The Tamil Tigers have arguably carried Salgari’s freedom-fighting brand into (just about) the 21st Century.
Here, however, are some marginally more interesting Tigers.
1. The Tiger of Macbeth. Much falls through the boards of Shakespeare’s plays but little is lost. It drifts down, dusty, golden, through a rogue chink of subterranean sunlight. Think of Browning’s Childe Rowland, Tennyson’s Mariana – or, more recently Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. One day, too, almost certainly, someone will construct a whole play out of Hamlet, act iv, scene iv, forces marching on a Danish plain. For my part, I want merely to acknowledge a shadowy ship. Aleppo is much in the news these days as a battleground in the Syrian civil war; but in Shakespeare’s era (and, even more pertinently, in the 11th century, the temporal locale for his Macbeth), Aleppo was the western end of the Silk Road. Do we infer from this that the Scotland of the 11th century (or, rather, Shakespeare’s conception of the Scotland of the 11th century) imported a significant amount of silk? Does he actually conceive of Lady Macbeth (the woman of highest social status in the play*) as a slinky sophisticate?
2. HMS Tiger, cruiser. Few economics dons have any practical knowledge of economics – and in this respect Harold Wilson was unexceptional. (For instance, his thesis analysing the causes of the downfall of the Labour government in 1931 is riddled with instances of breathtaking stupidity.) Thus it was almost inevitable that, within months of taking office as prime minister, he would lead Britain into dire economic crisis. And so it transpired. But if Wilson knew less about anything than he knew about economics, it was foreign affairs – as he showed in his handling of the Rhodesian UDI affair. This ineptitude was more than amply illustrated by his surreal decision to conduct talks with Ian Smith, the Rhodesian premier, on a rust bucket of a ship off Gibraltar in December 1966. (Though it might have made some small sliver of sense if the Tiger in question was a ghostly revenant of Shakespeare’s ship.) Macmillan may have sown the winds of change – but Wilson it was who reaped at least some of the hurricane. Not that he ever knew.
3. The Tiger Who Came to Tea. For many years, this was my daughter’s favourite bedtime book. It is a savagely incisive modern morality tale. The Tiger arrives one afternoon uninvited, yet succeeds in being asked in for tea. This Tiger proceeds to eat and drink everything in the house before leaving rather abruptly. So that, when daddy (capitalist stooge that he is) comes home later, there’s nothing left for him. So he takes the whole family out to a cafe, where they eat, inter alia, French Fries. The family then undertakes to make provision for a similar train of events in the future – but as we learn at the book’s conclusion, the tiger never, ever returns. Thus we are invited to ponder the pitfalls of a falacious reasoning (paper tigers, indeed, that we are) whereby we seek always to make provision for the crisis just gone rather than looking ahead to forestall crises yet to come.
4. The Tiger moth. The archetypal biplane, with (I freely admit it) emotional attachments stemming from the fact that it is an aircraft with a peripheral yet poignant role to play in A Hidcote Midsummer Mystery.
5. Blake’s Tyger. One summer, when working in an office near the Old Street roundabout, I sometimes took my sandwiches to Bunhill Fields and sat eating them on a bench near Blake’s grave. There’s less causality in play here than you might suspect. I don’t think I thought very often about Blake as I sat there. I’ve always struggled to admire his verse. It is, I might humbly suggest, Romantic poetry at its sentimental worst. On the other hand, I do quite like Blake’s inept drawing of a startled, nervous divvy of a tiger that looks a lot like a bear.
6. Tiger Lily. No, not the plant. As a child captivated by Rupert annuals, the character of Tiger Lily gifted me my first awareness of the sort of exotic otherness that the female could embody. As such, she will ever be, in my mind, an archetype. Strangely, even as I write, another Rupert (Rupert Murdoch) has decided to part company with his Tiger Lily.
* In both Shakespeare and Shakespear’s primary source, Holinshed, Duncan’s wife is conspicuous by her absence.