The last day on the meme, I thought it might be interesting for me to do a "book report" style talk on "The Final Problem" or what was to be the last story ever written for Sherlock Holmes. Doyle didn't like Holmes at all, he thought that he got in the way of his "serious" writing and had decided to kill the detective off. Luckily for fans, he relented many years later and brought him back, but it was remarkable to see how the reading public reacted to this story. They all wore signs of mourning for weeks, letters poured in, including one from the Queen herself, all asking Doyle to continue writing about Holmes.
It is interesting to note, before we go any farther, that Professor Moriarty's first name was James and, in the start of the final problem, Watson makes reference to a "Colonel James moriarty" who defends his brother's memory in a series of letters. Holmes scholars have puzzled over the matching names, and even suggested the third brother is also named James, even though that name is never given.
Okay, anyway, the story starts with Watson's normal background and then leads into what happened. Watson states that his "very intimate association" with Sherlock Holmes had dropped off since his (Watson's) marriage and return to practice, and it was only through the newspapers that Watson saw Holmes had been engaged by the French government upon a matter of supreme importance. Then, on April 24th, Holmes arrives in Watson's consulting room and promptly closes all the shutters. He fears air guns. Watson is as confused as to the statement and asks Holmes to tell him what's been going on. Holmes shows that he's been attacked in the street by some ruffs in the street and has broken his hand in the fight. (Holmes is a boxer and noted single stick fighter) He asks where Mrs. Watson is, and upon learning that she's away on a visit, requests that Watson goes with him to the Continent.
Holmes finally reveals the name of Professor Moriarty to Watson (in cannon, Moriarty is mentioned only in one other piece, The Valley of Fear, and appears only in this one) and explains how his network of crime works. Moriarty is a man of good birth and high education, at age 21 he wrote a piece of maths so complicated that no one in the science community could review it. He earned a chair through the work, lost it, came to London and put his mind to evil. Holmes picks up the "vibrations" of some new force in the criminal world, but has to put his mind to finding the source of them. "He is the Napoleon of crime." "He does little himself" as Holmes says, but can organize agents to take care of nearly anything. The agents will be caught, but can never be linked back to Moriarty.
"You know my powers, my dear Watson, and yet at the end of three months I was forced to confess that I had at last met an antagonist who was my intellectual equal. My horror at his crimes was lost in my admiration at his skill."
Holmes finishes his conversation by stating that on Monday next a web will fall and Moriarty, along with the principal members of the gang, will be in the hands of the police. Then the greatest criminal trial of the century, clearing up of over 40 mysteries, and the rope for them all. He talks about the visit that Moriarty paid to him at Baker Street, the compliments and insults they paid each other, and Holmes even warned Moriarty of the impending investigation. Holmes is assaulted three separate times once he leaves Baker Street.
Watson says that his practice is quiet and he shall have no problems leaving. Holmes gives him firm instructions and tells him to follow them with absolutely no deviations. This is where Holmes scholars start thinking that Holmes is messing with Watson. I mean, really. The biggest set of arrests and Holmes is *the* only one who sees all the connections, yet he's leaving the country with Watson. It doesn't make any sense, but Watson follows the strange instructions to the letter and meets up with Holmes at the train station the following morning. Holmes is in disguise to "throw off Moriarty's men" and doesn't change back until the train is fully underway, and even then points out a man he says is Moriarty on the platform trying to catch the departing train. Holmes discards his priest outfit and tells Watson that Moriarty's men set fire to Baker Street the night before.
Holmes and Watson abandon the train and their bags, to avoid Moriarty yet again, and set off on foot to make their way into Switzerland via Luxembourg and Basle. Holmes had said that he didn't care where they went as long as they were out of the country, and yet he seems to have a firm destination in mind. When they are in Brussels, Holmes sends to London to learn what happened during the "great arrest" on Monday and curses when he learns that Moriarty escaped the net. Again, Holmes scholars wonder about this, because Holmes was avoiding Moriarty, who he said was on their tail, and yet he's upset to find that Moriarty escaped the net he had set? This doesn't make any sense at all. Holmes tries to get Watson to turn back, and Watson refuses so they make their way on. Watson comments on Holmes's mood, how he is far from depressed, as would be thought with a murderous villain on his tail. Again and again he states that "if he could be assured that society was freed from Professor Moriarty he would cheerfully bring his own career to a conclusion."
The pair winds up in the village of Meiringen and it is suggested to them that they see the falls of Reichenbach. Watson describes it as a fearful place. "The torrent, swollen by the melting snow, plunges into a tremendous abyss, from which the spray rolls up like the smoke from a burning house." (note that Doyle visited the falls before he wrote this story)
While they are at the falls, a boy arrives with a note asking Watson to return to the hotel, as an Englishwoman has taken deathly ill and needs to see an English doctor. The pair talk and plans are laid to meet in the next town of Rosenlaui that night. So Holmes remains at the falls and Watson returns to the hotel.
As he walked, he noticed a man walking up to the falls, but paid him no real attention as he was focused on his errand to aid the ailing woman. When he gets to the hotel, he finds that there is no sick woman, the hotel owner did not send for him, and has no clue what he is talking about. Watson runs back to the falls and finds that Holmes's stick is there along with his cigarette-case. There are signs of a fight and no sign of Holmes at all. Under the case is a note to Watson.
"My dear Watson,
I write these few lines through the courtesy of Mr. Moriarty, who awaits my convenience for the final discussion of those questions which lie between us. He has been giving me a sketch of the methods by which he avoided the English police and kept himself informed of our movements. They certainly confirm the very high opinion which I had formed of his abilities. I am pleased to think that I shall be able to free society from any further effects of his presence, though I fear it is at a cost which will give pain to my friends, and especially you, my dear Watson, to you. i have already explained to you, however, that my career had in any case reached its crisis, and that no possible conclusion to it could be more congenial to me than this. Indeed, if I may make a full confession to you, I was quite convinced that the letter from Meiringen was a hoax, and I allowed you to depart on that errand under the persuasion that some development of this sort would follow. Tell Inspector Patterson that the papers which he needs to convict the gang are in pigeonhole M, done up in a blue envelope and inscribed "Moriarty." I made every disposition of my property before leaving England and handed it to my brother Mycroft. Pray give my greetings to Mrs. Watson, and believe me to be, my dear fellow, very sincerely yours,
It was obvious that both Holmes and Moriarty had gone over the edge into the falls together and lay at the base in a watery grave. The court case against the rest of the gang was successful and Watson ends by saying Holmes was the best and wisest man whom he had ever known.