The Not-So-Final Problem

S-BOMB warning. That’s SPOILER-ALERT, for those less crude than I.

So, something I didn’t realize: while I’ve read and reread much of Sherlock Holmes, I’ve never actually sat down and read The Final Problem. For those of you who do not know, it is the “final” tale of Holmes’ exploits. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed off his popular character in this ultimate of face-offs with the dastardly Professor Moriarty.

That’s the thing, though. It’s a short story; after all these years of knowing the tale and having seen depictions of it, it’s sadly a bit of a letdown to read the real thing. It’s told from Watson’s perspective, as always, two years after the fact, in an effort to make sure Moriarty’s character is not redeemed after death.

It’s a brief story, about an excited Holmes, on the run with his dearest companion Watson, attempting to bide time until the arrest of Moriarty and his organization can be complete. Sadly, Moriarty escapes. Throughout the tale we are told about how conniving the man is, but he is a shadow. Ultimately we know little of the man other than he does not commit the crimes himself, but orchestrates them. What crimes? All manner of crimes. He is the criminal boogieman, basically. This is all well and good, and the story is not about a crime in itself, but it still feels a little sad not to have some sort of motivation to dislike the man.

Holmes is greatly impressed by the man’s intelligence, as we should be, because we know of Holmes’ own and they are able to match wits for months on end. In the end, though, this is not a story about Moriarty, but about Holmes’ fulfillment in his passions. Moriarty exists to make Holmes feel as though he’s served his ultimate purpose, and for a man so haunted by his own intelligence and skill, isn’t that what we should want?

The story is difficult for me, because it was so brief. It felt rushed, as though Doyle couldn’t wait for it to be over, and that saddens me. As a writer, I never want to reach a point where I have exhausted myself of it, but I also know I will never reach Doyle’s level… so in a way, I am relieved. I also know that he ended up picking up the pen again, so to speak, to continue on with Holmes, retrieving him from his fate at the Reichenbach Falls, so that is a relief of another kind!

Interested in The Final Problem? It can be purchased here.