This question as asked was correctly (in my opinion, see note below) put on hold: Why is "Cold Iron" the only thing that can harm faeries?

I’m not here to argue about that. :-)

What I want to know is whether the community would endorse “hole filling” questions about our world. In this case, consider a storyteller who is telling a fairy story and encounters the need to explain why Iron is so harmful. Inventing a plausible reason for X effect given world Y is one of the archetype questions we answer.

If this question were rephrased as “given our world and a classical British Isles fairy myth, what is the best explanation for iron killing fairies?” then it strikes me as a well-forged question.

Do others agree? Are there conditions where questions that fill in gaps in our own world’s myths could be valid questions?

Note: I (and other moderators) believe this was correctly closed because the person asking the question proposed their own magical system, which means that anything we argue from the real world and historical mythology doesn't apply -- in a custom magic system, ANY answer is possible, and it becomes just the author's opinion which answer is best. But if the question is rephrased to focus specifically the rules of our world and finding a best-fit for a specific, known mythology, that turns it into a question that can be answered by the research support of the community, even though it is still a hypothetical answer.

  • $\begingroup$ It's tricky to make them not off-topic as opinion-based, that being said I'm in favour of the idea. $\endgroup$ Nov 25, 2019 at 1:16
  • $\begingroup$ I'm sorry to say so, but that's literally what the question asks. Author of that question made it quite clear by giving Fae his own name. They posit that his faeries are weak to iron, and asks what magical mechanism could that be justified with. I do not understand why this question is not "about worldbuilding" as per rules. $\endgroup$ Nov 25, 2019 at 6:37
  • $\begingroup$ @failusmaximus To me, giving them their own name was at the heart of the problem. It removed them from being constrained to our world’s mythos and moved it into an arbitrary mythos where anything could be adjusted to make any idea valid, thereby making it opinion based. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Nov 25, 2019 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ "If this question were rephrased as “given our world and a classical British Isles fairy myth, what is the best explanation for iron killing fairies?” then it strikes me as a well-forged question." it strikes me as something that should be asked over at Mythology & Folklore $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Nov 26, 2019 at 16:35
  • $\begingroup$ @VLAZ I think Myth&Folk would reject it because it asks for speculation and non-factual backstory. See mythology.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Nov 26, 2019 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ I asked the question on the Mythology exchange: mythology.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/461/… $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Nov 26, 2019 at 21:31

2 Answers 2



Worldbuilding, by long established usage, antedating Stack Exchange by many years, involves the creation of a fictional world. A place other than precisely our ordinary Earth. Such a query would certainly be outside the scope of WB.SE.

The specific question you pose would be much more suitable over on Mythology & Folklore, as that is the proper SE forum for these kinds of questions stemming from the real world.

A discussion down in the comments I think is pertinent to the nature of this query. AlexP noted incorrectly that queries about fairies are fair game for WB.SE because there are no faeries in the real world, after all. I responded that many things are, in the real world, fictional. They are most certainly phenomena of this real world, and not part of a fictional world and certainly not part of a fictional world as understood for the purposes of this forum.

Thereafter, SRM - Reinstate Monica said Fairies are part of a fictional world. You have now convinced me, unquestionably, this question is germane to WB One can only hope this is an example of hyperbolic logic!

Of course, AlexP and SRM -Reinstate Monica present us with what is plainly a red herring. There also was never a place called Wurthering Heights nor any of the characters that lived there. There also were never places called Pellucidar or Narnia nor Azarians nor Horibs.

Fairies (or any similar race of people or creature) as they exist in the mythology & folklore of real world cultures ought to be approached no differently, from our perspective as worldbuilders, than we'd approach the phenomena of any other fictional place. Fictional places and phenomena that have actual literary existence within the real world are all "third party" works and we don't answer queries about third party works.

Fairies, thus are no different. They are the work of real world story tellers living in real world cultures and making use of real world scientific tools (mythology and folklore are sciences, after all) to create tales of wonder. Whether those tales were first told at a folklore festival in 2019 or whether Grimm recorded them in the 19th century or whether the tale was recorded in an anonymous 14th century source from traditions dating back time out of mind, these places of wonder we call Faerie have their existence in the real world and are thus third party works at best. They certainly are not our works!

The real world is not a fictional world. Hence, the phenomena of the real world -- “hole filling” questions about our world -- are off topic for this Q&A forum. All aspects of real world myth and folklore, as they pertain to real world folklore are phenomena of the real world. A storyteller who is telling a fairy story and encounters the need to explain why Iron is so harmful needs to address her query to M&F.SE, not WB.SE

As we can see from the tour, this forum is dedicated to works of our own imagination, rather than works of others' imaginations: Worldbuilding Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for writers, artists and others using science, geography and culture to construct imaginary worlds and settings. It is not for answering questions about the real world, and that would include all matters of real world myth, legend, folklore and the like.

Even if we wished to go down the irrational path in saying that fairies etc are part of some fictional world, rather than part of the cultural beliefs of the real world, at best those supposed "fictional worlds" would be third party works. As Monica said: This site is for questions about building worlds, not questions about how others' worlds work. Either way, the above proposed query is off-topic for WB.SE!

Since you've gone and argued one side of the correctness of the close vote, I'd posit that the VTC was ill conceived, if for no other reason than that the rationale chosen was incorrect.

You (and the other mods) may not like this query for being opinion based (and I know we could go on and on about what constitutes "opinion based"), but it most definitely is a "how the world functions" question which is spot on topic for WB.SE. While I wouldn't close it for being opinion based, because that's what worldbuilding is founded on, I could at least see that as a valid reason for closure.

Also, the OP edited his query, narrowing it down a bit and offering criteria for good answers. The question is now correctly in the re-open queue.

