This discussion spun off from the most recent ACS debate but it should by no means be taken as an opinion either way on the ACS format. Whether that specific tag/series is kept or axed makes no difference on the subject of this post.
JBH made clear that they consider that ACS allows questions that would otherwise be off-topic. Namely, because a question looking for e.g. a realistic jackalope is asking about someone else's world (the world of the myth), not about the worldbuilder's world.
[Q]uestions about the evolutionary justification of human myths are intrinsically off-topic. Remember, the goal of this site (see the Help Center) is to help people create imaginary worlds. Their own imaginary worlds.
This question is asking if it's time to withdraw permission to break the rules, because all ACS questions are asking about something the poster didn't originally create in a world that isn't theirs.
That is the same argument that's used to disallow questions about lightsabers from Star Wars; asking about other worlds has issues with legality, morality, practicality; and it runs at odds with the definition of the site: to help people construct their own fictional worlds.
I contest that folklore is like 3rd-party worlds; I think no 3rd-party-world issue reasonably applies to myths. In fact I think that the suggested argument would run counter to the way the website has been functioning, given the existence of tags like dragons, merfolk and vampires.
First, let's make a distinction between a myth and a record of a myth. "Ragnarök" is a myth. "The Prose Edda" is a record. The rules that apply to 3rd-party-worlds apply to records of myths, since they are essentially works of literature that happen to be documenting folklore, but the same does not hold for the underlying myths, which can have been recorded many times in many ways but are rooted in a tradition belonging to one or more cultures.
I'll give a table with specifics but this is the core part of the argument. Mythological creatures are not defined by any records, but by the common elements of multiple stories and traditions, transmitted orally until recorded at different times by different people. Folkloric creatures are parts of a cultural experience. Merfolk are not defined by Hans Christian Andersen, Thor is not defined by the Edda. Folkloric creatures exist in commonalities between multiple independently created records.
That makes mythological creatures vague and often contradictory (when different records disagree), and a sufficiently specified question (one that isn't going to be closed for lacking details) has already done an interpretation of an element found in myth; they have for example specified how many limbs a dragon has and whether he breathes fire or acid. Interpretation is a form of creation; by ironing out the sketchy cryptid into a concrete beast, someone has started creating their own world.
Now here's the table. To the left is a problem that a WB question about 3rd-party-worlds faces, to the right is how that problem applies (or doesn't) to folklore.
|Legality||A world built atop a third party's world is subject to copyright restrictions and may be discouraged or illegal.||Myths are not copyrighted. Records may be copyrighted, for example if it is a modern translation. Obviously the idea of a vampire is not legally restricted, or there wouldn't be so many stories with vampires in them.|
|Canonicity||A question for "how do lightsabers work" has a canonical answer that's drawn from a source; it's correct by virtue of being written in a separate book of fiction. That's a whole different kind of research than any other knowledge-gathering taking place on Worldbuilding.SE.||Myths evolved over their creation history and continue to evolve this day; that's why records can be so different. There is no canonical answer in folklore because no record is more authoritative. In fact the same creature can appear in different cultures, where they may have different narrative functions and thus very different records. Just look at how many kinds of vampires exist in various storytelling traditions. A question about a mythical creature can only have a canonical answer if the querent asks specifically for an answer as relayed by a particular record; and that's a research question that would not be allowed here anyway.
The elements that are universally agreed on are more like staples of a genre than rules of a system; they are vague and ready for an author to iron out into harder systems for new literature - or even to ignore entirely. Everyone agrees mermaids live underwater, but a story about a Venusian species of merfolk that flies in the planet's upper atmosphere sounds fascinating to me!
|Authority||A third-party world is someone else's world; the only one who can give the correct answer to the questions is the author.||A myth has no author. Folklore belongs to a culture (or several) but cultures are made up of many people with their own views. You cannot go and ask the Romanians to agree whether sunlight burns a vampire to a crisp or just gives them rash - in fact, as far as I understand, weakness to sunlight is not even mentioned in the Romanian tradition.|
|Ownership of the world||Writing in a third-party world, as a fan fiction expanding on that world, is inserting one's own material inside a place someone else created and subject to the original rules - that goes against the purpose of the site, which is to create new worlds.||A story using mythical creatures is not generally expanding on the mythical records; Marvel's Thor is not a fan fiction of the Edda, Twilight does not expand on any vampire literature I know of. Stories featuring mythical beings put those beings in fresh situations, e.g. a world like Earth but where those beings exist. That's a new world.|
What I want to achieve with this proposal, if people share my views, is that no future question should have to use the same weaselly language ("this dragon-like creature I'm designing...") that's currently used for elements from 3rd-party worlds. And I wish to use it to reiterate that even if ACS is going the way of the dinosaur, asking about ways to design creatures sourced from folklore should remain welcome. It is the way we have used the dragons, merfolk and vampires tags; it should remain that way if it's up to me.
Please upvote if you agree that on this basis, questions with folklore should remain on-topic. Comment or answer if you know of any arguments either way that I am overlooking. Downvote if you disagree with my view (preferably also comment/answer to let me know why).