Anna and the King of Siam Critical Context - Essay

Margaret Landon

Critical Context

Other than Anna Leonowens’ own autobiographical account of her experiences in Siam as tutor to the royal family of Siam (Thailand), Landon’s biographical account is possibly the only one that deals realistically with the conditions under which Leonowens did her work. For the young adult who may have seen one or both of the film versions of the story (Anna and the King of Siam in 1946, starring Rex Harrison as the king, and The King and I in 1956, starring Yul Brynner), which make the account almost comical in places, this biography provides the true story of both the difficulties and the rewards of teaching the children and the young wives of King Mongkut.

In addition to providing insights about the teaching experience itself, a wealth of cultural information is included in an easy-to-read form for the younger reader. Thus, the book corrects many of the possible misconceptions formed upon viewing the films. Furthermore, the reader is able to trace the educational preparation of the crown prince of Thailand at a time when slavery was rampant and to appreciate how great the influence of Anna Leonowens was on his preparation to become king. Without that influence, King Chulalongkorn, considered to be one of Thailand’s greatest kings, could have had a very different, and less beneficent, reign.