On the Road Scroll Rolls into Bookstores

July 7, 2007 | 3 books mentioned 2

Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is known as much for its content as for the story surrounding its creation: Kerouac wrote in a frenzied three weeks, typing furiously on a continuous scroll of paper, or so the story goes. The truth is though, while there is indeed a scroll – it has toured the country for years, stopping at various museums and libraries – On the Road’s creation is more complicated than that, as a recent NPR segment discussed.

In fact, On the Road wasn’t written in a three week rush, it was half formed in Kerouac’s notebooks before ending up on the scroll and went through many drafts afterward. Furthermore, the version on the scroll isn’t what we’ve read, as the novel evolved in future drafts and was fairly heavily edited before Viking finally published the book in 1957. Not only that, the end of the scroll is missing – eaten by a dog supposedly – so it’s not entirely clear what Kerouac’s original intention was for the end of the novel.

coverStill, the On the Road scroll is a powerful thing symbolically, and it may be closer to what Kerouac intended the novel to be than what was published originally. In recognition of that, for the 50th anniversary of the book’s publication, Viking (now a part of Penguin) is publishing the scroll (in book form, of course) with an ending taken from other early drafts of On the Road.

For those who prefer the On the Road that we grew up reading (watered down though it may be), a standard 50th Anniversary edition is on its way as well. You can shelve it alongside the 40th Anniversary edition you bought ten years ago.

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.


  1. Strangely enough, and I may be wrong, but the man who owns the scroll is also the owner of the Indianapolis Colts. That's a football team, ya bookworms! They won this thing called "The Super Bowl" last year. Anyway, I am joking around of course but I think it's interesting that an NFL owner has Kerouac's script, though maybe fitting, because if Keroac loved anything other than writing and booze he loved him some sports. And since I have given away every copy I have ever bought of this book I will indulge and buy the scroll and the 50th anniversary edition. Unless they cost as much as dude paid to buy the scroll. Heh.

  2. Boy, if the publishers really wanted a gimmick, they should have published the book on a scroll. It wouldn't sit well on a bookshelf, so maybe they could have put it out in multiple versions. Hardback, paperback, scroll, audio CD.

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