David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest,” set in Boston, is a sprawling, cerebral work of fiction. This makes it especially amusing to imagine it illustrated in that most stepwise and concrete of children’s toys: LEGO. Yet last month The Guardian reported that Kevin Griffith, an English professor in Ohio, had done just that—collaborating with his 11-year-old son to recreate 100 scenes from the novel using those little yellow LEGO people we’re accustomed to seeing driving tow trucks and clipper ships.
The “Infinite Jest” project is just the latest in a growing trend of arty, clever translations of high culture into LEGO. One of the biggest names in this movement is Brendan Powell Smith, author of the two-volume “Brick Bible,” which depicts the Old and New Testaments in LEGO, and which served as the inspiration for Griffith’s work.
Smith is the subject of a neat short profile in the upcoming issue of Boston University’s alumni magazine. He’s originally from Norwood, Mass., and now lives in San Francisco. In the article he explains that LEGO is the perfect medium through which to jolt us into a reconsideration of revered texts like the Bible or familiar historical events. “History is full of violence, and I like that violence done in LEGO walks a fine line between disturbing, funny, and poignant.”
Working as a LEGO artist is the stuff of fantasy, especially for anyone who remembers what it was like as a kid to be one piece short of completing a masterpiece. Smith’s first experience with LEGO was a windmill kit he got when he was 6 years old. On a Reddit “AmA” thread last November, he said he gave up LEGO as a teenager and only returned to it when he was 26. “The first thing I wanted to do was to build something that just wouldn’t have been possible with my limited childhood LEGO collection,” he wrote, “so I built an 8-foot tall skyscraper.”
Today his LEGO collection is in the neighborhood of 250,000 pieces. Many of those he purchased from people selling their old collections on Ebay; some specialty pieces, like the frogs for the “Plague of the Frogs” Bible scene, Smith acquired through the third-party LEGO vendor Bricklink.com.
He has a new book coming out in October, “Revolution!: The Brick Chronicle of the American Revolution and the Inspiring Fight for Liberty and Equality That Shook the World.” Warfare might sound a little dark for little plastic bricks, but then again the Revolution happened long enough ago that we can safely chuckle about Redcoats and Patriots wielding little LEGO muskets.
Kevin Hartnett is a writer in South Carolina. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.