The novel was written quickly in the improvisatory style Kerouac called “spontaneous prose.” In a letter to Allen Ginsberg dated May 18, 1952, Kerouac wrote, “I’ll simply blow [improvise like a jazz musician] on the vision of the Shadow in my 13th and 14th years on Sarah Ave. Lowell, culminated by the myth itself as I dreamt it in Fall 1948 . . . angles of my hoop-rolling boyhood as seen from the shroud.” In a letter to Ginsberg dated November 8 of the same year, Kerouac admits “Doctor Sax was written high on tea [marijuana] without pausing to think, sometimes Bill [Burroughs] would come in the room and so the chapter ended there, . . .” (ibid, p. 185).
|Cover artist||Roy Kuhlman|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||Approx. 245 pages|
|LC Class||PS3521.E735 D63 1987|
|Preceded by||The Dharma Bums |
|Followed by||Maggie Cassidy |
The novel begins with Jackie Duluoz, based on Kerouac himself, relating a dream in which he finds himself in Lowell, Massachusetts, his childhood home town. Prompted by this dream, he recollects the story of his childhood of warm browns and sepia tones, along with his shrouded childhood fantasies, which have become inextricable from the memories.
The fantasies pertain to a castle in Lowell atop a muted green hill that Jackie calls Snake Hill. Underneath the misty grey castle, the Great World Snake sleeps. Various vampires, monsters, gnomes, werewolves, and dark magicians from all over the world gather to the mansion with the intention of awakening the Snake so that it will devour the entire world (although a small minority of them, derisively called "Dovists," believe that the Snake is merely "a husk of doves," and when it awakens it will burst open, releasing thousands of lace white doves. This myth is also present in a story told by Kerouac's character, Sal Paradise, in On the Road).
The eponymous Doctor Sax, also part of Jackie's fantasy world, is a dark but ultimately friendly figure with a shrouded black cape, an inky black slouch hat, a haunting laugh, and a "disease of the night" called Visagus Nightsoil that causes his skin to turn mossy green at night. Sax, who also came to Lowell because of the Great World Snake, lives in the forest in the neighboring town of Dracut, where he conducts various alchemical experiments, attempting to concoct a potion to destroy the Snake when it awakens.
When the Snake is finally awakened, Doctor Sax uses his potion on the Snake, but the potion fails to do any damage. Sax, defeated, discards his shadowy black costume and watches the events unfold as an ordinary man. As the Snake prepares to destroy the world, all seems lost until an enormous night colored bird, an ancient counterpart of the Snake, suddenly appears. Seizing the Snake in its beak, the bird flies upward into the heartbreakingly blue sky until it vanishes from view, leading the amazed Sax to muse, "I'll be damned, the universe disposes of its own evil!"
Kerouac often based his fictional characters on friends and family.
"Because of the objections of my early publishers I was not allowed to use the same personae names in each work." 
|Real-life person||Character name|
|Leo Kerouac||Emil "Pop" Duluoz|
|Gerard Kerouac||Gerard Duluoz|
|Caroline Kerouac||Catherine "Nin" Duluoz|
|George "G.J." Apostolos||Rigopoulos|
|Henry "Scotty" Beaulieu||Paul "Scotty" Boldieu|
|Fred Bertrand||Vinny Bergerac|
|"Happy" Bertrand||Lucky Bergerac|
|Leona "Leo" Bertrand||Charlie Bergerac|
|Billy Chandler||Dickie Hampshire|
|Duke Chungas||Bruno Gringas|
|Omar Noel||Ali Zaza|
|Roland Salvas||Albert "Lousy" Lauzon|
Kerouac also wrote a screenplay adaptation of the novel entitled Doctor Sax and the Great World Snake. It was never filmed, but in 1998, Kerouac's nephew Jim Sampas discovered the text in Kerouac's archives. He proceeded to produce the piece in audio form, much like a radio drama, and release it in 2003 from his independent record label, Gallery Six (named for the site of the famous Six Gallery reading), in a partnership with Mitch Winston's record label, Kid Lightning Enterprises. The release consisted of two CDs and a book containing the screenplay with illustrations by Richard Sala.