  • $\begingroup$ I have an open query to Mythology SE, but my current hypothesis is that they would reject the question, based on reading their rules (see comments above). Asking for an explanation of fairies clearly isn’t of this world unless you insist such fairies do exist. Mythology rejects (as I read it) because we are asking for an explanation that isn’t part of the mythology. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Nov 28, 2019 at 6:31
  • $\begingroup$ @SRM-ReinstateMonica I'm just not convinced that the question you ask is even appropriate. If you want completely new reasons for why iron is harmful to fairies, that's neither here nor there in terms of appropriate location. I believe the correct question is something more like "why is iron harmful to fairies in mythology" which is a Mythology & Folklore query. A worldbuilding query would need that information already factored in for the question to make sense. More specifically, why this doesn't work. Otherwise you're trying to re-create existing mythology. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Nov 28, 2019 at 10:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Ultimately, I think the entire premise of "A storyteller is telling a story and needs to explain something" is weird. Surely, a storyteller should know the lore of the story and use it, not try to think of stuff at the moment. "Why does Santa reward good kids?" "I dunno. His fairy godmother told him?" $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Nov 28, 2019 at 11:29
  • $\begingroup$ @SRM-ReinstateMonica -- I didn't see your query on M&F. They might reject the query as a duplicate, but otherwise, as I said, the specific question you pose above seems reasonable for that place. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Nov 28, 2019 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas it is in Myth meta. Link is above. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Nov 28, 2019 at 16:08
  • $\begingroup$ @VLAZ Many (most?) of WB questions are “please explain this” type of questions. I could post a list if you disagree. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Nov 28, 2019 at 16:11
  • $\begingroup$ Usually they don't pertain to IRL myths and folklore wholesale, though. They are in the form "Element X in setting Y" where there is (currently) no explanation for X. The difference is that we should have explanation for fairies and iron. While I don't know it, I am fairly confident it exists. So one should either ask for said explanation(s) or any other explanation, listing why the existing one(s) are undesirable. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Nov 28, 2019 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ @SRM-ReinstateMonica - Found it, thanks! I was confused because there's no forum "Mythology.SE", just "Mythology & Folklore". I posted an answer there: I believe your posed query is ideal for M&F, as it's a question pertaining to facts and systems of the real world rather than a fictional world. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Nov 28, 2019 at 18:20
  • $\begingroup$ I’m hoping from an answer from that site’s moderators. You and I have a good sense for WB’s parameters, but neither of us can answer for what the other community sees as its mission scope. @elemtilas $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Nov 28, 2019 at 18:58
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @SRM-ReinstateMonica - Well, just like here in WB, it's not just mods that determine the scope of the forum. It's the community as a whole. Our scope is pretty clear, too! We field queries about myths, mythology and folk lore and their meaning in the context of every day life. Specifically, myths (and folklore) that exist solely within a fictional work (e.g., Star Wars, Game of Thrones) are off-topic, though you may be able to ask about them on another site such as SciFi.SE This is why your posited query is okay on M&F: (cont) $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Nov 28, 2019 at 21:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ . . . it's asking about a folktale or legend or myth that is not part of a fictional work, that is part of the body of folklore of our own world and the real cultures within it. At least in my opinion! And, as I said in the other place, it's already been addressed in M&F! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Nov 28, 2019 at 21:21
  • $\begingroup$ I would say that a question about faeries quite obviously satisfies the criterion of being about a fictional world. There are no faeries in the real world, after all. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Dec 4, 2019 at 15:41
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP --- I'd argue this is not a valid counterargument: after all, many things are, in the real world, fictional. They are most certainly phenomena of this real world, and not part of a fictional world. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Dec 4, 2019 at 19:42
  • $\begingroup$ @elemntilas No, they aren't phenomena of this world. I'm now of the position that they are from a mythological world that is in the "creative commons". $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Dec 4, 2019 at 19:44
  • $\begingroup$ @SRM-ReinstateMonica -- Yes they are "creative commons" --- they're part of the deposit of the real world's folklore and mythology. Faeries and so forth may be borrowed by geopoets and made part of a fictional world, in which case I'd support your position. So long as you are proposing "hole filling" (whatever that really means) the real world, I can't support your position for the reason given. You haven't convinced me otherwise. Keep trying, though! I'll happily change my answer if you can convince me that we're living in a fictional world! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Dec 5, 2019 at 0:33

I think the question was fair game for WB, at least in its final edited form.

The poster had provided enough context to be clear that the world he was describing was not our world (it had a pretty clear history of the demise of these faeries including massed battles between faeires and humans in human towns, which does not to my knowledge correspond to any existing mythology about this world). The faeries were not exactly equivalent to traditional north-European fairy traditions - they incorporated elements more closely associated with other traditional magical creatures such as sphinx (riddles) and the poster describes them as having no fixed form, and as spirits of madness, which again is divergent from the traditional description of "fairy". There are elements of Rumpelstiltskin in there too, with the "obligation to deals" he mentions. So in my opinion it meets the criterion of trying to create detail about a fictional world, rather than this one.

The question was asking for a mechanism to explain a specific rule of how the world works (why would a specific substance be especially harmful to a category of magical being?) It wasn't asking for plot, and it didn't appear to be overly broad. You can argue "because it's magic you can have it work any way you want" but if that rule were enforced rigorously we'd see far fewer questions on WB. There are a lot of questions about how magical interactions might work, and the correct way to answer them is to provide suggestions about why a particular explanation for the magical interaction might be the most compatible with the rest of the poster's description of their world.

So yes, it's all speculative (this is fictional world building, remember!) but speculation accompanied by justification should be considered a good answer, and a question that can be answered by justified speculation should be considered a valid question.


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