I just got a vote to close as off-topic on this question with the following comment:

I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's not about a fantasy or sci-fi character or plot device. —Andres F. (source)

The question asks about the origin of a particular concept which is fantastical in nature and widely used in sci-fi and fantasy, but is not specific to a particular work or series of works.

Are such questions on- or off-topic? The help center pages don't clearly indicate whether this is on- or off-topic, and it did seem on-topic to me. Specificially, I would want to argue that it falls under this topic, but I can't say for sure.

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    Related: meta.scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/5014/…. Although that discussion suggests that your question is off-topic, we haven't always been consistent on this front – Jason Baker Mar 28 '15 at 0:20
  • What would explain the +7 score then? – bwDraco Mar 28 '15 at 0:23
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    For the record it does look pretty darned off-topic. If this question wasn't the subject of a meta question, I'd probably mod-close it right now. – Valorum Mar 28 '15 at 0:23
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    @DragonLord - Because people sometimes upvote things that aren't on topic if they find them interesting. – Valorum Mar 28 '15 at 0:24
  • @Richard: Go ahead and close. It lacks specificity to any modern sci-fi/fantasy work. – bwDraco Mar 28 '15 at 0:24
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    @DragonLord - I shall leave it to the community to make a judgement. – Valorum Mar 28 '15 at 0:25
  • are any/all of the upvotes recent? the community has been known to change its mind and stance on things over time. – phantom42 Mar 28 '15 at 1:23
  • The upvotes weren't recent. – bwDraco Mar 28 '15 at 1:32

Your question is absolutely on topic for this site. We have a canonical meta question where the various kinds of questions were judged, by the community, as on-topic or off-topic, and yours falls squarely into the "Contextual Questions" category

In particular, that category of on-topic questions includes:

These types of questions deal with the context in which science fiction and fantasy occurs: including history, etymology, and society. They have definitive answers about specific facts or events related to science fiction and fantasy.

It even gives an example of such an op-topic question:

What is the origin of the phrase "on the gripping hand?"

Most of our questions here are related to a known work of fiction, but that doesn't mean they all have to be. Your question is about some work of science fiction or fantasy, you just don't know what it is yet; it has a correct answer, and someone who is knowledgable about science fiction could be expected to answer it.

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    I think there is a fine line between contextual/on-topic and contextual/off-topic, but IMO, if the question lies mostly in the side of "what an anthropologist/historian would study", then it's offtopic. Cultural and historical depictions of Death are mostly outside the scope of this site. It's folklore and early religion -- if we allow this, then we allow stories of the Bible, which in turn have the potential to offend some people if we consider them fiction. – Andres F. Mar 28 '15 at 15:31

Personally, I don't see a difference between your question and any of our "What was the first X" questions, of which we have at least twenty and not a single one is closed. I think this is just an instance of the community being fickle, but there's not a whole lot we can do about that.

  • I dislike most of those questions (note: dislike, not sure whether they're on-topic, but regardless I find them useless. I wish they were off-topic). This question about Death, on the other hand, I find interesting but off-topic. It's not about a specific appearance in a work of fantasy or sci-fi, but about a folklore/historical depiction, how could it possibly be on-topic? – Andres F. Mar 28 '15 at 0:40
  • @AndresF. I don't particularly like this type of question either, but the community has quite clearly decided they're on-topic. Most of the questions in the search I posted are not asking about a particular work, that's the whole point of the question "what was the first work". And many of them do go back to folklore; what is folklore anyway, if not fantasy? – Kevin Mar 28 '15 at 1:24

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