Doctor Sax appeared in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier by Alan Moore in a story written by Sal Paradise (from Kerouac's On the Road). He is mentioned as being the great-grandson of The Devil Doctor (because of the Doctor's creator, Sax Rohmer) and fights against Mina Murray, Allan Quatermain, Paradise and Dean Moriarty (who is the great-grandson of Manchu's rival and Sherlock Holmes' nemesis Professor Moriarty).
"Dr. Sax and the Great World Snake" is a track on Transistor Zen's 2016 album, "One Flew East."
Beatnik was a media stereotype prevalent throughout the 1950s to mid-1960s that displayed the more superficial aspects of the Beat Generation literary movement of the 1950s. Elements of the beatnik trope included pseudo-intellectualism, drug use, and a cartoonish depiction of real-life people along with the spiritual quest of Jack Kerouac's autobiographical fiction.Death-Throws
The Death-Throws are a fictional team of supervillains appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. They first appeared in Captain America #317 (May 1986) and were created by Mark Gruenwald and Paul Neary. Introduced as enemies of Hawkeye, the Death-Throws consists primarily of jugglers who each use various juggling props as weapons.Edie Parker
Edie Kerouac-Parker (1922–1993) was the author of the memoir You'll Be Okay, about her life with her first husband, Jack Kerouac, and the early days of the Beat Generation. While an art student under George Grosz at Columbia University, she and Barnard student and friend Joan Vollmer shared an apartment on 118th Street in New York City which came to be frequented by many of the then unknown Beats, among them Vollmer's eventual husband William S. Burroughs, and fellow Columbia students Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg as well as Lucien Carr.Born in Detroit, Parker was raised in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan. Edie and Jack were married on August 22, 1944 at Manhattan Municipal Building in downtown New York. At the time, Jack was in jail as an accessory after the fact in Lucien Carr's murder of David Kammerer. This event expedited their intention to marry as Jack's father, Leo, refused to bail him out of jail. Jack was released from jail long enough for him and Edie to be escorted downtown by two N.Y.P.D detectives to be married. Once married, Edie could access an inheritance from her grandfather's then-unprobated estate to post Kerouac's bail. The marriage was annulled in 1952.Edie appears as Judie Smith in Kerouac's novel The Town and the City, Elly in "Visions of Cody", Edna "Johnnie" Palmer of "Vanity of Duluoz", and herself in "The Original Scroll" – the unedited edition of On the Road. Edie was played by actress Elizabeth Olsen in the film Kill Your Darlings. Edie's memoir, You'll Be Okay – My Life with Jack Kerouac, was published posthumously in 2007 by City Lights.Jack Kerouac
Jack Kerouac (; born Jean-Louis Kérouac (though he called himself Jean-Louis Lebris de Kérouac); March 12, 1922 – October 21, 1969) was an American novelist and poet of French-Canadian descent.He is considered a literary iconoclast and, alongside William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, a pioneer of the Beat Generation. Kerouac is recognized for his method of spontaneous prose. Thematically, his work covers topics such as Catholic spirituality, jazz, promiscuity, Buddhism, drugs, poverty, and travel. He became an underground celebrity and, with other beats, a progenitor of the hippie movement, although he remained antagonistic toward some of its politically radical elements.In 1969, at age 47, Kerouac died from an abdominal hemorrhage caused by a lifetime of heavy drinking. Since his death, Kerouac's literary prestige has grown, and several previously unseen works have been published. All of his books are in print today, including The Town and the City, On the Road, Doctor Sax, The Dharma Bums, Mexico City Blues, The Subterraneans, Desolation Angels, Visions of Cody, The Sea Is My Brother, and Big Sur.Jack Kerouac bibliography
Jack Kerouac (March 12, 1922 – October 21, 1969) was an American novelist and poet. He is considered a literary iconoclast and, alongside William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, a pioneer of the Beat Generation. Kerouac is recognized for his method of spontaneous prose. Thematically, his work covers topics such as Catholic spirituality, jazz, promiscuity, Buddhism, drugs, poverty, and travel.Jan Kerouac
Janet Michelle "Jan" Kerouac (February 16, 1952 – June 5, 1996) was an American writer and the only child of beat generation author Jack Kerouac and Joan Haverty Kerouac.Johnny Hodges
