In the early 1860s, Anna Leonowens, a widow with two young children, was invited to Siam (now Thailand) by King Mongkut (Rama IV), who wanted her to teach his children and wives the English language and introduce them to British customs. Her experiences during the five years she spent in the country served as the basis for two memoirs, The English Governess at the Siamese Court (1870) and Romance of the Harem (1872).
Landon took Leonowens' first-person narratives and enhanced them with details about the Siamese people and their culture culled from other sources. The book has been translated into dozens of languages and inspired a 1946 film of the same title, the 1951 stage musicalThe King and I and related 1956 film musical The King and I and the 1999 film Anna and the King. At the time of its publication, The New York Times called it "an inviting escape into an unfamiliar, exotic past . . . calculated to transport us instantly." Atlantic Monthly described it as "enchanting" and added, "the author wears her scholarship with grace, and the amazing story she has to tell is recounted with humor and understanding".
A King of Siam Speaks is an as-it-were first-person narrative drawn from English translation of some of King Mongkut's public papers and private correspondence, produced in 1948 by Seni Pramoj, who had been ambassador to the United States at the outbreak of World War II and Thailand's first post-war prime minister — together with his brother, politician and scholar Kukrit Pramoj, with the King given as author, and themselves as co-authors. On June 14, 1949, Seni, with his brother in the audience, delivered a lecture in which he quotes, with humor and understanding, from the King's Acts and judicial decisions to disabuse the fiction. The brothers also sent a pre-publication manuscript to American politician and diplomat Abbot Low Moffat. Moffat later drew on the manuscript for his biography entitled Mongkut the King of Siam. He then donated the Pramoj manuscript to the Southeast Asian Collection, Asian Division, Library of Congress. Twenty years earlier, in 1941, Margaret Landon's husband, Dr. Kenneth Landon, had been employed by the Library's Division of Orientalia under Dr. Horace Poleman. In her note at the end of the book, Margaret Landon thanks him for making available material for reconstructing some of the historical background. Specifically, she cites her use of a prior Thai-language book in the Library containing King Mongkut's correspondence.
^Bonita L. Weddle (January 31, 2000). "Abbot Low Moffat Papers". Biographical Sketch. M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives. Retrieved February 20, 2011. "Abbot Low Moffat was born to a prominent Manhattan family on May 12, 1901...."
^Moffat, Abbot Low (1961). Mongkut, the King of Siam. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press [. OCLC1101449. LCCN: 61016666.
^"Asian Collections". Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. The Library of Congress, Asian Reading Room March 16, 2013. November 15, 2010. Archived from the original on 2013-03-16. "Moffat donated the Pramoj manuscript to the Library in 1961."