In a recent 'Imagine' on BBC1 I was interviewed about the wonderful Judith Kerr. In the conversation I made some comments about the tiger in 'The Tiger who came to tea'. The point I was trying to make was that it is a 'tiger' but at the same time it is a whole cloud of meanings - some to do with tigers but others to do with surprise visitors, some who could be dangerous, some who might pose a threat, and genial though the tiger is in the book, he/it does in fact eat all the food and drink all the water out of the tap. At some point in this conversation I mentioned that Judith had a dangerous time in her childhood (of course) when anyone from the Nazi security services could knock on the door.
This observation has been reduced to: 'Rosen says the tiger is the Gestapo'. No, that's not what I said. We all interpret texts how we want to. I wasn't saying the tiger IS the Gestapo, the tiger retains its tigerishness but that Judith and the rest of us are entitled to pour into that image, dangers of all kinds, and, as it turns out, this tiger is not all that dangerous. More like a predatory uncle figure who drink the drinks cupboard dry.
Anyhow, poor Judith has been confronted with this idea that I said, 'the tiger is the Gestapo' and quite rightly she has rebutted it rather crossly. And said, 'no, he's a tiger'.
Yet, it has to be said, at some level, any of us who write things don't actually know what our characters, motifs, and scenes represent and symbolise. We don't fully know ourselves so why would we or should we fully know what the images we create represent?
Anyway, the Today programme (tomorrow morning sometime around 7.30 I think - or a bit later) are going to return to the matter, with me chatting about it. Hope you tune in!