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Sherlock Holmes battles Professor Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls. Detail from a British postage stamp issued in 1993.

"The Final Problem" (also known as "The Adventure of the Final Problem") is a Sherlock Holmes short story by the British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was first published in the December 1893 issue of the magazine The Strand. It also appears as the twelfth and final story in the 1893 anthology The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.

In the story, the brilliant consulting detective Sherlock Holmes has discovered that nearly all crimes which are committed in London are the work of one gang. The gang is headed by one man, Professor Moriarty, whom Holmes calls "the Napoleon of crime" and acknowledges as his intellectual equal. Holmes has gathered evidence against Moriarty and his gang which should lead to their arrest, conviction and execution. When Moriarty finds out about this, Holmes' life is in danger. Accompanied by his friend Dr. John Watson, Holmes flees to Switzerland. Moriarty pursues Holmes there and confronts him at Reichenbach Falls. Dr. Watson arrives at the scene later and is under the impression that both Moriarty and Holmes have fallen to their deaths.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had originally intended "The Final Problem" to be the last story that he would write about Sherlock Holmes. Doyle decided to kill off Sherlock Holmes in the story but made his death a heroic one in which he dies defeating the greatest criminal mastermind of the age. Doyle would bring the character back for the 1902 novel The Hound of the Baskervilles, although its action takes place before that of "The Final Problem". In the 1903 short story "The Adventure of the Empty House", it is revealed that Holmes had not died at Reichenbach Falls. Doyle would continue to write more stories about Holmes until 1927.

There have been numerous adaptations of "The Final Problem" to other media, often in combination with other stories about Holmes and Watson.

In a list of the twelve best Sherlock Holmes stories, compiled for The Strand magazine in 1927, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle named "The Final Problem" as his fourth favorite, following "The Adventure of the Speckled Band", "The Red-Headed League" and "The Adventure of the Dancing Men".

Plot

Dr. John Watson, the story's narrator, states that, since marrying and returning to a private medical practice, he has not seen his friend the consulting detective Sherlock Holmes very often. He has read in the newspapers about the service which Holmes has recently done for the French government and has received two short letters from his friend which suggest that he intends to stay in France for quite some time.

On the evening of April 24, 1891, Watson is at home alone, his wife having gone away to visit friends. He is surprised when Holmes suddenly appears "looking even paler and thinner than usual" and with bleeding knuckles. Holmes closes and bolts the shutters on Watson's windows, saying that he is frightened of air guns. He announces that he will leave the house by climbing over the garden wall. He tells Watson that he cannot stay at his house that night as it would mean placing his friend in danger.

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Model of Professor Moriarty from the Sherlock Holmes Museum, Hyde Park, London.

Holmes explains that his life is in danger because of a discovery which he has recently made. He tells Watson about Professor Moriarty. The mathematical genius Moriarty had been Professor of Mathematics at a minor British university. However, he had always had criminal tendencies and lost his position at the university as a result of negative rumors which surrounded him. Moriarty has become a teacher at a military school in London. He has also become the head of a vast criminal organization and "the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected" in London. Although individual members of the organization are sometimes caught, the organization always pays for their bail or defense. Moriarty himself is never suspected and continues to plan his crimes in secret. However, Holmes has discovered the truth and has gathered enough evidence for Moriarty and his entire gang to be arrested on the following Monday, in three days time.

On the morning of April 24, Moriarty, described by Holmes as a tall, thin bald-headed man, came to Sherlock Holmes' apartment. Moriarty told Holmes to stop his investigations into him and his organization, insinuating that Holmes would be killed if he did not. Holmes refused. There were three attempts on Holmes' life that day. He was nearly run over by a carriage, a brick fell from a roof and narrowly missed him and he was attacked by a man with a blunt instrument, Holmes cutting his knuckles while fighting with the man.

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Holmes described as an old Italian priest. 1893 illustration by Sidney Paget.

Knowing that the criminal case against Moriarty and his gang can continue without him, Holmes has decided to leave the country for his own safety. He asks Watson to come with him, taking the train at Victoria Station the next morning which will connect to a boat to France in Dover. Holmes gives Watson detailed instructions on how he is to make his way to the train station without being followed. Watson is taken the last part of the way by a coachman who is later revealed to be Holmes' brother Mycroft.[1] Watson is told that Holmes will meet him in their reserved carriage on the train. Watson is surprised to find only an old Italian priest in the carriage which was supposed to be reserved for Holmes and himself, not realizing at first that the priest is Holmes in disguise. Holmes tells Watson that his apartment in Baker Street was set on fire the night before. Clearly, Moriarty did not know that Holmes was not there, although the detective is certain that he will soon catch up with him.

Holmes sees Professor Moriarty on the platform of Victoria Station. The professor is unable to stop the train but Holmes correctly concludes that he will engage a special train to follow them. To escape from Moriarty, Holmes and Watson get off the train in Canterbury and make their way to the port of Newhaven to get a different boat to France.

The following Monday, in the French city of Strasbourg, Holmes receives a telegram which tells him that, although the rest of his gang have been arrested, Moriarty has escaped. Holmes is certain that Moriarty will continue to pursue him.

