And so we finally know: for the first time in over a decade, a new type is being added to Pokémon. And that new type, fairy, has caused some raised eyebrows. After all, for a lot of people today, "fairy" is Tinker Bell, or even worse, Navi. A little delicate thing, with dragonfly- or butterfly-like wings. Why is that worthy of a whole Pokémon type? And why is that type strong against dragons?
But there is much more than that to fairies, and looking at how they're treated in some very significant legends, plays and fantasy novels might help better understand what fairies and the fairy-type really are about.
Legends first: we don't need to look any further than the King Arthur legends, and the character of Morgan le Fay, (a transliteration of the French "La fée Morganne", Morgan the fairy). She is Arthur's half-sister, the aunt (or, in modern interpretations, mother) of Mordred, who kills Arthur. She is, in other words, human...but she's also a powerful magic user, an enchantress, and that's what earns her the name of fay.
This doesn't apply only to legends: we can look at theater, where no one less than William Shakespeare present us with his take on fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream. The characters of the king and queen of the fairies, Oberon and Titania, are central to the work, and given that Titania having a mortal man for her lover is a significant plot element, we can safely assume she's not meant to be a Tinker Bell-sized character.
Much more recently, we have fantasy literature. Many authors have depicted fairies in their fantasy stories. But we don,t need to look any further than JRR Tolkien, the author of Lord of the Rings and father of modern fantasy. Tolkien's own stories certainly had no bug-winged diminutive magic users, but the term he used to refer to his own genre was fairy-stories. To him, faerie meant the world of enchantments, magic and legends, in opposition to the mundane world (to Tolkien, in fact, dragons themselves were very, very much part of faerie). His stories involved a character crossing from the mundane to faerie, thus they were fairy stories.
I'm only scratching the surface here: I could refer to other authors of modern fantasy (For example, Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, where faeries range from Tinker Bell-like characters to human-shaped fairy queens, going through unicorns and trolls all the way to Santa Claus along the way). I could refer to folktales, I wouldn't need to look any further than the old tales about Mont Saint-Hilaire in Quebec, near where I grew up, and where old tales say fairy-queens once married mortal men. I could refer to pen and paper role-playing games, to video games
What these characters and definitions have in common; and what they share with Tinker Bell and Navi, is not diminutive size or bug wings: it's that, at its heart, fairy, fay and faerie are all about otherness and magic, the things that are outside the normal world. That includes things like Tinker Bell and Navi; but it goes far beyond that.
In essence, it's probably much better to think of the fairy-type as a magic- or spirit- type than as a Tinker Bell type. Taken that way, fairy sound less "stupid" and more like a very interesting addition to the type array. And I'm sure I don't need to point out that magic being strong against dragons is not really a new idea.