Dorothy’s pet Toto might well be one of the most famous dogs in literature, but how much do you really know about him? L. Frank Baum never specifies a breed for him, simply describing in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as “a little black dog, with long silky hair and small black eyes that twinkled merrily on either side of his funny, wee nose.” W.W. Denslow drew him as what some people have identified as either a Cairn or Yorkshire Terrier. When John R. Neill started drawing him in Road and Emerald City, he had become a Boston Terrier instead.
It’s likely he modeled the canine on his own pet Dingleberry, who also shows up under his own name in Neill’s comic The Little Journeys of Nip and Tuck.
There’s even a picture in Road of Neill’s Toto laughing at Denslow’s, as represented in a statue.
After Baum took a few years off from writing Oz, however, Neill began drawing Toto more similarly to how Denslow had. I don’t know whether this was his own decision or a mandate from Baum or the publisher. In Scarecrow, Baum describes Toto as a “fuzzy little terrier dog,” which I believe is the most specific he ever gets.
The cover of the 1999 Oziana includes two pictures of Toto from Lost Princess, with the second varying quite a bit from the others. In the bottom right corner is Frank Kramer’s take on the character.
The 1939 MGM movie had Toto played by a female Cairn Terrier named Terry, who looked a lot like the illustrations aside from having brown hair instead of black.
We also don’t know exactly how Toto came to live with Dorothy. Wizard tells us that he provides relief from her dull and harsh life on the Kansas farm, but it’s never specified whether or not she had him before coming to live there. For that matter, he might have been a stray who wandered onto the farm and Dorothy asked to keep him. Toto was a pretty common name for dogs at the time, particularly French ones. George Van Buren’s story “Zimbo and the Magic Amulet” does play on the Latin meaning of in toto, but it’s probably not that likely that Baum was thinking of such, regardless of what Evan Schwartz might have thought. Then again, we ARE told that Dorothy named her kitten Eureka because it means “I found it.” It’s also interesting that another Baum book had protagonists who called themselves Dot and Tot, perhaps a reference (whether conscious or not) to Dorothy and Toto.
Toto is a fairly significant character in Wizard for someone without lines, accompanying Dorothy, providing a reason for Dorothy not to get into the storm cellar and to slap the Cowardly Lion, biting the Wicked Witch of the West, and exposing the Wizard of Oz. In the stage version of the book, he was replaced by a cow named Imogene, because that was easier for an actor to portray. (Baum did love his pantomime animals.) The 1910 silent film of Wizard actually includes both Imogene AND Toto, the latter being changed to human size by Glinda.
On her visits to Oz in Ozma and Dorothy and the Wizard, Dorothy is accompanied by different small animals, a hen and a kitten respectively. Toto comes back again for Road, Emerald City, Patchwork Girl, and one of the Little Wizard Stories, however. Toto’s inability to speak is pointed out as early as Wizard, in which he’s unable to answer a man who asks him what he wants from the Wizard, but the man presumably expects him to do so. Dorothy explains this by saying that Toto is “just a common United States dog,” but being from the Outside World doesn’t stop Billina, Eureka, or Jim the Cab-Horse from talking quite a bit. Baum was known for taking suggestions from readers, so I wouldn’t be surprised if someone pointed out the discrepancy to him. Regardless, the dog reveals at the end of Tik-Tok that he could talk all along, but prefers not to. It seems a little more disturbing that a talking dog would have eaten living baked goods in Bunbury, but sentience apparently doesn’t totally negate instinct. Atticus Gannaway’s short story “Toto and the Truth” offers an alternate theory that Toto couldn’t speak due to a curse by the Wicked Witch of the West, which is dispelled when he bathes in the Truth Pond on the Glass Cat’s advice. Despite the statement in Scarecrow that Toto “seldom took part in the conversation,” the dog talks a LOT in Lost Princess, perhaps to make up for his missing growl.
Thompson doesn’t use Toto a whole lot, although when he does play a role in Grampa, he’s back to talking only occasionally. I think he only has one line in English in that book. I also recall him having a brief line in Kabumpo. In Ozoplaning, Toto’s absence from the Wizard’s party is explained by his having gone with Ozma to visit Glinda, despite his rarely traveling without Dorothy in previous books. Jack Snow gave the dog a larger role in Magical Mimics, in which he’s the only inhabitant of the Emerald City to realize that the Mimics imitating Dorothy and the Wizard aren’t the real deal. He talks a fair amount in that one as well, but mostly to characters other than Dorothy.
There have been two books written after the Famous Forty that give Toto a starring role: Chris Dulabone’s Toto in Oz and Gina Wickwar’s Toto of Oz. That “of Oz” and “in Oz” thing is something I’m probably going to address in another post, but for now I’m just going to say that they’re quite different books despite the almost-identical titles and the same main character. Dulabone also used to write his notes from the publisher in the character of Toto, although he’s since switched to using the Cowardly Lion for this purpose instead. I think it’s a little difficult to determine a personality for Toto when he plays a role other than Dorothy’s faithful companion. In Dulabone and Marcus Mebes’ Magic Tapestry, he’s unusually grumpy, which he says is because he doesn’t like talking so much.