The Afanc (Welsh pronunciation: [ˈavank], sometimes also called Addanc, [ˈaðank]) is a lake monster from Welsh mythology. Its exact description varies; it is described variously as resembling a crocodile, beaver or dwarf-like creature, and is sometimes said to be a demon. The lake in which it dwells also varies; it is variously said to live in Llyn Llion, Llyn Barfog, near Brynberian Bridge or in Llyn yr Afanc, a lake near Betws-y-Coed that was named after the creature.
Legends and traditions
The afanc was a monstrous creature that, like most lake monsters, was said to prey upon any foolish enough to fall into or swim in its lake.
One tale relates that it was rendered helpless by a maiden who let it sleep upon her lap; while it slept, the maiden's fellow villagers bound the creature in chains. The creature was awakened and made furious; its enraged thrashings crushed the maiden, in whose lap it still lay. It was finally dragged away to the lake Cwm Ffynnon, or killed by Peredur (Percival, Peredur's name in Chrétien de Troyes' telling of the Arthurian cycle).
In the tale, Peredur son of Efrawg, translated by Lady Charlotte Guest in the Mabinogion taken from the White Book of Rhydderch and Red Book of Hergest, the "Addanc of the Lake" resides in a cave near the "Palace of the Sons of the King of the Tortures". The palace is so named because the Addanc slays the three sons (chieftains) of the king each day, only for them to be resurrected by the maidens of the court. It is not stated why this cycle of violence continues, but when Peredur asks to ride with the three chieftains, who seek out the Addanc daily, they state that they will not accept his company as if he was slain they would not be able to bring him back to life.
Peredur continues to the cave on his own, wishing to kill the creature to increase his fame and honour. On his journey he meets a maiden who states that the Addanc will slay Peredur through cunning, as the beast is invisible and kills his victims with poison darts. The maiden, actually the Queen of Constantinople, gives Peredur an adder stone that will make the creature visible.
Peredur ventures into the cave and with the aid of the stone, pierces the Addanc before beheading it. When the three chieftains arrive at the cave they state that it was predicted that Peredur would kill the Addanc.
Some legends ascribe the creature's death to King Arthur. Close to Llyn Barfog in Snowdonia is a hoof-print petrosomatoglyph etched deep into the rock Carn March Arthur "Stone of Arthur's Horse", which was supposedly made by King Arthur's mount, Llamrei, when it was hauling the addanc from the lake.
According to a version of an afanc legend as put forth by the famous writer of myths and folklore Edward Williams known as Iolo Morganwg, its thrashings caused massive flooding which ultimately drowned all inhabitants of Britain save for two people, Dwyfan and Dwyfach, from whom the later inhabitants of Prydain descended.
According to one version of the myth, also put forth by Iolo Morgannwg, Hu Gadarn's oxen dragged the afanc out of the lake; once it was out of the water, it was powerless and could be killed. This version locates the creature in Llyn Llion.
The correct rendering of this name in Modern Welsh depends on the specific source. The Middle Welsh avanc of Llyn Barfog is afanc in Modern Welsh, a word which is now used to mean "Beaver". The form avanc/afanc is also used in the Red Book of Hergest and most other medieval sources. In the Middle Welsh version of Peredur's tale, in the White Book of Rhydderch, the creature in the cave is called the addanc. Afanc is by far the most common spelling.
In the story "Matheson's Inheritance" by A.F. Kidd, which is based on William Hope Hodgson's ghost-finding character Thomas Carnacki, a supernatural manifestation appears in a Welsh castle that the locals attribute to an afanc, which, in the story, Mr. Carnacki describes as "a sort of horse-headed monster which is supposed to haunt lakes in Wales."
In the Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper, an afanc appears in the final book of the series, Silver On The Tree.
In the novel Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire, an afanc appears in modern-day San Francisco. Afancs are described as "fae monsters ... live in lakes and marshes and are reasonably harmless, as long as you don't startle them and get yourself drowned."
An Afanc also appears in the BBC Television Series 'Merlin', where in Season 1, Episode 3 "The Mark of Nimueh", one has been hatched and released into the water reservoir of Camelot by the witch Nimueh, and is poisoning the waters of Camelot and spreading a deadly plague. The Afanc is supposedly a creature of clay and water, made and given life by a powerful sorcerer. Merlin and Gaius discover the Afanc and, with Morgana's help, Merlin convinces Arthur to go down into the reservoir tunnels and do battle with the Afanc, which can only be defeated with a combination of wind and fire. <Merlin TV Series, Season 1 Episode 3>
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- Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (University of Wales Dictionary), vol. I, p.41, afanc
- No. 472 Cheyne Walk (A. F. Kidd & Rick Kennett, eds.) (Ash-Tree Press 2002).