy future. So at least it's not a sad story! =)