Tuesday, June 3, 2014

anna and the king

There have been a number of movies made from this story, the most well known is probably The King and I with Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr; a musical released in 1956, which also went on to be a stage play which ran for years with Yul Brynner as the king. They even spun this movie into a short-lived TV show. The original movie came out just 2 years after the book was published, and has the same title as the book: Anna and the King of Siam. The '46 movie starred Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison. A number of adaptations have been made over the years; one of the more recent starred Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat.

The book is based in fact, but according to the author, Margret Landon, its been fictionalized in order to keep the story coherent. In an author's note in the backmatter, Landon says that the story is 75% true, and 25% fiction. Also in the note, she describes how she discovered two memoirs written by the main protagonist, Anna Leonowens, describing her adventures as a governess to the crown prince of Siam: The English Governess at the Siamese Court (1870) and The Romance of the Harem (1872). Leonowens was married and living in India with her husband and two children when her husband died and she needed to find work. Working for the King of Siam took her to the royal court--and harem--of King Mongkut.

Leonowens lived in Siam and tutored the King's children, and some of his wives, in English. All the while she worked to improve living conditions within the harem and did whatever she could to improve the lives of the women and children she schooled and became friendly with, she also did what she could to instill in the children a sense of fairness, and an understanding of the emancipation struggle that was going on in the US during the same period.  Leonownes was clearly a strong willed and determined woman, and felt certain that by the time she left, she had made a positive influence on the young prince and help to set him on his path of greater tolerance and freedom for his people. Thailand literally means, the land of the free.

Landon also mentioned in her author's note, that she had to cut much of the slow moving action-less information from the two Leonowens memoirs, and adjust the sequencing in order for the information from the two source stories to make sense in her book. Even with the cutting, the story was a little long but that probably partially based on the writing style from that era, when folks were more apt to want to curl up with a book for a while. It took me a while to pound through this one.

The book itself is a handsome volume, with a leatherized paper wrappers with gold tooling and titles on the spine, handsome unbleached endpapers and deckle-edged pages, and to top it off: a bound red satin ribbon to keep your place. The inside cover also has a pretty ex libris plate which says: "From the library of."

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