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Apothecary Alligator

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Romeo supporting his local apothecary - note the alligator in the upper left.

There was a large crystal ball with a crack in it, an astrolabe with several bits missing, a rather scuffed octogram on the floor, and a stuffed alligator hanging from the ceiling. A stuffed alligator is absolutely standard equipment in any properly-run magical establishment. This one looked as though it hadn't enjoyed it much.

The workshop of a wizard, alchemist, or apothecary is never complete without a stuffed crocodile or alligator hanging from the ceiling. What it's actually for is anybody's guess.

Somewhat Truth in Television, as historically animal skeletons, fossils, and taxidermy pieces were exhibited by medieval apothecaries and astrologers as a show of wealth and worldliness. The curiosities brought in both gawkers and customers, and served as a form of advertisement; after all, anyone making enough money to purchase exotic specimens for display must be doing good business. This trend would eventually evolve into early museums in the form of personal "cabinets of curiosities" — see this picture from 1599. Historians suspect the alligator in particular might have turned into the most prevalent example simply due to its durability: with their thick hairless hides and squat, compact bodies, preserved alligators are less prone to damage over centuries than more delicate specimens, meaning that more of them have survived to give the impression that every apothecary had one.



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  • The Alchemist at Work, a 17th-century painting by David Teniers the Elder.
  • John Dee performing an experiment before Queen Elizabeth I, by Henry Gillard Glindoni.
  • The Inspection, the third painting in Hogarth's Marriage A-la-Mode, sees Viscount Squanderfield visiting the office of manifestly unqualified French surgeon Monsieur de la Pillule. Among the many oddities cluttering the room is a stuffed alligator hanging from the ceiling... with an ostrich egg hanging from its stomach. The nonsensical arrangement is yet another piece of evidence that de la Pillule is a quack.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Discworld of A.A. Pessimal, the change brought about in Wizardry after the time of Sourcery has rendered the fashion for stuffed alligators obselete and pretty much a thing of the past. Mustrum Ridcully is not pleased to discover the University still has an expensive and hazardous breeding programme for crocodilians of all sorts and points out that keeping them in a large breeding tank restrained only by insecure and haphazard magic is not a bright thing to do. These - and the tigers kept to provide miscellaneous body parts and secretions for old-time magical preparations - are packed off to the newly-established City Zoo for safekeeping. In a cost-cutting exercise and "rationalisation programme, Ridcully, and Ponder Stibbons, also take the opportunity to pack off the related and now nearly redundant School of Magical Taxidermy and one entire Department - the School of Para, Neo, Eldritch and Crypto Zoology - to purpose-built facilities at the Zoo. Hilarity Ensues.
  • In the The Game of Thrones fanfic A Ballad of the Dragon and She-Wolf, Qyburn has a large mummified lizard lion hanging from the ceiling of his lab among many other creepy artifacts.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958): There is a stuffed alligator mounted on the walls of the workshop of Sokurah the magician.
  • In Fist of Legend a kung fu master uses dried crocodile to treat his asthma, knowledge of which is used to poison him.
  • In the Soviet movie "The Doctor's Apprentice" (Uchenik Lekarya) the titular doctor has a stuffed crocodile hanging from the ceiling of his workshop, as well as other exotic animals, birds and fish.
  • In Ken Russell's The Devils, the apothecary alligator is used as an Improvised Weapon.
  • From Beyond the Grave: At the start of "The Elemental", the proprietor of Temptations Ltd. is carrying a small stuffed crocodile and does not put it down throughout the transaction, which serves to emphasise the peculiar nature of the shop and its contents, and the possibly magical nature of the proprietor.

