In recent weeks we have celebrated the 40th Birthday of the LEGO® Minifigure by looking at the ways in which print advertisements evolved over the years for City, trains and Space. City had us building what we knew, Space let us look towards an optimistic future, and today, I would like to look at Castle. The knights of the LEGO Castle theme took us back in time. These were stories we already knew: King Arthur, Robin Hood, the Crusades, and now LEGO brought us a way in which to explore and reenact these stories our selves, in the comfort of our own home.
Once again, we visit advertising material from a number of different sources, predominantly European comics. I have had a bit more help with the translations here, as some of the concepts were too much for a simple machine translation engine… Read on and enjoy…
In the beginning:
In the beginning, there was the 375 Yellow Castle, and it was good. Compared to the town, the original photograph used featured a mysterious night sky, just after sunset.
To enhance the value of the drawbridge in this illustration, the castle has been placed on a plinth, to model raised landscape, and the ‘natural ‘ defences around the castle. This is the only theme to feature a three dimensional landscape to show off the sets used at this time, but something that would become more important towards the end of the 1980’s in Town/City and Space. Also of interest is that the term minifigure has yet to appear: I now find myself asking ‘When did the term Minifigure first appear?’ – reference has been seen to ‘Mini-Figure™’ in the 1979 USA catalog, but this is not quite the same thing.
I find the variation in the general phrasing interesting here: “Build a castle – relive the adventures of Prince Valiant (or King Arthur) ” Prince Valiant was a weekly syndicated comic strip syndicated in newspapers around the world. “Valiant Knights fight in the LEGOLAND Castle” “The world of brave knights””LEGO Knights conquer the world” Certainly the tone is a little variable, but the feeling is there: these are brave heroes – ready to face the world.
There where only four sets released in this original release of castle, in 1978-79. It was not until 1984 that we were to see another wave released.
1984: Lion Knights versus Black Falcons:
There are a number of interesting features introduced in the castle range this year: we see the arrival of two factions: the Lion Knights, and the Black Falcons. Both have their own castle, now fashioned in a more realistic light grey. This is the first time an ‘enemy’ or competitive faction is featured: it is another few years before the Blacktron faction arrives in Space sets, and ‘Robbers’ appear in City. However, the majority of print adverts feature the Lion Knight’s Castle (6080), with the Black falcon’s castle in the distant background.
This year, we see the introduction of the ‘sunrise’ artwork – with the yellow-orange sky and landscape, which will continue to distinguish the Castle adverts and boxes from the other core themes for the next few years.
What we do see is a fairly consistent versions of the text, between markets, giving the same message. ( although the top left picture below this paragraph has the knights awaiting a tournament, while others feature the text “Friend or Foe)” The copy for the right hand images is fairly consistent: Will the Blacksmith be able to get the horses ready for tomorrow’s tournament?
I find it interesting that the ‘Tag line” varies between adverts. The predominant theme is “A new toy everyday” but we also see variations on “For building, playing and collecting” As we saw in the town advertisements, at this time, there was no clearly defined marketing slogan. This is unlikely to be something that we would see in a global advertising campaign today.
1987-1988: Enter the Dragon knights. And the Forestmen.
After years with just the Black Falcons and the Lion knights, we see a shift in themes: the Lion knights now have boats. Internet translation engines are extremely literal creatures, and we see the text translated as ‘water resistant,’ ‘water proof’ and ‘knights with sea legs.’ I’d like to thank my international contacts, who have helped me to better understand the message being conveyed here.
Compared to previous years, trees are less of a feature in the landscapes here, and an orange sky evokes the feeling of desert base – perhaps on the way to the crusades. This colour scheme was reflected on the box art. Unlike earlier sets, the layout is relatively flat.
The context makes a difference: similar images are used, with different messages: Are you friend or foe OR The knights get excited about the tournament about to take place. While still featuring a red or yellow sky: still sunset or sunrise, we now have hills featuring LEGO trees on the horizon.
