Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Why I didn't want an official line

I've hinted at this before, but I wanted to put down a few thoughts on a heretical topic: why I never wanted an official Tolkien line. For many years in various forums, people would always call for LEGO to release an official Tolkien theme. I always argued against it. Some reasons:

Fleshies - Okay, this is probably minor, but I'm not a fan of the flesh-toned figs. I realize that this is a losing battle, but some years ago LEGO decided that all figs from licensed themes would be flesh-toned. I'm old school and prefer yellow figs.

Price point - Licensed themes are always more expensive.

Castle - As we've seen, the introduction of the Lord of the Rings theme seems to have killed for a time the unlicensed Castle line, in much the same way that for many years there was no Space line because of the Star Wars license.

Those are less important, though. The two most important reason are ...

Licenses kill creativity - As soon as LEGO comes up with an official version of a figure or location, everyone seems to fall into line. Back in the day, LEGO was about 'Just imagine ...' Now it is more and more about 'Here, recreate this 30 second scene from a movie.' When there's no official line, kids are encouraged to come up with their own ideas. Back in 2000 I started making my own Lord of the Rings story. After the first movie came out in 2001, you know what the most common comment I got was? 'You messed up, Legolas has long hair.' or 'Aragorn doesn't wear a hat.' The visuals of the movie made it impossible for some people to come up with their own ideas from the book descriptions (heck, I should admit that my own visual images of the characters are very dependent on the 1978 Bakshi animated movie). At least, though, since there were no 'official' fig versions of these characters, people still used their imaginations to come up with their own based on the existing LEGO elements. Just look on Brickshelf and you can find many different versions of these. Now that will all be swept aside.

No need This is closely related. IMO, a licensed theme should give us something that non-licensed themes do not. The Star Wars line, for instance, has introduced many new elements that did not exist before. It was certainly possible to make Star Wars MOCs before this line (for instance, see the masterful work by S. Fujita), but much harder. Super heroes are tough to do if you're not a master customizer, since they are so focused on specific looks for the figures. Tolkien, on the other hand, does not depend on specific new elements. Yes, they have come up with some very nice new figures, but as long as you're not convinced that Legolas has to be equal to Orlando Bloom, you could have already come up with your own Legolas or whoever very easily. Also, we've got some new elements like the orc weaponry, but there were already many different weapon elements, and these did not necessitate a new license. The new horse is awesome, but again not requiring a licensed theme (it's not like the new articulate bear is tied to a license). Otherwise, these sets are all about basic bricks. So why not just continue the fantasy era of Castle sets? That already had castles and orcs and wizards and dwarves, and they could have included the elf that was in the Collectible figs.

Just look through all of the MOCs that I've posted on this blog. Not a single one of them has been based on the licensed sets, which are only just now starting to appear. I think those are proof enough that we had no need of a Tolkien license. Yes, LEGO has done a good job with the license for the most part, and I will continue to cover it and MOCs based on it, but I hope that it doesn't affect the ability of AFOLs to continue to create great work independent of the official line.

BTW, I still have to write something about why I'm not a huge fan of Peter Jackson, but I've got to sit down and watch those movies again first.


  1. Hi,

    This is a little late after you made this post. Just followed here from GodBricks, which I came across from BrickBrothers, which I was looking at for ideas for horses.

    I've been thinking about this topic because I really would like me kids to receive entertainment that was not so license-based. But that's almost impossible now.

    I'm want to buy the Helm's Deep set think...ostensibly for my son... because it looks friggen cool, and seems to have a lot of good castle pieces, which I really want to make (and I want to shape my kids fantasy life away from Japanese manga, so I'm pushing castles). I never played or owned a caste set before. I used up almost all of my legos building something like the Helm's Deep set (using the swivel plate things to create a curved wall).

    So all that being said, would you recommend trying to get an older castle set from somewhere, or go ahead with Helm's Deep?

    PS. Saw the Bakshi movie when I was 16 in the 80s. Thought it was pretty cool. Saw it again and felt that I was supposed to be stoned before watching.

  2. Good question on buying Helm's Deep vs an older Castle set. My favorite set in the castle line is probably the Medieval Market Village, but I think that Helm's Deep would be a pretty good place to start. Of course just getting a huge number of basic gray bricks would be the most important thing for building your own castles. You might want to check out the various set review threads over on Classic-Castle.com.