The Final Problem is one of the Sherlock Holmes stories that will always stick with you once you've read it. The plot is one of the biggest plots of all the stories, and the villain is the worst. There is a reason that Moriarty is always the major villain in Sherlock Holmes adaptations, even though he was only in a few stories.
Marian has been doing a group read of this story over at her Sherlock blog, Just a Trifle, which is an amazing blog, by the way. When she posted these questions about the story, I knew I would have enough to say to fit into a post of my own, so instead of leaving a comment on the group read I'm going to leave a link to this post. There is still time to get involved if you want to answer these questions as well!
If you've never read The Final Problem, skip this post until you do! I would hate to ruin the experience for you.
What was your initial reaction to "The Final Problem"?
Initially I believed it was really the last Sherlock Holmes story. I cried. A lot. It was a really odd experience, because I felt a huge sense of loss, but the ending was so beautiful that it was bittersweet. It's still one of my favorite stories because of all that I felt when reading it the first time.
Holmes clearly foresaw his own end. How long do you think he had foreseen it?
I think he guessed that it would come to this, but he knew for sure when he got the news that Moriarty had escaped. At that point, he knows what will happen. He takes a seemingly aimless journey through the countryside with Watson for a week, which makes it seems like he is trying to evade Moriarty... but I think he knew he was being followed and timed it so that Moriarty would catch up to him at the Falls. It was going to come down to a confrontation between them, so he got to a place where he knew he could defend himself.
Also, if you look at his behavior through this section, it is clear that he is preparing Watson for the possibility. He is too calm and too happy, and he tells Watson over and over that if he can defeat Moriarty, he will be happy to let his career come to an end. What he is really saying is that he will be happy to lose his life to defeat Moriarty.
Why do you think Holmes leaves England?
I think initially it was just to survive. He knew Moriarty had too many men inside the city. If he had stayed he probably wouldn't have lived to see the gang arrested. Outside of the city there is less of a threat. Also, if he was thinking long term at this point, he knew that if he was going to have a face-to-face confrontation, it was better to be where Moriarty wouldn't have back up. In London, even if he killed Moriarty out of self defense, he would either be killed immediately or tried for murder. At the Falls, he was able to escape more easily.
Does Doyle's choice of the Reichenbach Falls setting seem random or meaningful?
I'm not sure how much meaning the setting had within the context of the story, but I think it had meaning to the author. (Unless you are a Sherlockian and you believe that Watson was really the author.) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had been to the Reichenbach Falls shortly before this story was published, and it was while vacationing there that his wife was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Perhaps that was where he first felt that he was losing his wife, so he decided it was a fitting place to lose his most successful character. Maybe he wrote it that way as a memorial to her.
This is the first (and chronologically last) appearance of Moriarty in the series. Is he a credible character?
I'm not sure of what is meant by "credible" in this question. He is not a very realistic character, but neither is Holmes. I think he is the perfect foil for Sherlock Holmes, but sometimes it does seem as if that is the only reason he was invented. It makes the suspicious part of me wonder if there is more to the story than Watson is telling. Why hasn't Sherlock mentioned Moriarty to Watson before now?
Personally, I think that The Final Problem is a much better ending than Holmes retiring to the countryside. It is poetic and heroic, the detective happily and readily giving up his life to defeat the man who is his opposite. They are like mirror images of each other, equally brilliant, one light and one dark. I think that it's the best way for the story to end, but I hate that he dies. Consequently, I love that he is still alive, but I was also disappointed that his poetic ending was a lie.
In The Final Problem, it's like he completes his goal in life, and so he doesn't need to live anymore. He has achieved what he was always trying to do; rid the world of its greatest evil. When he comes back, there is still evil to battle, enough to last a lifetime. Even when he retires, he still occasionally helps on a case. It's like bringing him back from Reichenbach Falls takes away his achievement. Instead of a solid ending, the audience is shown that crime never ends.
On the other hand, I love some of the stories that come after this one. They are brilliant, and I am not saying I wish they hadn't been written... but maybe Doyle could have set them in the years before The Final Problem.
What do you think about the story? Do you think this should have been the last, or do you like the fact that he comes back?