In Netflix’s ‘Boy Swallows Universe,’ fact and fiction mingle and deliver an emotionally powerful tale of the Bell family, with the youngest member, Eli, at its forefront. Based on the book of the same name by Trent Dalton, the show delivers a gripping narrative of love, loss, hopelessness, and heartbreak. But in all the pain and despair, there is also happiness and heart. One of the people with whom Eli develops a deep affection is his stepfather, Lyle. Considering that Dalton based all the characters in the book on the real people in his life, one wonders if he really had a stepfather like Lyle. SPOILERS AHEAD
Trent Dalton’s Criminal Stepfather is the Inspiration Behind Lyle
A lot of things that happen to Eli Bell and his loved ones in ‘Boy Swallows Universe’ are fictional, but they are all rooted in reality. Dalton drew from real people to give solid backstories to his characters. For the role of Lyle Orlik and his relationship with Eli, Dalton drew upon his own relationship with his stepfather, who remains unnamed. Dalton has described him as a muscular man with red hair and a lot of tattoos.
Dalton revealed that for a while, his mother was married to a heroin dealer, who later went to prison for his criminal activities. No matter the shadiness of his career, Dalton loved and respected his stepfather. He recalled an early memory from when he was four years old, sitting on the lounge at their suburban house in Brisbane and saying “I love you, Dad” to his stepfather, who replied: “Mate, I’m not your dad, but I love you too.”
Dalton revealed that despite not being their real father, he was good and kind to them and as real as their biological father to Dalton and his three brothers. Dalton revealed that he really loved his stepfather and believed that, in some ways, he was also the love of his mother’s life. He taught him and his brothers to play football, how to defend themselves, and how to be decent human beings.
For Dalton, it was a bit conflicting to love a man who they knew was involved in criminal activities. Years later, when he sat down to write ‘Boy Swallows Universe,’ the author pondered this dilemma: “What do you do when you fall in love with a criminal?” Exploring the answer to this question also led Dalton to create flawed characters who are capable of redemption because no one is entirely good or bad.
Another thing that Dalton borrowed from his stepfather was the escape room and the red telephone. In the show, the telephone has a mystical connection, but in real life, it was a normal phone in the secret escape room in his stepfather’s house. This, added to several other things, prompted Dalton to explore the “what ifs” and the unanswered questions of his life in Eli’s story.
What Happened to Trent Dalton’s Stepfather?
Despite being the inspiration for Lyle, nothing much is known about Trent Dalton’s stepfather. The author hasn’t revealed the man’s real name, probably out of respect for his privacy. The only thing that Dalton revealed about his stepfather was that he was arrested for his criminal activities and went to prison, following which Dalton said that he disappeared from their lives. It is assumed that Dalton didn’t see his stepfather again as he moved on in his own life.
In the book and the show, Lyle is killed by the people he was working for. In real life, Dalton’s stepfather didn’t have such a brutal end, or at least he wasn’t kidnapped or killed in front of Dalton and his family. He probably served time and came out of prison to lead a clean life. How long he lived and whether he returned to a life of crime remains a mystery.