Thursday, December 27, 2018

Problems of that final problem

The Sherlock Holmes Story Society at the North Branch Peoria Public Library met again tonight, and our focus was "The Final Problem." (And nary a word of a certain film you might have heard about.)

And, boy, are there problems to be discussed there.

In Professor Moriarty, Conan Doyle created a foe that not only could elude Scotland Yard -- he can elude a reader as well. For a little old mathematics professor moonlighting as a criminal mastermind, he does some very weird things.

For one, he chases a train. And like a dog chasing a car, we have to wonder what Moriarty would have done with that train had he caught it. He was plainly outnumbered, two to one, by men known to carry guns. He actually lets Sherlock Holmes write a note while explaining his super-villain plotting, as super-villains must do by law (or out-law) apparently. And then he just throws himself at Sherlock Holmes. When you put it all together, Moriarty comes off more as an obsessed, unrequited lover than a criminal genius.

Holmes, of course, is no great brain himself at times on this one.

He explains to Watson how Moriarty will probably go to Paris and watch where their luggage winds up, but then seems surprised that the professor is not arrested in London. And again, bare-handed wrestling with one's arch-foe on a cliff. Guns, knives, hunting crops . . . anything, boys?

It's no wonder Nicholas Meyer found this fodder for calling Holmes delusional in The Seven Per-Cent Solution. Watson himself never gets a good look at a man he could identify as Moriarty in a court of law.

But, as with any Sherlock Holmes story, we get such tantalizing details . . . Holmes writes that his friends will be sad at his solution to Moriarty's end, and especially Watson. What other pre-1891 friends is he writing of? Lestrade, who gets ditched on this big haul for Inspector Patterson? Frank and Hatty Moulton, who proved to be just that charming as dinner guests? Mrs. Hudson? James Mortimer?

I read it this time from Christopher Morley's Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: A Textbook of Friendship, which follows the tale up with some ridiculous discussion questions. Read all the stories that aren't in this book and figure out how Watson had two wives. Get an atlas and figure out what you would do if you had time to kill in Canterbury. Sherlock Holmes not eating goose liver and only taking a half hour for lunch is a tribute to what? I'll say it: Morley was a bit odd.

But aren't all of us involved with our friend Sherlock Holmes, from Conan Doyle to Will Ferrell. (Whose voice I heard Holmes's lines in, as I read "Final Problem." Yes, I am that far gone.)

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