We Build LEGO The Lord of the Rings: Rivendell, An Epic Tribute to Fellowship

The brand name 'LEGO' is actually a portmanteau that combines two abbreviated Danish words: "Leg godt," which literally means "play well." And for most of the company's existence, the emphasis has been on play—the journey of building the set takes precedence over the end result of that journey. The visual details of a set matter, but only for how they enhance play and make it more immersive. They are the garnish to the main course; they are not the draw unto themselves.

LEGO Lord of the Rings - RivendellLEGOLEGO Lord of the Rings – Rivendell $499.99

But the growing adult LEGO audience has correspondingly increased the demand for beautiful detail that exists for its own sake, that comes as close to replicating its inspiration as physically possible. The new LEGO The Lord of the Rings: Rivendell set embodies this strictly adult approach to LEGO design. The play elements are close to non-existent. These new sets are closer to being collectibles or pop culture artifacts than they are to being toys, and they have a price point to match.

We Build the LEGO The Lord of the Rings: Rivendell Set

The LEGO The Lord of the Rings: Rivendell set is a massive undertaking—an epic set inspired by an epic tale (see it at LEGO Store). It is composed of 6,197 pieces, divided into 49 separate plastic bags. The build has three distinct phases, and accordingly, there are three instruction booklets, one for each phase. The first phase is an Elven tower and a recreation of Bilbo's study and lodging, complete with his writing desk, quill, and a book which says, "There and Back Again."

The second phase is an outdoor pastiche that includes the iconic gazebo from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and the stone bridge over the River Brunein. There is also a smith's forge, complete with a glowing fire and a wooden barrel of smithing tools.

The third phase of the build is the House of Elrond, which includes a repository for the shards of Narsil, along with an elven princess statue which 'guards' the fragments. And of course, there is the Council of Elrond—the circular meeting area where elves, dwarves, and humans unified and formed the Fellowship of the Ring.

The set comes with 15 Minifigures, not including the six statue Minifigures that serve as architectural relief and decoration. All nine Fellowship companions have a unique Minifigure: Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli, Aragorn, Boromir, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin.The remaining six Minifigures are Gloin, Arwen, Elrond, Bilbo, and two elves.

The Lord of the Rings films had hyperbolic set design. The grass was incredibly green. The waters and sky were brilliantly blue. The castles, with their size and monolithic presence, symbolized Man's unquenchable desire for power. So naturally, a LEGO rendition of Rivendell—a town inhabited by immortal beings—had to be over the top.

The set takes a painstaking approach to detail, and the cumulative effect feels earned. It's not efficient, for example, to tile an entire building's roof with 1×1 colored tiles, in specific patterns, at parallel, 45-degree angles. But the end result is worth it. Similarly, it's not efficient to assemble individual branches onto a tree trunk, then assemble individual canopies onto those branches, and then assemble individual leaves onto those canopies. But again, the end result is worth it. It's interesting to see how the design principles of other current set themes, like LEGO Dots and LEGO Botanical Collection, have crept their way into this set—a sort of creative cross-pollination.

There's plenty of highlights throughout this build. I love the waterfall. With very few pieces and lots of contextual suggestions, the designers created a convincing water effect, complete with billowing white foam at the bottom of the falls. I love how the designers took the hot dog piece from the LEGO Fairgrounds line, and recolored and reimagined it as a chair's armrest. I love the gazebo. I love the tree roots and vines, and how they wind around the set and give it life. I love the relief statues embedded in the tower, which look appropriately stern—or at least, as stern as a LEGO Minifigure can look. And much, much more.

In Jackson's films, a lot of Middle Earth's architecture seems beyond human capability, which is the figurative point: to juxtapose Men with Elves, and to establish what Men were once capable of, but no longer are. Elven structures look light—almost ethereal in their presentation. And to depict this, LEGO created structures that look incredible—that are elaborate and airy—but are weaker in build and reinforcement than you might be accustomed to. Alas, LEGO designers are not elves; they are humans. And it might not be possible for humans to make something this pretty out of LEGO and have it be completely child-proof at the same time.

Having seen the end result, I am glad for the designers' choice, to value complexity over expediency and to include details that are purely contextual. I'll give you an example.

There's an area in the House of Elrond that is covered with printed tiles. This room also has writing desks, parchment, and lit candles. When I was building it, I assumed that this would be an open area, where I could pose the Minifigures and enact scenes. But I continued building, and eventually, the instructions told me to build walls around this room and enclose it entirely.

This puzzled me. Why build something like this and then make it inaccessible? But then I finished the set, and I realized what the designers had done. When viewing the set from the front, this area, once brightly lit, was framed in the background and cast in shadow. You could see the candlesticks and the desks in the room through a couple of small windows, but only barely. And what it did was create an optical illusion. Because we could only see a little of something, it implied there was more that we could not see. It gave the set a subliminal sense of depth and scope. And it had a more cumulative, atmospheric effect than simply showing the room for what it was. The visual potential of enclosing the room took precedence over the play potential of leaving it open.

Is LEGO for play? Or is LEGO for display? It's an important question, especially when discussing a set like this one, which fully leans into the 'display' side of things. And it's a question we'll likely continue to ask, if LEGO continues moving in this direction.

LEGO The Lord of the Rings: Rivendell is a beautiful but fragile set geared exclusively to adults; it would not, for a fleeting moment, withstand the wear and tear of a child's play session. And even an adult, who's posing the Minifigures for display, has to be careful; the designers sacrificed sturdiness for incredible aesthetics. But for most adult LEGO fans, that's a worthy trade.

LEGO The Lord of the Rings: Rivendell, Set #10316, retails for $499.99. It is composed of 6167 pieces and was designed by LEGO designer Michael Psiaki and a team of designers and artists. It is available now.

For more, check out our picks for the best Star Wars LEGO sets, as well as the best Nintendo LEGO sets.

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