Title: Thy Son Liveth
Author: Grace D. Boylan
Publication Date: 1918
Grace Duffie Boylan’s first edition of Thy Son Liveth was written anonymously for fear that she would be ridiculed by her peers. This book is very different from her other works. It is non-fiction…about her son who had just been killed in Flanders fighting in World War I. Furthermore, it is an exact transcription of their conversations via Morse code on a telegraph machine…after he died.
A few days ago I went to see the documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old” in theaters. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s WWI footage that’s essentially been remastered, colorized, and dubbed so that the 100 year old film appears and sounds much as it would today. When I came out of the theater I was dying to pick up a book about WWI, so I rummaged through everything I owned and realized pickings were slim. I had about 3 non-fiction books and 2 historical fictions to pick from. This was the smallest, so I grabbed it first.
I didn’t quite know what I was getting into with Thy Son Liveth. I thought it was fiction, a collection of letters that an author had penned and tacked together to offer some hope or comfort to the grieving mothers, wives, and children of WWI and beyond, but in fact, it claims to be an entirely true account of communication from the afterlife. Given the nature of this book and the polarizing subject matter, this’ll probably read less a review and more a discussion. Boylan was widowed and raised her son largely by herself. He was fascinated with wireless communication and became an aficionado, eventually piecing together an antenna and other necessary equipment and fixing it to the roof. So he could practice his craft, he urged his mom to learn Morse code. She did, and would often receive and send messages with him. Before long, WWI began and Bob (the son) was shipped to France where he was promptly gunned down and killed by the Germans – although, according to his communications, he wasn’t dead in the traditional way of thinking.
I only want to start this whole propaganda of comfort on the one sure thing: there is no death.
Immediately after being killed, and a month before the notice that he’s “dead” comes through the mail, Bob sends his mother a message via Morse code. Within a few messages, they realize that with some concentration Bob can talk to his mother directly through her mind and she begins using automatic writing to take down his messages. He describes the afterlife to her as best he can, but his main focus is in stressing the fact he’s as alive as ever, just on a different plane of existence. He wants his mother to spread the word to her friends and encourage them to try to communicate with their dead sons because tears and grief trouble them in the plane they’re at. Plus, it’s unnecessary since lines of communication could be opened if everyone suspended their disbelief.
We look as we did in the flesh. It seems almost as though we had only slipped out of our skins, as the snakes do.
What do you think? Fiction or non-fiction?