“Book! Book!” said the dog
I love animals and I love books.
There has been some talk recently (and I’ve indulged in it myself) about the role of dogs in books (versus cats on the internet).
I thought I’d take this post to mention some of my favorite literary dogs.
Toto, from the Wizard of Oz series, is certainly front and center.
I’m sure many people’s image of Toto comes from the portrayal by Terry, a cairn terrier (who was reportedly “paid” more than many of the human actors) in the 1939 Wizard of Oz movie.
That portrayal is not far off: Toto is very much a dog’s dog, and has to restrain instinctual responses (like not chasing the Queen of the field mice), but manages it.
Something that I particularly admired about Toto was revealed in the eighth Oz book by L. Frank Baum, Tik-Tok of Oz.
Toto had already been to Oz…and so had other animals from the Outside World (including a Billina, a yellow hen, and Hank, a mule).
It isn’t until the end of this eighth book, though, that it is pointed out to Dorothy that other Outside animals who come to Oz are able to speak like humans…but Toto hasn’t.
When Betsy Bobbin (another arrival from the Outside World questions that, Ozma (the ruler of Oz) points out that Toto should be able to speak, and must just be choosing not to do so.
“Do all the animals in Oz talk as we do?”
“Almost all,” answered Dorothy. “There’s a Yellow Hen here, and she can talk, and so can her chickens; and there’s a Pink Kitten upstairs in my room who talks very nicely; but I’ve a little fuzzy black dog, named Toto, who has been with me in Oz a long time, and he’s never said a single word but ‘Bow-wow!’”
“Do you know why?” asked Ozma. “Why, he’s a Kansas dog; so I s’pose he’s different from these fairy animals,” replied Dorothy.
“Hank isn’t a fairy animal, any more than Toto,” said Ozma, “yet as soon as he came under the spell of our fairyland he found he could talk. It was the same way with Billina, the Yellow Hen whom you brought here at one time. The same spell has affected Toto, I assure you; but he’s a wise little dog and while he knows everything that is said to him he prefers not to talk.”
“Goodness me!” exclaimed Dorothy. “I never s’pected Toto was fooling me all this time.” Then she drew a small silver whistle from her pocket and blew a shrill note upon it. A moment later there was a sound of scurrying footsteps, and a shaggy black dog came running up the path.
Dorothy knelt down before him and shaking her finger just above his nose she said:
“Toto, haven’t I always been good to you?”
Toto looked up at her with his bright black eyes and wagged his tail. “Bow-wow!” he said, and Betsy knew at once that meant yes, as well as Dorothy and Ozma knew it, for there was no mistaking the tone of Toto’s voice.
“That’s a dog answer,” said Dorothy. “How would you like it, Toto, if I said nothing to you but ‘bow-wow’?”
Toto’s tail was wagging furiously now, but otherwise he was silent.
“Really, Dorothy,” said Betsy, “he can talk with his bark and his tail just as well as we can. Don’t you understand such dog language?”
“Of course I do,” replied Dorothy. “But Toto’s got to be more sociable. See here, sir!” she continued, addressing the dog, “I’ve just learned, for the first time, that you can say words—if you want to. Don’t you want to, Toto?”
“Woof!” said Toto, and that meant “no.”
“Not just one word, Toto, to prove you’re as any other animal in Oz?” “Woof!”
“Just one word, Toto—and then you may run away.”
He looked at her steadily a moment. “All right. Here I go!” he said, and darted away as swift as an arrow.
I always considered that very intelligent…hiding that ability as long as things were going well enough without it. There are times, certainly, when I jump in (during a meeting, for instance) with something when things don’t really need it. I think many of us could learn from Toto’s example.
Once the ability is revealed, Toto does speak…but I’m not really sure things are better off because of it.
In addition to dogs, we’ve had cats as pets (and I’ve had quite a few other species). With one particular cat, Leo, my family used to joke that Leo and I spoke “Felinglish”, a combination language (feline and English). Oh, I didn’t meow, but I understood very well what Leo was saying. I could prove it. Leo would come into the room and meow, and I could tell my Significant Other what the issue was (e.g. “Leo says the water is low in the bowl”) and it would be. I couldn’t always understand Leo…but I can’t always understand people, either.
Speaking of speech and dogs, there was also Jip from the Doctor Doolittle stories.
Doctor Doolittle (and yes, I’ve been called that a few times) learned to speak with animals, and had a number of them as companions.
This is a great section from The Story of Doctor Doolittle, showing how Jip interprets the world:
Then Jip went up to the front of the ship and smelt the wind; and he started muttering to himself,
“Tar; Spanish onions; kerosene oil; wet raincoats; crushed
laurel-leaves; rubber burning; lace-curtains being washed–No, my mistake, lace-curtains hanging out to dry; and foxes–hundreds of ’em–cubs; and–”
“Can you really smell all those different things in this one wind?”
asked the Doctor.
“Why, of course!” said Jip. “And those are only a few of the easy
smells–the strong ones. Any mongrel could smell those with a cold in the head. Wait now, and I’ll tell you some of the harder scents that are coming on this wind–a few of the dainty ones.”