  • Anastasius (1836) by Thomas Hope:
    There the wizard sat in all his state. A stuffed crocodile canopied his head; a serpent's skin of large dimensions was spread under his feet, and an old clothes-chest afforded support to the parts between.
  • The room of Edward Bellingham, Egyptology student and necromancer, in "Lot No. 249" (1892) by Arthur Conan Doyle:
    Above were bull-headed, stork-headed, cat-headed, owl-headed statues, with viper-crowned, almond-eyed monarchs, and strange, beetle-like deities cut out of the blue Egyptian lapis lazuli. Horus and Isis and Osiris peeped down from every niche and shelf; while across the ceiling a true son of Old Nile, a great, hanging-jawed crocodile, was slung in a double noose.
  • "Shadows on the Rock" (1931) by Willa Cather features one, in the apothecary shop owned by protagonist Cecile's father. It's a hand-me-down from Auclair's grandfather, and he keeps it purely as decoration (being a surprisingly forward-thinking apothecary for 1697).
  • "The Return of the Sorcerer" (1931) by Clark Ashton Smith:
    There were tables strewn with archaic instruments of doubtful use, with astrological charts, with skulls and alembics and crystals, with censers such as are used in the Catholic Church, and volumes bound in worm-eaten leather with verdigris-mottled clasps. In one corner stood the skeleton of a large ape; in another, a human skeleton; and overhead a stuffed crocodile was suspended.
  • Merlyn's cottage in The Once and Future King (1938):
    There was a real corkindrill hanging from the rafters, very life-like and horrible with glass eyes and scaly tail stretched out behind it. When its master came into the room it winked one eye in salutation, although it was stuffed.
  • Miss Price's workroom in Bedknob and Broomstick (1943) by Mary Norton.
    Gradually, the children discovered other treasures: a chart on which the signs of the zodiac were nicely touched up by Miss Price in water color; a sheep's skull; a chocolate box full of dried mice; herbs in bunches; a pot of growing hemlock and one of witch's bane; a small stuffed alligator, which hung by two wires from the ceiling.
    "What are alligators used for, Miss Price?" asked Paul.
    Again Miss Price's long training in truthfulness overcame her longing to impress. "Nothing much," she said. "They're out of date now. I like to have it there for the look of it."
  • Lord Portico's study in Neverwhere (1996):
    The stuffed crocodile hanging from the ceiling; the leather-bound books, an astrolabe, convex and concave mirrors, odd scientific instruments
  • In Loyal Enemies, Shelena's employer has stuffed basilisk. Dusty and rather shabby at that, but everyone is too lazy to bring it to taxidermist for restauration.
  • Frequently mentioned, and Lampshaded as a occupational necessity, in the Discworld series. Every proper wizard has a stuffed alligator hanging from the ceiling of his laboratory, even if there aren't any alligators naturally in the area. No one, especially the wizards, is sure whynote .
    • The Light Fantastic (1986):
      Like all wizards' workshops, the place looked as though a taxidermist had dropped his stock in a foundry and then had a fight with a maddened glassblower, braining a passing crocodile in the process (it hung from the rafters and smelt strongly of camphor).
    • In the same book, a magic shop also briefly displays a stuffed crocodile "with a lifelike expression of extreme pain and surprise."
    • Cutwell's workshop in Mort (1987).
    • In Soul Music (1994), Quoth the Raven says that "the old stuffed alligator hanging from the ceiling" is a key part of wizardry, like dribbly candles and "bubbling green stuff in bottles". He scornfully adds that the wizards "get it all out of a catalogue. Believe me, it all comes in a big box".
  • The dog wizard Tibbeth's shop in Stranger at the Wedding (1994) by Barbara Hambly: "A mummified crocodile hung from the low rafters overhead." The trope is played with, in that it is a common wizard's prop in-universe, and its use is eventually explained — it's hanging until it is entirely mummified, at which point it will be cut to pieces for use in potions and replaced by a fresh one.
  • An early edition of The Steerswoman (1989) by Rosemary Kirstein shows, on the cover, a scene set in a wizard's sanctum. You can tell it's a wizard's sanctum because of the stuffed crocodile hanging from the roof — an interesting case of trope-as-shorthand, since the wizards' sanctum in the book itself is entirely bereft of taxidermied reptiles.
  • Mentioned in Book 1 of The Bartimaeus Trilogy (2003) in the description of the magician Arthur Underwood's study. The djinni Bartimaeus notes that this, along with other stereotypical "wizardly" paraphernalia, is a good indication that Underwood is a second rate poser, trying to hide his incompetence behind spooky-looking knickknacks that impress the Muggles but don't have any practical use, whereas the truly powerful magicians favor a sleek, modern look (and as later events demonstrate, calling Underwood a "second rate poser" might be considered overly generous).
  • Referenced in The Wheel of Time, where Verin's rooms in the White Tower feature (among many other things) the skull of a huge, toothy lizard native to the Drowned Lands.
  • In One Good Knight (2006), from the Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms series by Mercedes Lackey, one character comments that the Tradition requires Acadian Sophants (cross between a wizard and an adviser) to have a stuffed crocodile hanging from their rafters. When he tried to get rid of his, there was an even bigger one hanging from his ceiling the next day, looking smug.
  • In The Wise Man's Fear, Caudicus, who purports to be a healer, has one in his tower. When the main character asks what it's for, Caudicus admits that he has no idea.
  • According to Diana Wynne Jones's The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, alligators in Fantasyland are:
    "now to be found only in a mummified state hanging from the rafters of a Wizard’s workroom. If the Alligator is present, it is a sure sign that the Wizard is friendly."
  • In the Sherlock Holmes sequel Sherlock Holmes und das Ungeheuer von Ulmen (Sherlock Holmes and the Monster of Ulmen) by Franziska Franke, there is an apothecary shop complete with stuffed alligator.
  • When Rain explores Wicked Witch, Elphaba's, old room in Out of Oz, she finds a stuffed crocodrilos hanging from a rafter, pickled in brine.
  • Parodied in The Bad Guys. Granny Gumbo is an alligator in this case, while also being a witch doctor.
  • The wizard, Istredd from The Witcher has a stuffed crocodile in his study alongside several smaller animals.
  • In Lois McMaster Bujold's historical fantasy novel The Spirit Ring, the workshop of Abbot Monreale (a magician as well as an abbot and a bishop) includes a "dried and mummified crocodile" (although it's just stuffed in a barrel, not hanging from the ceiling), along with assorted books, papers, jars, bottles, and "mysterious little boxes with labels in Latin".

