by Cooper Pennypacker
There are many creatures that wizards have never felt comfortable with, but one group I have not seen much discussion about is the centaurs. The centaurs, like giants and other undesirables, are shoved aside and looked down upon in the wizarding world. Although they are not enslaved like house-elves, they are treated almost as badly. The centaurs are practically ignored by most of the wizarding community, and as Dumbledore says in OotP, Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike
Centaurs in Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them by Newt Scamander are described as very intelligent individuals very experienced in healing, divination and astronomy. Wizards like Umbridge are afraid of centaurs because they cannot be classified in any group that wizards have created. In many respects centaurs could be considered very much like humans, but then they have many customs that are very different from both muggles and wizards. Centaurs speak and can be considered responsible for their own actions because they have a conception of right and wrong that beasts do not have.
When Harry and Hermione meet the centaurs with Hagrid in the Forbidden Forest in OotP, the centaurs leader Magorian says, the slaughter of foals is a terrible crime…We do not touch the innocent. Although at the time a few centaurs, such as Bane, were not very excited with Magorians decision to allow the friends to leave the forest alive, the sentiment expressed by many of the centaurs and Magorian is not one of a beast. Part of the reason why centaurs scare many wizards is that although they have rational thoughts, they sometimes think on a level well above humans.
In the Firenzes divination class in OotP, he speaks condescendingly of the limitations of Professor Trelawneys human divination. Later, Firenze expresses in how his kind, …watch the skies for the great tides of evil or change that are sometimes marked there. Rowling often expresses Trelawney in a very negative light while Firenzes divination is much more credible. It is apparent that even though humans and centaurs may sometimes act alike they certainly have many differences.
The centaurs have reacted in many different ways to wizard persecution over the years, but the two centaurs we have the most information about in the Harry Potter novels are Firenze and Bane. Each centaur has a very different perspective on life, but each centaur is also affected by wizard discrimination. Probably the most radical of the two is Bane. In SS/PS Bane scolds Firenze for allowing Harry to ride on his back to safety. Bane says, You have a human on your back! Have you no shame? Are you a common mule? This idea that Firenze is nothing but a mule is a little extreme, but when we next meet Bane we once again observe him in a fit of anger.’
In OotP Bane practically calls for the murder of Hagrid. The only reason Hagrid does not have to fight the centaurs in the Forbidden Forest is because Hermione and Harry are present. Centaurs such as Bane believe that Firenze has betrayed their kind and entered into servitude to Dumbledore. An interesting motif in the Harry Potter novels is persecution coming back to haunt wizards, and the centaurs treatment is becoming another example of this theme. It seems as though over the years centaurs, like Banes, hatred of humans has grown exponentially. Had wizards seen the error of their ways sooner and merely shown some respect, Banes hatred would have remained radical. However with time, more and more centaurs agree with Banes extremist ideas. Like Dumbledore says in OotP, The fountain (of Magical Brethren) we destroyed tonight told a lie. We wizards have mistreated and abused our fellows for too long, and we are now reaping our reward. Centaurs could have been very significant allies in the upcoming fight against Voldemort, but since wizards have ostracized the centaurs, they will remain neutral. Banes ideas are understandable considering the persecution he has felt since he was a mere foal, but some react differently than Bane.
Firenze is another character that is an extremist in the eyes of the centaurs. Firenze feels exactly the same persecution as Bane has, but Firenze chooses to see the good in humans. Firenze actually helps humans on multiple occasions including in SS/PS. Firenze selflessly allows Harry to ride upon his back, which is apparently a great transgression to other centaurs like Bane. Then in OotP Firenze once again performs a favor for a human, Dumbledore, and teaches divination when Professor Trelawney is fired by Umbridge. Although many humans like Hagrid feel that Firenze helping Dumbledore is not exactly entering into servitude, the centaurs see this as a great crime. Other centaurs detest Firenze when he chooses to help Dumbledore, and if Hagrid had not helped, Firenze would have been murdered.
It is interesting to see both sides of the spectrum with respect to centaurs’ feelings towards humans. Firenze was raised in exactly the same herd as Bane, and yet he feels no malice towards humans. I do not wish to analyze which state of mind is correct because that is a completely different topic, but it is a fascinating instance of the environment versus genetics argument. Either way, it seems as though centaurs, like humans, have different attitudes and ideas even if they have many of the same experiences.
While wizards’ intolerance of house-elves is terrible, centaur persecution runs much deeper. Wizards discriminate against house-elves because house-elves allow themselves to be discriminated against. On the other hand, centaurs are persecuted because of humans’ deep seeded fear of centaurs’ human-like, but certainly not human, intelligence, as well as their other differences from humans. People are very often afraid and ignorant to that which they do not understand, and centaurs are not creatures very easily comprehended.
It is interesting that both Firenze and Bane feel so differently about humans even though they both have had many of the same experiences. It is unfortunate that centaurs like Bane feel the way they do because the centaurs divination talents could soon be very useful to wizards, but like every other group that the wizards could use in the fight against Voldemort, centaurs have been made into enemies.