It is indeed true that Professor Trelawney was not everyone’s cup of tea (leaves?) at Hogwarts. Professor McGonagall certainly had some thoughts. But to err is human, and who can blame Sybill for making a few embellishments when it came to the divine art of Divination?
Look at it from her point of view: her great-great-grandmother, Cassandra Trelawney, was a famously celebrated Seer, with a natural flair for Divination and a legendarily brilliant ‘Inner Eye’. That’s a tough act to follow. Poor Sybill would always be in the shadow of her ancestor. Who wouldn’t over-exaggerate their skills to try and live up to such great expectations? And you know what they say: fake it ‘til you make it!
So that is exactly what Sybill did! She leaned into the entire Divination aesthetic (the jewellery, the glasses, the spangled shawls!) and played her part. If she was going to meet the measure of the great Cassandra Trelawney – she was going to need to set the scene. No wonder her classroom was full of pouffes and lamps draped in red scarves – creating an atmosphere is crucial for something like Divination! Why blame the woman for crafting the perfect, dreamy vibe? We’d probably be up for making a few predictions too if we were inhaling all that incense.
Sure, as Divination teacher at Hogwarts, Professor Trelawney didn’t get everything right, and probably did bend a few truths in order to seem more impressive to her students. But any great visionary knows you need to gain an audience’s trust. A magician putting on a show needs to pull a few rabbits out of a few hats to get you on-side with their bigger illusions. It doesn’t matter what’s real and what’s not, as long as you believe.
So Trelawney guessed that the famously clumsy Neville would drop a teacup. And vague, open-to-interpretation phrases such as “the thing you’ve been dreading” are indeed a cheap trick to shock a young, impressionable teenager. But did it instil a confidence in her student that she was the real deal? It did! And as for the obsession with predicting Harry was going to die? You’ve got to admit she had good odds – this was the one pupil in her class who had Lord Voldemort constantly trying to murder him.
Then there’s the fact that Trelawney sometimes did actually get it right! She was the one who predicted Lord Voldemort’s downfall in the first place! And his return! On the topic of Lord Voldemort, she was pretty spot on. Yes, yes, she was in some sort of strange fugue state and never actually remembered these (extremely crucial) prophecies, but that’s still an Inner Eye, if you ask us! It was still enough for Dumbledore to keep her at Hogwarts.
Sometimes in life, we are not gifted with the natural abilities we often crave – but with the right amount of dedication – we can practice, and learn, and keep on trying – just like Trelawney did. She knew all the techniques, she had all the right books, and she knew all the trippy Divination terminology required to freak out a bunch of students. When Dolores Umbridge callously sacked her, the entire affair was so devastating for Trelawney that she was driven to drink. Because she had put everything into her profession! Whether she was innately gifted or just had a couple of flukes is by-the-by. Here was a teacher who truly believed she was good at this and therefore could encourage others, also without ‘the Sight’, to still embrace the subject and give it their best shot. Firenze was a centaur with natural Divination gifts – boring! We’re picking the person who worked really, really hard to get to where they were. That’s relatable! And we want a teacher we can relate to. Pass the teacups.
There is no debate here. Firenze was by far the better Divination teacher – and we don’t need a crystal ball to know that you are going to agree with us. How could Trelawney be superior when she was (for the most part) a total fraud?
By all means, if you think a Divination teacher should be made up of smoke and mirrors with a dash of amateur dramatics and a trade in cheap parlour tricks, then back Trelawney. However, we think the better teacher is one who actually understands the imprecise nature of Divination and has the proper respect for a subject so open to interpretation – like Firenze did.
As a centaur, a large chunk of his life was dedicated to Astronomy, watching the movements of the planets and divining what that meant for the world. Not only did he have years of experience, but he didn’t try to pretend that made him an infallible expert. He was open about the fact that centaurs, let alone humans, could make mistakes when interpreting something so nebulous. That is one reason why we think he was a good teacher. Rather than getting his students to take knowledge at face value, he wanted them to think critically and understand that nothing is fool proof – a valuable lesson indeed.
Firenze also made lessons an exciting experience. Would you rather sit in a dimly lit, stuffy classroom packed with tables, chintz chairs with an overpowering waft of incense in the air, like Trelawney’s digs? Or would you prefer to learn in a room that has been transformed into a twilight woodland paradise, with a canopy of stars twinkling above your head? Again, we don’t need to be Seers to know how you’ll respond.
The Hogwarts students seemed to favour him too. Even die-hard Trelawney fans Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil (who hung onto every word and prediction that she made) couldn’t hide their disappointment when they discovered that their teacher for their sixth year would be Trelawney and not the mysterious centaur.
We also think that Firenze’s conduct as a teacher was more… appropriate. He didn’t insult a student by calling them ‘mundane’, resulting in them leaving the class forever. Neither did he keep predicting the gruesome death of another. He also managed to be engaging enough that none of them felt the need to nod off in his lesson… which can’t be said for Trelawney. He never stooped to insulting fellow teachers even though Trelawney referred to him as ‘Dobbin’. Oh, and he was never fired. Yes, it might have been the hideous Umbridge behind that one, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day.
Firenze risked a lot to be a teacher at Hogwarts. He was kicked out of his herd and had to leave the only home he had ever known – now that’s dedication. He managed to capture the interest of a broad range of students and not just those who were already fans of his subject. He was professional, interesting, and altogether a more engaging teacher. His subject knowledge and understanding of the art of Divination was real and unlike his counterpart, he never felt the need to be fake.
But what do you think? Who was the ultimate Divination teacher?
If you're in the mood for some more wizarding world discussions why don't you have a look at some of our other debate club features?
See who you think had the hardest first year at Hogwarts, Harry Potter or Ginny Weasley.
Or decide whether you think Sirius Black was a role model or reckless rogue.