October 4, 2016

Rain of Frogs

        Rains of frogs, fish, and other unusual things are the stuff of spells, omens, apocalypse, and magic.  They’re clearly unnatural, irrational, and impossible, so they make a great magical element for prophesies, curses, and fantasy worlds.  However, there’s just one thing: they really do happen.  Strange things have been known to fall with the rain not only in the distant, credulous past, but right up to the present, and not only in the distant, superstitious hinterlands, but all around the world and in well-populated areas including London.  Scientists, of course, have come up with an explanation involving tornadic waterspouts.  The idea is that vortices of air cause low-pressure zones that can lift up small, lightweight objects including frogs and fish.  The mini-tornadoes travel along, carrying their aquatic passengers (which may or may not be surviving the experience), until eventually the pressure drops and the foreign objects rain down on a surprised populace.  In 1919 Charles Fort, famous sceptic of scientific claims of understanding and explaining everything, pointed out that rainfalls never seem to be a mix of species and other aquatic debris.  Furthermore, he objected, no one ever reports on seeing frogs getting sucked up, only on seeing them rain down.  No one ever seems to have documented a complete cycle of this unusual weather, so perhaps there remains something a little uncanny about it.
        In any case, it’s equally certain that these strange phenomena have happened in real life and that these strange phenomena are perfect fodder for fantasy.  They also make great woodcuts, sufficiently strange and whimsical to catch the attention of ancient and modern viewers alike.  We begin with frogs, emerging from the clouds and diving down near a village.  They look like they’re reaching the ground in good shape, which makes the whole thing cooler.  I like the way the shading lines across their backs add to the impression of critters soaked by the rain.  The fish in the next image are even more fortunate, because it looks like they may be falling back into the water, although the two on the right may be aiming straight for the deck of the ship in the lower right corner.  The fish in this scene aren’t raining evenly but in fierce spurts down from the clouds, where they seem to
be swimming along merrily until their precipitation.  Finally I have a rain of snakes, far more torrential altogether, with fiercer clouds and more driving rain.  On the other hand, this could be in the wilderness.  All we see are trees with no evidence of a town or human habitation to be snaked upon.
        I feel that this post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning one of the better-documented modern instances of such strange weather phenomena.  In 1982 weather girls in the US reported that with humidity rising and the barometer getting low, according to all sources, at just about half past ten for the first time in history it started raining men.  For complete details, listen to the report.

[Pictures: A Rain of Frogs in 1355, woodcut from Prodigiorum ac ostentorum chronicon by Conrad Lycosthenes, 1557;
Rain of fish, woodcut from Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus by Olaus Magnus, 1555;
Rain of snakes, engraving from Der Wunder-reiche Überzug unserer Nider-Welt by Erasmus Finx, 1680.]

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