Is there a “founding myth” of OSR? Here is one proposal:
The founding myth of the OSR, that it is based either in an original play style or in the Gygaxian style, … My view is that many of the communities, past or present, which identify with the “OSR” are based on that myth despite it being inconsistent with the multi-various ways in which hobbyists played in the 70s and 80s, as well as with the specific vision of D&D which Gygax propagated.— Marcia B., Addendum
At first glance, it does seem like discovering an original play style, or original authorial intent (and perhaps design principles) is an attractive project. For example, here is James of Grognardia writing in 2008:
… “D&D is always right,” by which I mean that the ideas and concepts we got in OD&D, whatever their origins, must be the standard by which we judge everything else. Enough things weren’t added to OD&D that I can only conclude that, if they were there, they were there because Gygax and Arneson both signed off on them and deemed them a good fit for the game they’d created. … In the end, though, OD&D was written according to a certain vision and I think that vision is both recoverable and worth investigating.— James M., June 2, 2008 comment
However, in the context of other discussion around that time, and in further recent conversations, I think it is clear that the goal (here at least) is not to recover some pure Gygaxian canon, brilliant and untarnished, but rather to assume that there may be some value in a rule or game element, whether or not it was an intentional creation, and see where that assumption leads. This was certainly the approach I took when, inspired by Dwimmermount session reports, I started my Vaults of Pahvelorn campaign taking only the 3 LBBs (core OD&D) as base rules chassis. This necessitated substantial interpretation and invention given the patchy disorganized nature of the game and text, but for me was more about personal creative constraint than about traditionalism for the sake of tradition or about nostalgia (I didn’t even know OD&D existed until around the time I discovered Grognardia).
Many strands make up artistic or hobby movements and scenes, arising from the various and idiosyncratic priorities of participants, so it would be surprising if one could come up with a simple explanation or single goal that unifies a scene. While some of the impetus might have been exegesis, other motivations might have involved connecting with old friends or (as Richard writes) resisting the then-current dominant practice that was being marketed by Wizards of the Coast. That is by no means an exhaustive catalog.
Trying to distinguish between genuine cultural genealogy and founding myths has led to claims about the invention of tradition, where someone (or a group) takes a novel idea but frames it as traditional in order to increase legitimacy. One can find many examples of this in the history of ideas. Here is one that approaches prototypicality. In ancient China, explicit innovation was not a winning rhetorical strategy. Instead:
Authorship as an act of creation was a fraught notion in traditional China, since true “creation” (zuo 作) was reserved for sages. Already Confucius embraced instead “transmission” (shu 述) as a weaker form of agency indebted to an imagined higher authority.— The Oxford Handbook of Classical Chinese Literature, p. 344
That is, Confucius (and the others associated with his school of thought) presented his ideas not as invention or even synthesis, but rather as transmitting the already revered wisdom of sage kings, the original culture heroes of China. Though I am curious about the historical development of play styles, I am not sure Sage Gygax has much cultural currency in this manner. Maybe someone could find some forum scenes that lean in this direction if one looked hard. And many OSR norms and assumptions do not seem to reflect past practice or texts. For myself, as grab bag of inspiration and techniques, how people actually played (or what is written in old texts) seems potentially useful, but not as prescription with sacred imprimatur.