    Live-Action TV 
  • Outlander in the episode "Not in Scotland Anymore", Clare enters Master Raymond's apothecary, where a stuffed alligator is suspended from the ceiling.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Call of Cthulhu campaign The Fungi from Yuggoth (1984), adventure "The Thing in the Well". Dr. Cornwallis has a stuffed alligator hanging by wires from the ceiling of his alchemical laboratory.
  • In the 1st edition Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay adventure, "Dying of the Light" (1995), the characters meet Dr Balthazar, a dwarf alchemist from the University of Nuln. The cart he is travelling in is loaded with the paraphernalia of his alchemical studies including a stuffed alligator.
  • In a creepy variant, the goblin spellcaster from Dungeons & Dragons module "DDA4: The Dymrak Dread" has a preserved lizardfolk carcass on display in his workshop.

  • The description of the apothecary's shop in Romeo and Juliet (1597), Act V Scene I, contains what might be the first recorded use of the word "alligator" in English literature:
    And in his needy shop a tortoise hung,
    An alligator stuff'd, and other skins
    Of ill-shaped fishes

    Video Games 
  • The Voodoo Lady in The Curse of Monkey Island (1997) has a stuffed alligator whose tongue you have to pull to summon her.
  • The Voodoo shop in Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers (1993) has a dried alligator head. The proprietor claims it to be just a curio to impress tourists and superstitious old ladies. He is lying: the head is an authentic mask for use in Voodoo rituals.
  • In Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, there is a dissected crocodile attached to a balcony in the library below London. There is even a trophy for jumping over it called "Ride the Crocodile".
  • In the Mystery Case Files game Ravenhearst Unlocked, the apothecary shop has what appears to be a stuffed dimetrodon hanging from the ceiling.
  • Referenced in The Trader of Stories Chapter II: The Alchemical Decore Shoppe offers a free stuffed crocodile with every two skulls, but Sallamman the apothecary doesn't seem to have taken them up on the offer, settling for one skull.
  • Brown Mage in Everhood has a crocodile in his lair. Turns out it's not stuffed; it's been paralized, and it begs you to kill it. Doing so is required to finish the game as intended.

    Web Comics