The Role of Exile in Dungeons & Daddies
I'm going to be honest, I write a lot of things with an "agenda", right? Like I'm sure it's not super surprising that most of what I write is advocating for a specific thesis. Which is why this piece is super refreshing for me — it's been a while since I've done literary analysis, so I'm pretty excited. This one was a bit rushed, though, so I'm not 100% happy with how it turned out, but whatcha gonna do. Okay, anyway, back to the show.
This essay has spoilers for Dungeons & Daddies Season 1, including the premise of Season 2.
What is Exile?
Dungeons and Daddies is a Dungeons and Dragons podcast about four dads flung into the Forgotten Realms, trying to find their lost sons (shout out to everyone who read this in Freddie's voice). It is important to note that the dads are not only looking for their lost sons, they are also looking for a way out of the Forgotten Realms. Neither the dads nor the sons could have returned back home, due to their "tethers" to the Forgotten Realms. As such, they are looking for a way to return home, to return to normalcy, which is to say...Dungeons and Daddies is, fundamentally, a story about exiles.
So, let us briefly visit what exile is. Edward Said has a particularly bleak outlook about exile.
Okay, so what is this experience like? And how is it represented in the podcast?
The experiences of exiles vary significantly depending on their "position in the webs of hierarchical power relations that include gender, class, ethnic background, racialization, geographical location of origin, and education". The four dads and sons, as far as I can tell, are "white", male, probably middle-class, from America, and vary in education. They are also lucky in that there is no language barrier between them and most people in the Forgotten Realms.
But, they still suffer a lot of the same struggles as exiles. They are thrown into an unfamiliar world, with limited resources, and are forced to adapt to its environment. The Iranian-American, Persis Karim, explains how exiles are "haunted" by the "ghost" of the home that they can no longer return to. We can see this in Dungeons and Daddies, too, for all 68 episodes, the "ghost" of Earth is never lost.
Only for Nick, when his history is quite literally rewritten and the Forgotten Realms becomes his home, does this ghost dissipate. Even for Glenn, who ultimately chooses to stay with Nick, the ghost remains, he never truly forgets about home.
For the other dads and sons, they return home, but they return deeply altered. Which makes sense, the siren call of "Return" exists for all exiles. It seems, from what I've read, that more than just return, revolution is a thrill for second-generation immigrant exiles that draws them in. We can see this both in "On Our Way Home From the Revolution" by Sonya Bilocerkowycz, and in excerpts from Lipstick Jihad used by Persis Karim.
"the last time mass riots overran Tehran, a revolution followed. Could it be happening all over again without me?" ... Almost immediately, Moaveni packed a bag and headed for Tehran, determined to “witness history, if only as a tourist-spectator”
But why? Well, I believe it is the pull of purpose, something that staves off nihilism. The same pull that Simon Critchley applies to 20th century thinkers: "for a whole range of 20th-century Continental thinkers, the diagnosis of nihilism is accompanied by the demand for an overcoming of nihilism." If we extend this thought process, the pull of revolution for an exile is two-fold, it is the pull of being able to return home, combined with the pull of purpose, the pull of staving off nihilism.
This sheds an interesting light on Lark and Sparrow, in particular, who we learn are in fact returning second-generation immigrants. In fact, Henry himself is in a sense an exile on Earth, but Lark and Sparrow are exiles in the Forgotten Realms. One of the first things we find Lark and Sparrow doing is attempting to summon the Doodler, which is akin to starting a revolution, a radical reordering of their own, in the Forgotten Realms. Whereas they eventually give up this ambition, at the very end Lark decides to go through with it.
But why? I mean, we know he dislikes Henry, but that's not really motivation to summon an eldritch god, now, is it? And, even so, why would Lark wait until they were back home? Here, I think, we must come back to the idea of "Returning". Because, the "Return", is always met with disillusionment. The world had stayed relatively static due to time moving slower in the real world, but the kids themselves had changed significantly, and the world had not kept up with them.
All the kids had aged significantly while their peers had not; Grant killed someone; Nick was gone; Lark and Sparrow met family on Henry's side, fought incredibly powerful foes, and matured in their own ways; and Terry Jr. had gotten over his father's death. And, let's not forget, for the cast and the rest of us, we went through (and are continuing to go through) a pandemic. For many of us in the real world, there is no home, no normal to return to, even if we could turn back the clock, we are too changed to return. And, here, returning to the original definition from Edward Said, is the unhealable rift, after being exiled, returning does not heal the rift, it can not, as you've already branched away, your life's trajectory is already altered.
And it makes sense that Lark would summon the Doodler. Lark has one foot in each world, one parent from each. So, what if, Lark summoning the Doodler was his attempt at merging his identities as a Faerunian and Earthling/American? (Faerunian is such a cringe word my god). His way, of after months of just getting by and fighting, staving off the rapidly onset nihilism. I mean, how does one go from battle, death, and violence, back to elementary school? (there is also a PTSD analysis to be had here). I promised no Season Two spoilers, but for anyone caught up, you can also use some of this lens to think about events in Season Two 😉.
Well, obviously this is all speculation, but I think it's an interesting lens to look through. This article is probably one of the most rushed ones I've written, as it's the first one I wrote after forcing myself to stick to this schedule, so if you got this far I really appreciate it! There's a lot of stuff about exile and return I read about that I really feel like using elsewhere, so next week might be another post on exile, or I might punt that off to later. I do kind of feel like writing a detailed introduction to Vision Zero policy (aka why firetrucks are too big), so maybe it'll be that. If that seems interesting to you, please subscribe to my mailing list below, and thank you for reading!