Eli Bell In ‘Boy Swallows Universe,’ Explained: Is Eli Based On Real-Life Trent Dalton? Where Is He Now?


The semi-autobiographical novel, written by Trent Dalton, on which the Netflix series Boy Swallows Universe is based, makes us privy to the protagonist of the story, Eli Bell, the mighty, spirited boy who went from adversity to adversity with a smile on his face. It could be said that the character of Eli Bell takes inspiration from the life of Trent Dalton, and though a lot of things he does in the series did not happen in real life, his behavior, his impulses, his ideologies, and most importantly, what he felt during that time, are pretty much the same as those of Trent’s. Dalton said that a lot of the things he made his characters do were a result of him trying to reconcile with the traumas of his past life, and he accepts the fact that a lot of times, he filled in the blanks because he didn’t know what exactly happened. It’s fascinating how Trent Dalton integrates reality with fiction, but he keeps the soul of the characters very real throughout, which is why he calls it a semi-autobiographical retelling of events.

Why didn’t Eli want to stay with his father?

In Boy Swallows Universe, Eli and Gus shared a very close bond with their stepfather, and it was one of those cases where the stepfather, i.e., Lyle, loved and cared for them like his own sons. Lyle’s love language might have been very different, but he did care for his family, and he wanted them to have a better life. The kids were traumatized when he was taken away by Ivan Kroll, and something inside told them that he would never return alive. Eli and Gus always felt that it was Teddy who snitched on him, but they couldn’t do anything about the issue. Frankie, their mother, took the blame on herself, and she was sentenced to 4 years in prison. The kids didn’t want the social services to take them in, and that’s when they went to Slim Halliday and asked him to let them stay with him. But Slim knew that the authorities wouldn’t allow that, even though he loved the kids and had no problems letting them stay with him.

Eli and Gus had very different perspectives on their father, Robert, and clearly, due to past instances, they didn’t have very fond memories of him. Robert was a good man; at least, that’s what I understood after hearing his side of the story. He was addicted to alcohol, and he did things that jeopardized the safety of the kids, but if his intent was taken into consideration, then one would have understood that he didn’t do it on purpose. With time, Eli realized that Robert was not a bad man, and the best part was that, due to his kids, Robert’s condition was also improving, and his reliance on alcohol was decreasing day by day. Eli, I would say, as depicted in the series, was quite entrepreneurial in nature. He was adamant about the fact that he needed to fight his battles on his own, and he didn’t even let his brother fight for him. Eli was mature beyond his age, and he did things that I can’t imagine any other 12- to 13-year-old doing. The way he tackled his bullies, the way he fought against the odds, and the way he survived despite being in such ghastly situations were just admirable.

What did Eli want for his mother?

Eli wanted his mother to have the life she always aspired to. He wanted to procure enough money so that he could pay the deposit for the house in a locality. Just imagine a teenager thinking that much for his family and how mature his way of processing things might have been. Eli got perspective the moment he realized that a lot of children were deprived of love throughout their lives. Yes, life was hard, but the people in Eli’s life adored him, and when he realized how rare that phenomenon was, there was no stopping him. It is said that fortune favors the brave, but I say that fortune favors the one who doesn’t give up and keeps the quest alive. Eli wanted to have a certain sum of money, and for the longest time, he tried to find the stash of drugs that his father had hidden somewhere. He didn’t want to be a peddler, but he needed that money to secure his and his family’s future. And at last, luck favored him, and he and Gus found the bag where Lyle had kept the stash. He sold the stash to Darren, and he got fifty thousand dollars in return. It was amazing how such a young boy did it all by himself. He knew the perils of going into the smuggler’s den and dealing with Darren, but he overcame his fears for his mother and got that money. There must have been a hundred things he wanted for himself, but he saved that amount for many years and took it out on the day his mother was going to be released from prison.

Where is Trent Dalton now?

Eli Bell’s character, as mentioned earlier, was inspired by the life of Trent Dalton, and the writer said that he made his character do things that he himself only dreamt of, just craved for, but was never able to achieve in real life. The real Eli Bell, i.e., Trent Dalton, lives in Brooklyn, has a beautiful family that consists of his wife and two daughters, and not only is he an accomplished journalist, but he has written some novels that have struck a chord with the audience, and he always motivates everybody to seek happiness and achieve their goals in life. I agree that Dalton did mix imagination with reality while writing his novel, but even if anyone has to live through and sustain one percent of the situations he mentioned there, they will know that it is not easy to survive and come out of such a mess in an emphatic manner. Today, Dalton is a successful journalist and novelist, but more importantly, because of his experiences, he is well aware of the fact that it is his responsibility to make this world a better place to live in.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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