Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Reichenbach Falls

I'm back.

What, did you think I was dead? Haha, silly! No, the doctor says the scars should eventually heal, provided I don't move or breathe in any discernible way. Antelopes, eh?

Since Tumblr has informed me that a new episode of the hit television series Sherlock is about to air, and I'm nothing if not topical, I thought I'd do yet another post about famed Belgian detective Poirot. He's so funny! And clever! Then I remembered that doing a post about The Final Problem would probably annoy more people, so here we are.

In the interest of providing some back-story, I feel as if I should make mention of a couple things. First off, Sherlock is indeed about to air an episode based off this story. In addition, the film Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (which sounds like a video game, if I'm honest) was also loosely based on this story. The movie adaptation, at least, did a pleasant enough job of rounding out the character that is introduced in this story, certainly better than Sir Doyle did. Which character is that?

"You have probably never heard of Professor Moriarty?" said he.”

Dun dun DUUUUUN. It is tempting to compare and contrast the various adaptations of this story to see where one is superior to the other, but I feel as if some basic understanding of the original story is necessary. So let's begin!

It's funnier to separate fact from fiction (ha!) but there's no real way to get around it: the Final Problem was originally written as a way to get rid of Holmes. Sir Arthur, a very competent man who happened to go a little insane as he got older (ask me about the fairies!) decided that he was tired of writing about his most famous creation, and wanted to focus more time on his historical fiction. What? Yes, Sir Arthur wrote historical fiction. He was even knighted for it!

At any rate, The Final Problem was written with little set up, and one end goal—kill off Holmes. The problem that the author faced was a singular one, since Holmes could either die in two ways: through some stupid mishap or by facing a worthy adversary. Except that a worthy adversary had never before been written for Holmes. Well... shit, I guess. Time to break out the banana peels and chemical vats!

Since Sir Arthur wasn't particularly interested in creating the first Batman villain, he decided to go the 'worthy adversary' route without actually setting the adversary up in any way. As a consequence, Moriarty is fairly... well, toothless.

As an example, here is the first introduction to our keen criminal mastermind.

"Aye, there's the genius and the wonder of the thing!" he cried. "The man pervades London, and no one has heard of him. That's what puts him on a pinnacle in the records of crime. I tell you, Watson, in all seriousness, that if I could beat that man, if I could free society of him, I should feel that my own career had reached its summit, and I should be prepared to turn to some more placid line in life. Between ourselves, the recent cases in which I have been of assistance to the royal family of Scandinavia, and to the French republic, have left me in such a position that I could continue to live in the quiet fashion which is most congenial to me, and to concentrate my attention upon my chemical researches. But I could not rest, Watson, I could not sit quiet in my chair, if I thought that such a man as Professor Moriarty were walking the streets of London unchallenged."

Gosh, that sounds pretty scary! A man so diabolical, so entrenched in criminal culture, that eradicating him from this earth would be the greatest thing that Holmes has ever done?! I bet he eats babies.

But wait a moment.

"Aye, there's the genius and the wonder of the thing!" he cried. "The man pervades London, and no one has heard of him.”

Huh. That's a good point, Holmes. Why have you never mentioned him? Well, I mean obviously, he must have just recently discovered who Moriarty was. The spider that tweaks the web, hidden behind the scenes! How cunning, how masterful, how...

For years I have endeavored to break through the veil which shrouded it, and at last the time came when I seized my thread and followed it, until it led me, after a thousand cunning windings, to ex-Professor Moriarty of mathematical celebrity.”

Well, I guess that's sort of what I just...

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.”


It sounds like a really slight thing to complain about because, well, why would he have mentioned this odious presence to his most trusted friend and compa... okay, well, why would Watson have bothered to share the ramblings of a cocaine addicted genius with the world? Holmes makes a good point at the opening to both denigrate Moriarty while at the same time lamenting the futility of going after Moriarty; in fact, he mentions a direct encounter with the man that was immediately followed by several attempts on his life. Shocking! Harrowing! And if this were the first in a series of a stories where Holmes and Watson track down this genius to his lair, then the feeling of dread that so permeates this passage would really work. Holmes describes all the secret, cunning things that Moriarty does and then Watson—and by extension, the reader—get to see with their own eyes exactly what sort of secret cunning things they are.

Instead they decide to take a vacation to Switzerland because that's where Moriarty is going. Quick, Watson! Pack a muffler!

It is here, in the spaces where they begin to travel, where the reader is given an opportunity to really get a sense of what sort of danger these two beloved men are in. Or, you know, Holmes could make Watson travel in several different carriages and then show up dressed as a priest.

"Every precaution is still necessary," he whispered. "I have reason to think that they are hot upon our trail. Ah, there is Moriarty himself."The train had already begun to move as Holmes spoke. Glancing back, I saw a tall man pushing his way furiously through the crowd, and waving his hand as if he desired to have the train stopped. It was too late, however, for we were rapidly gathering momentum, and an instant later had shot clear of the station.”

Look Watson! It is the dude I have mentioned once, but you have never seen! Right there! No, I swear that's him. Oh hey, did you read the paper? No? Good. I-I mean!

"Have you seen the morning paper, Watson?""No.""You haven't' seen about Baker Street, then?""Baker Street?""They set fire to our rooms last night. No great harm was done.""Good heavens, Holmes! this is intolerable."

Oh my gaaaaawd they totally set fire to our old apartment. No, really! Are you buying this?

At this point, I'm ready to nominate Holmes for the title Best Troll of All. And then we get to hear about their vacation!

It was on the 3d of May that we reached the little village of Meiringen, where we put up at the Englischer Hof, then kept by Peter Steiler the elder.”

Oh my gaaaaaawd.

So Holmes informs Watson that apparently—no, really, I promise—the police managed to arrest everybody in Moriarty's gang besides, you know, Moriarty. So Holmes very astutely suggests that Moriarty has little left to live for beside attempting to kill Holmes, and that maybe Watson could just go back to London. Come on, help a bro out. Watson refuses because duh, and so they take a merry jaunt through the mountains of Switzerland.

I am not joking, okay? The rest of the story is a description of the Reichenbach Falls, where they end up—a swirling vortex of death!—and commentary on the establishment. WHERE ARE ALL THE BITS WHERE MORIARTY IS SCARY?

It doesn't happen. Holmes sees Moriarty (Watson is graced only with the sight of his retreating back) and heads off to meet him and never returns. And that's it. Watson discovers, some time later, the evidence of a struggle and concludes that both Holmes and Moriarty plunged off a cliff into the falls.

The end?

Well no, because Holmes isn't really dead. Sir Arthur got such a backlash from his fans that he eventually decided to bring Holmes back to life. Trust me: it's dumb too. Just like Moriarty.

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