Monday, May 13, 2013

The month of "M."

May is the right month for contemplating Professor Moriarty, I think.

It's the month when educations reach their climax and hiatuses begin for the young . . . a metaphor which might work for them. But the young have their whole lives ahead of them, unlike Professor Moriarty, or Sherlock Holmes for that matter. For Moriarty, May meant the end of an empire. For Sherlock Holmes it meant the climax of a career. And for both, it meant seeing all the truths of that mutual moment and having the brains to recognize them.

And that's what fascinates about Professor Moriarty.

Conan Doyle, the master of describing genius, held back from trying to detail what took place between Holmes and Moriarty, and none who have followed him have had the mind to succeed where Doyle refrained. We have had many who have tried, but none have apparently had the canvas nor the colors to paint that perhaps unseeable vision.

But it's fascinating to stare into that abyss and try to see what Sherlock Holmes saw as he looked across the London criminal world and began to see patterns. And from the patterns, trace threads back to the center of what he came to see as an enormous web, to put a name to the spider who lived there. And once he saw that spider, to quietly gather all the data needed for Scotland Yard to bring that web down in one perfectly timed action. It's unimaginably complex.

And from Professor Moriarty's side, it's just as intricate. After first building his vast and multi-layered empire, weaving it with safeguards to keep himself well removed from the slightest accusation, Moriarty had to recognize that Sherlock Holmes had become a threat to that entire organization, from end to end, from big to small. And then he had to have the vision and intellect to see one thing more.

To the mere mortal eye, the final confrontation of Professor Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes is riddled with puzzles. Why did neither man seem to bring a gun to the fight? Why would a plotter of incredible genius decide to attempt murder by something not unlike a football tackle, especially after a period of civilized talk that involved one of them actually writing a short letter?

The best indicator of Moriary's final encounter with Sherlock Holmes is given us in their earlier exchange at 221B Baker Street.

"All that I have to say has already crossed your mind."
"Then possibly my answer has crossed yours."

Reichenbach was the end of a master's chess game with a board as big as London, where both players see clearly that conclusions are inevitable. When they met at Baker Street, Professor Moriarty seemed certain that conclusion was Moriarty's immense crime machine rolling over a sole crusader, however clever that man was. But by their second meeting in Switzerland, the professor saw things a little differently, having possibly added in a very weighty factor we don't often consider.

Personally, I think that factor was Moriarty learning that Sherlock had an "M" of his own behind him, with an actual empire at his disposal. The big guy wouldn't just drive a carriage and keep the rent paid when his kid brother was threatened with death, would he? C'mon. Having seen the spider at the center of Mycroft Holmes's web, Moriarty's self-sacrificing attempt to kill Sherlock Holmes makes much more sense -- it's not revenge against Holmes the younger, it's spitting in the face of Holmes the greater with that one last act. Moriarty can only escape Mycroft by heading for death's own realm and tries to take Sherlock with him. It's quite mythic, really.

Professor Moriarty's tale is a battle of gods when you come right down to it, not something mere mortals were meant to comprehend. That's probably why adaptations so often fall short . . .  well, that, and who but a fool would attempt something that a master of writing about Sherlock Holmes would not even attempt? And fools have issues of their own.

Happy month of "M." Consider it carefully.


  1. Hmmm. A big bully takes on a smaller kid and then... his big brother shows up! Mycroft at his back. I like that.

  2. Yes, I think you're quite right about Mycroft, Brad. I think BBC Sherlock really made me more aware of his significance in the grand scheme, and then I found this interview with Steven Moffat where he says,"yes, we love Mycroft. Became a much bigger, more important than we expected, especially in Scandal. Somehow - for me, anyway - he’s the key to Sherlock. Imagining that past, those boys, that home…."
    Oh yes, Happy Birthday, ACD!