John Cornelius Hodges (July 25, 1907 – May 11, 1970) was an American alto saxophonist, best known for solo work with Duke Ellington's big band. He played lead alto in the saxophone section for many years, except the period between 1932 and 1946 when Otto Hardwick generally played first chair. Hodges was also featured on soprano saxophone, but refused to play soprano after 1946, when he was given the lead chair. He is considered one of the definitive alto saxophone players of the big band era (alongside Benny Carter).Hodges started playing with Lloyd Scott, Sidney Bechet, Luckey Roberts and Chick Webb. When Ellington wanted to expand his band in 1928, Ellington's clarinet player Barney Bigard recommended Hodges. His playing became one of the identifying voices of the Ellington orchestra. From 1951 to 1955, Hodges left the Duke to lead his own band, but returned shortly before Ellington's triumphant return to prominence – the orchestra's performance at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival.Merrimack River
The Merrimack River (or Merrimac River, an occasional earlier spelling) is a 117-mile-long (188 km) river in the northeastern United States. It rises at the confluence of the Pemigewasset and Winnipesaukee rivers in Franklin, New Hampshire, flows southward into Massachusetts, and then flows northeast until it empties into the Atlantic Ocean at Newburyport. From Pawtucket Falls in Lowell, Massachusetts, onward, the Massachusetts–New Hampshire border is roughly calculated as the line three miles north of the river.
The Merrimack is an important regional focus in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The central-southern part of New Hampshire and most of northeast Massachusetts is known as the Merrimack Valley.
Several U.S. naval ships have been named USS Merrimack and USS Merrimac in honor of this river. The river is perhaps best known for the early American literary classic A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers by Henry David Thoreau.Michael Franks (musician)
Michael Franks (born September 18, 1944) is an American jazz singer and songwriter, considered a leader of the quiet storm movement. He has recorded with a variety of well-known artists, such as Patti Austin, Art Garfunkel, Brenda Russell, Claus Ogerman, and David Sanborn. His songs have been recorded by Shirley Bassey, The Carpenters, Kurt Elling, Diana Krall, Patti LaBelle, Lyle Lovett, The Manhattan Transfer, Carmen McRae and Ringo Starr.Readings by Jack Kerouac on the Beat Generation
Readings by Jack Kerouac on the Beat Generation is the third and final spoken word album by the American novelist and poet Jack Kerouac, released in January 1960 on Verve Records. The album was recorded during 1959, prior to the publication of Kerouac's sixth novel, Doctor Sax.Richard Sala
Richard Sala is an American cartoonist, illustrator, and comic book creator with a unique expressionistic style whose books often combine elements of mystery, horror and whimsy.Ronna C. Johnson
Ronna C. Johnson is a Professor of English at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. Johnson is an established authority on the Beat Generation. She has worked as a fiction editor for ASPECT magazine, Zephyr Press, and Dark Horse magazine. She is also the co-editor of the Journal of Beat Studies published by Pace University Press, a founding board member of the Beat Studies Association, and the co-editor of the Beat Studies book series published by Clemson University Press/Liverpool University Press.The Camera Never Lies
The Camera Never Lies is a jazz vocal album by Michael Franks, released in 1987 by Warner Bros. Records.The Soft Parade (song)
"The Soft Parade" is the ninth and final track on the album of the same name by the American rock band The Doors, their fourth studio album. At the beginning of the song, Jim Morrison starts out with spoken words reminiscent of a Christian revivalist preacher. This part of the song is referred to as the "Petition the Lord with Prayer" section. The song then goes into a harpsichord driven semi-introductory piece mainly known as "Sanctuary", with lyrics such as, "Can you give me sanctuary, I must find a place to hide" referencing his then-current problems like the Miami and New Haven arrests. Afterwards, the beat picks up and the song progressively gets faster, and features a psychedelic pop section, followed by an upbeat, soft section before going into a wild blues rock part that ends the song. The new, 2006 remastered album reinstates an intro before the 'Petition the Lord with Prayer' section where Morrison laments that he's "troubled immeasurably" by the eyes of an unnamed subject.