Holmes and Watson go to Switzerland. They stay at an inn called the Englischer Hof in the village of Meringen. The landlord of the Englischer Hof suggests that they visit the hamlet of Rosenlaui and pass by the Reichenbach Falls on the way. Watson describes the Reichenbach Falls as, "a fearful place. The torrent swollen by the melting snow plunges into a tremendous abyss... The shaft into which the river hurls itself is an immense chasm, lined by glistening coal-black rock."

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Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty fight each other at the edge of the Reichenbach Falls. 1893 illustration by Sidney Paget.

At the Reichenbach Falls, a young Swiss man appears with a letter for Dr. Watson from the landlord of the Englischer Hof. The letter explains that there is a seriously ill Englishwoman at the inn who would like to see an English doctor. Watson sets off to return to the village of Meringen at once. He notices another man going in the opposite direction but does not think much of it. When Watson arrives back at the Englischer Hof, the landlord tells him that he did not write the letter and adds that it was probably written by the tall Englishman who was there earlier. Realizing at once that the tall Englishman was Moriarty and that the young Swiss man was one of his criminal employees, Watson rushes back to the Reichenbach Falls.

Watson cannot see Moriarty or Holmes but he can see fresh footprints in the mud and some of Holmes' belongings. Amongst them, he finds a note from his friend, which Moriarty permitted him to write. The note says goodbye to Watson, explains that arrangements have already been made to leave all of Holmes' property to his brother Mycroft and gives details of where documents that can be used to convict the members of Moriarty's gang can be found. Watson concludes that Holmes and Moriarty fought each other and, during their fight, both men fell over the Reichenbach Falls to their deaths. Watson says, "Any attempt at recovering their bodies was absolutely hopeless, and there, deep down in that dreaded cauldron of swirling water and seething foam, will lie for all time the most dangerous criminal and the foremost champion of the law of their generation".

Adaptations

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Statue of Sherlock Holmes in Meiringen, Switzerland.

William Gillette's 1899 stage play Sherlock Holmes is based on "The Final Problem", "A Scandal in Bohemia" and A Study in Scarlet. Two silent films, both called Sherlock Holmes, from 1916 (starring William Gillette) and 1922 (starring John Barrymore), were based on the play. A third movie adaptation of the play, starring Clive Brook as Holmes, was released in 1932. It was also adapted as a 1938 radio play in which Orson Welles played Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes film adaptations which make use of elements from "The Final Problem" include The Sleeping Cardinal (UK, 1931), The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes (UK, 1935), The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (USA, 1939), Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (USA, 1943),[2] The Spider Woman (USA, 1944).[3] The Woman in Green (USA, 1945)[4] and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (UK/USA, 2011).

A BBC radio adaptation of "The Final Problem", starring John Gielgud as Holmes, Ralph Richardson as Watson and Orson Welles as Moriarty was first broadcast on April 17, 1955.

The story was adapted as the thirteenth and final episode of the first season of the Granada TV series Sherlock Holmes, starring Jeremy Brett, which first aired in the United Kingdom on the ITV network on September 29, 1985. It was also adapted as "The Reichenbach Fall", the third episode from the second season of the BBC TV series Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, which was first broadcast in the United Kingdom on January 15, 2012. The title "The Final Problem" is also used as that of the third and final episode of the fourth season of Sherlock, which first aired on BBC One in the United Kingdom, on PBS in the United States and on Channel One in Russia on January 15, 2017. "The Final Problem" was very loosely adapted as "Stolen Virus" (Japanese: 最後の事件 前編; Saigo no jiken zenpen) and "The Dock" (Japanese: 最後の事件 後編; Saigo no jiken kōhen), the seventh and eighth episodes of the Japanese TV series Miss Sherlock (Japanese: ミス・シャーロック; Misu Shārokku), starring Yuko Takeuchi as Sherlock and Shihori Kanjiya as wato-san. The episodes were originally streamed on Hulu Japan and broadcast to twenty Asian countries on the bable channel HBO Asia on june 8 and June 15, 2018. The story was also the basis for the TV movie The Deadly Fight, part of the series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, which was shown on television in the Soviet Union in 1979.

Issue #1 of DC Comics' Sherlock Holmes from October 1975 includes adaptations of "The Final Problem" and "The Adventure of the Empty House". DC's Sherlock Holmes was intended to be an ongoing comic book series. However, due to poor sales, the series was cancelled after only one issue.

Footnotes

  1. The character of Sherlock Holmes' older brother Mycroft is introduced in the 1893 short story "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter". He also appears in the 1908 story "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans".
  2. The 1943 film Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon makes use of plot elements from "The Final Problem", "The Adventure of the Empty House" and "The Adventure of the Dancing Men"
  3. The 1944 film The Spider Woman makes use of plot elements from "The Final Problem", "The Adventure of the Dying Detective", "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot", "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" and The Sign of the Four
  4. The 1945 film The Woman in Green makes use of plot elements from "The Final Problem" and "The Adventure of the Empty House".

External links