It's hard to find someone who doesn't like Lego. They may be most prominent in the toy aisles of your local store, but even many adults have a secret (or not so secret) desire for a room filled with bricks where they can let their imagination run wild.
BrickUniverse, coming to the Irving Convention Center Nov. 14 and 15, is a celebration of Lego and the people who love them. One of the people helping organize the event is Greyson Beights, a third-year history major at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. He's the author of the book Medieval Lego, which pairs real medieval history with images of their Lego recreations.
Oh yeah, and he's 15 years old.
He'll be at BrickUniverse this weekend to sign copies of Medieval Lego, but we asked him some questions via e-mail ahead of time so we could learn more about him, his book and the convention.
A lot of people get into Lego as a kid, but not everybody sticks with them as they get older, and far fewer find ways to achieve any sort of renown with them. What is it about Lego that has captured your imagination so much?
When I was younger, I was not allowed to watch a whole lot of television or play with electronics or video games. Instead, I built with Lego bricks. There's something so universal about Lego and I think that is one of the reasons it has captured my imagination. Lego has a way of teaching all of us something new, and more importantly it has a unique way of bringing everyone together -- everyone has (or knows someone who has) built with Lego.
What about medieval history? What drew you to this particular time period for this book? Was there anything about it that made it particularly good for the Lego twist?
Winston Churchill once said, "The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see." I chose medieval England because the foundations for universities, modern western democracy, and many great inventions were laid out during this fascinating period. I've always considered medieval England as a suitable beginning of the English-speaking peoples.
Lego has been producing medieval-themed sets since 1978 and their castle line has been considered one of their "core themes." Having some thirty years of castle/medieval Lego pieces to work with did indeed make illustrating the history of medieval England particularly a good fit. We had an array of Lego armory, wall bricks, flags, foliage and animals to work with -- more than just the simple bricks that you may remember building with when you were a kid.
Can you walk me through how this book came together? How did you get involved with the contributing historians, and what was the process for creating the material?
After reading a report regarding America's literacy in history, I wanted to teach history in a friendly and enjoyable way that would grab and keep the attention of the younger generation. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 82 percent of our students are below proficient in history. And at the rate we're going, it'll be 128 years before we have only half of our students at or above proficient and another 200 years before all of them. Obviously something needs to be done -- students need to learn history.
In the early stage of Medieval Lego, I made a list of some thirty topics, such as Richard the Lionheart and the Battle of Hastings, that give the reader an understanding of the key figures, events, and locations of medieval England. I then enlisted the help of some of the leading experts to explain these topics in concise, yet capturing narratives. It was an interesting process gathering historians from Scotland, England, the United States and even Australia. It took many long hours of discussion, explanation and execution.
I would say that Medieval Lego's group of contributing historians is one of the best, most educated, awarded, and renowned group of contributors for any book. Our contributors have hosted television history series, wrote bestselling books and taught thousands upon thousands of students.
Did the Lego scenes come after the text (and did you do all the Lego scenes single-handedly)?
I did do many Lego scenes for the book, but I also gathered an excellent group of Lego artists (these are artists who use Lego as their creative medium) to help illustrate the topics in Lego bricks. The Lego scenes in Medieval Lego are based off of the actual descriptions written by the contributing historians, as well as famous paintings that gave us some visual help along the way.
The end result is a book that teaches you the history and context of a fascinating period consisting of kings, queens, knights, battles, wars, duels, castles, and more in a fun and friendly way. I recommend Medieval Lego to anyone who wants to learn history, as it will provide you the foundation for your understanding of the whole history of the Western world and the English-speaking peoples.
What is BrickUniverse and how did you become involved in organizing it?
BrickUniverse is a huge Lego extravaganza that brings the universe of Lego together under one roof for Lego lovers and builders of all ages. It is filled with hands-on and creative fun for all. There are incredible works by Lego artists, inspiring Lego fan displays, seminars for learning more about Lego, games to play, thousands of bricks to build with and vendors selling anything and everything Lego. As you can see, it's basically Lego, Lego, and more Lego. It really is a fun-packed family event not to be missed! Tickets are on sale at www.brickuniverse.org/
I actually started the first BrickUniverse show in Raleigh, North Carolina last March because I wanted others to be inspired, as I have been, through Lego. We had thousands of families in attendance and it was a fun time for everyone. Kids and adults, too, can learn so much through Lego and I wanted to show the whole universe of the possibilities.
My dad is from Dallas and we still have family here, so having the show for D-FW families to experience seemed like a no-brainer.
At BrickUniverse on November 14 & 15, I will be doing a booking signing so people can come and meet me and get a copy of Medieval Lego.