Then the dog shut his eyes tight, poked his nose straight up in the air and sniffed hard with his mouth half-open.
For a long time he said nothing. He kept as still as a stone. He
hardly seemed to be breathing at all. When at last he began to speak, it sounded almost as though he were singing, sadly, in a dream.
“Bricks,” he whispered, very low–”old yellow bricks, crumbling with age in a garden-wall; the sweet breath of young cows standing in a mountain-stream; the lead roof of a dove-cote–or perhaps a
granary–with the mid-day sun on it; black kid gloves lying in a
bureau-drawer of walnut-wood; a dusty road with a horses’
drinking-trough beneath the sycamores; little mushrooms bursting through the rotting leaves; and–and–and–”
Oh, and of course there is Nana, from Peter Pan!
Mrs. Darling loved to have everything just so, and Mr. Darling had a passion for being exactly like his neighbours; so, of course, they had a nurse. As they were poor, owing to the amount of milk the children drank, this nurse was a prim Newfoundland dog, called Nana, who had belonged to no one in particular until the Darlings engaged her. She had always thought children important, however, and the Darlings had become acquainted with her in Kensington Gardens, where she spent most of her spare time peeping into perambulators, and was much hated by careless nursemaids, whom she followed to their homes and complained of to their mistresses. She proved to be quite a treasure of a nurse. How thorough she was at bath-time; and up at any moment of the night if one of her charges made the slightest cry. Of course her kennel was in the nursery. She had a genius for knowing when a cough is a thing to have no patience with and when it needs stocking round your throat. She believed to her last day in old-fashioned remedies like rhubarb leaf, and made sounds of contempt over all this new-fangled talk about germs, and so on. It was a lesson in propriety to see her escorting the children to school, walking sedately by their side when they were well behaved, and butting them back into line if they strayed. On John’s footer days she never once forgot his sweater, and she usually carried an umbrella in her mouth in case of rain. There is a room in the basement of Miss Fulsom’s school where the nurses wait. They sat on forms, while Nana lay on the floor, but that was the only difference. They affected to ignore her as of an inferior social status to themselves, and she despised their light talk. She resented visits to the nursery from Mrs. Darling’s friends, but if they did come she first whipped off Michael’s pinafore and put him into the one with blue braiding, and smoothed out Wendy and made a dash at John’s hair.
No nursery could possibly have been conducted more correctly, and Mr. Darling knew it, yet he sometimes wondered uneasily whether the neighbours talked.
He had his position in the city to consider.
Nana also troubled him in another way. He had sometimes a feeling that she did not admire him. ‘I know she admires you tremendously, George,’ Mrs. Darling would assure him, and then she would sign to the children to be specially nice to father.
I actually played Nana on stage, many years ago. I was Smee in the same production, although I must say Nana was the more admirable character.
Those are a few of my favorite literary dogs…how about you?
This post is dedicated to Marty, a member of our family who passed away yesterday. In his honor, I include below the announcement I sent to our family:
As I think you know, Marty has had a lot of physical problems. He’s been blind, epileptic, diabetic, and had an eye removed.
Recently, he’s had a chronic congestive condition.
About a week ago, his seizures became much more common and a lot more intense.
We were considering starting him on an anti-seizure medication, but today, it was apparent that his time had come, and he is no longer with us.
While I’ll admit to having been reluctant to get a pug at first, over time, Marty really became my buddy (although he was always [our kid's] dog first…that’s a choice he made very early on).
Marty had a great enthusiasm, and what I would describe as real joy in some simple things. We all remember when [my Significant Other] held out a five dollar bill for him to smell, kind of as a joke, and he grabbed it and starting prancing around with it, quite happy. We did get it back from him…before he could head off to PetSmart.
When we moved into one house, there was a metallic sculpted cat head on a stake as a garden decoration. Marty would find it and bring it into the house, again, very happy. So, we would stick it back in the yard…in different places. He’d always eventually find it again.
It was also quite funny when we took him to [our now adult kid's] elementary school (yes, we had him a long time). We had put a collar and leash on him, but didn’t think about the fact that his neck was as big as his head. He just stepped backwards, and was out of the collar! It wasn’t a problem, but we learned to use a harness on him after that, sort of like one you would put on a guinea pig.
There are so many good memories with him. Our animals tend to get nicknames…one for him was “Buddha Boy”, because he would sit up on his butt next to you on the couch, leaning back (without his front legs touching anything) sort of looking like Buddha. That was also the “My Buddy” position. I said he looked like “Camel Poop” shortly after we got him (I was thinking partly of the fawn color), and that kind of stuck as well.
After he went blind (which is not that uncommon with pugs), he was so good about it. This was not my first experience with a blind dog (Kimba had gone blind as well), but Marty was just so even-tempered about everything. If he walked into something, like the vacuum cleaner, he would just pause and then go around, unconcerned. We would say he would just say, “Huh.”
We’re going to miss him.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.