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Gugu and the Kalidahs

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"Gugu and the Kalidahs" is a non-cannonical Oz story written by Eric Shanower, published in Oz-story Magazine No. 1 in 1995. The story is in the genre of animal fable that was a favorite of L. Frank Baum and often employed by him.

Shanower draws upon Baum's The Magic of Oz (1919) for his inspiration. Baum introduced the Forest of Gugu and its eponymous ruler in that book. Baum had created kalidahs, fierce creatures with the bodies of bears and the heads of tigers, in his inaugural Oz book, but he returned them to action in The Magic of Oz. In bringing the two elements together, Shanower crafts a might-versus-right tale with undertones of cynical realpolitik.

Gugu, the ruler of his forest, learns that renegade kalidahs from the east have penetrated his territory. The kalidahs' lands are adjacent to his own, but jungle law forbids trespassing in either direction. At great risk to himself, Gugu consults with the kalidah king, who is unwilling to interfere; whether Gugu defeats the renegades or vice versa, the king's ends are served. Gugu and his subjects, both the stronger (elephants) and the humbler (gophers), must co-operate to survive and triumph; Gugu must rely upon endurance and cleverness to defeat brute strength.

Shanower's forest, like Baum's, incorporates beasts from mixed environments — panda and giraffe, camel and moose, down to squirrels and fireflies. The author draws lush pictures of a natural world of wilderness, mountain, and waterfall; the mood of the tale is accentuated by his effective illustrations.

(Shanower cannot resolve the inherent contradiction in the animal fable genre, and wisely does not try. The kalidahs' nasty feeding leaves bloody messes in the forest. Gugu, is contrast, takes "nourishment," though the details are never specified.)

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