We see a trace of green creep into the landscape for the forestmen related advertisements. Interestingly, the English language version seems to have taken an almost literal approach to the translation: We would rarely refer to ‘new sets’ as ‘novelties’ at the time that these were released, although I cannot speak for the UK or USA.
Also of interest is that there is no qualm with referring to the forestmen as Robin Hood and his outlaws.
1990: The storytelling continues
As we enter the 1990’s, the construction of dioramas, featuring non LEGO elements, increases across all themes – we have previously seen it with Town and Space, and we also see it with Castle sets.We retain the yellow sky, but there is now more red and orange to be seen in it. We also return to more fertile countryside, with LEGO Trees reappearing.
I love the use of plaster to build towering mountains around the castles – it gives a great feeling of a valley kingdom.
We also see obvious reference to the forestmen as Robin Hood, and Little John at this time. Just in time to prime the LEGO Buying public for a cinematic onslaught.
1991: Interlude: How shall we sell to the sellers?
This advertisement featuring a LEGO Chess set looks like it is from a Toy trade Magazine. The copy talks of how it is good to have a brand such as LEGO on your shop’s shelves.
1991:The market expands:
When we last saw this image, it was 1997. Flash forward to Greece, and this set is now available- re-using the old art we do not see the “Friend or Foe” message, so much as the journey to the tournament.
For the first time, we see a trace of blue in the sky around the LEGO Castle. I am intrigued at the use of the grey 1×1 plates around the castle in the foreground to give the feeling of broken ground for the drawbridge to reach over.
Forestmen sets feature heavily in this artwork BUT had not been in a new set since 1990. We see the release of two major films based on Robin Hood in 1991 (Robin Hood, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), but there are no more forest man sets seen. We do have a teaser for the Black Knight, becoming available in the next wave of sets.
1992: Wolf Pack Versus the Black Knights
In 1992, we welcome another faction: the Wolf Pack. Unarmoured, they are described as highway men. They fight the Black Knights, attacking from their haunted tower. We also see the same art used to advertise sets being used to publicise a competition. The Dioramas used to demonstrate the sets take things to the next level. I suspect a degree of compositing begins to be used in this time, if only because models are displayed at different scales. This is also the first time that we see non-LEGO trees used as part of these displays. We keep the sun close to the horizon, with a more reddish hue.
1993 You have to believe it is Magic!
In 1993 we meet our first wizard and dragon: the first sign of magic entering the Classic Castle theme. The diorama here is quite complicated, showing off many of the year’s sets over several different levels.
This is by no means the last that we see of the Castle Theme. In 1997 we see the arrival of the Fright Knights, and follow up in the future with Knights’ Kingdom and the Fantasy Era – with trolls, orcs and more magic. When we have not had access to a ‘pure’ castle line, we have had access to castle building materials through the Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit movie tie-in sets.
In recent years, the Space-Castle hybrid Theme NEXO Knights has been our ‘Castle Theme’, and while the vehicles may be nifty, the colour scheme for the castles is not readily consistent with other classic Castle sets. Although, dark blue and orange are perhaps as realistic as the yellow was back in 1978.
I hope you have enjoyed this trip through the Advertisement Archive for LEGO Castle: 1978-1992. I know Castle is a theme dear to many people’s hearts. Why not share the joy around the world. In the meantime, follow the blog, and share your thoughts below.
Until next time
P.S. Over the last few years, years, I have made many friends around the world, through LEGO Fan Media, and other contacts. I would like to thank those who have helped me with translating some of the languages in the advertisements we have looked at today: They have helped me to retain some of the nuance of the written language, rather than the brutal word for word substitution that various online translation engines might produce. In particular, Boris and Stefan from Stuck in Plastic; Jetro from Hispabrick Magazine; Tom from True North Bricks; Daniele from Italy; and @fubiken. All of the good translations I owe to them!