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The Final Problem

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"The Final Problem"
Short story by Arthur Conan Doyle
Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty fighting at the Reichenbach Falls, 1893 illustration by Sidney Paget in The Strand Magazine
Text available at Wikisource
CountryUnited Kingdom
Genre(s)Detective fiction short stories
Published inStrand Magazine
Publication dateDecember 1893
SeriesThe Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
The Adventure of the Naval Treaty
The Hound of the Baskervilles

"The Final Problem" is a short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle featuring his detective character Sherlock Holmes. It was first published in The Strand Magazine in the United Kingdom, and McClure's in the United States, under the title "The Adventure of the Final Problem" in December 1893. It appears in book form as part of the collection The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.

The story, set in 1891, introduces the criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty. It was intended to be the final Holmes story, ending with the character's death, but Conan Doyle was later persuaded to revive Holmes for additional stories and novels.

Conan Doyle later ranked "The Final Problem" fourth on his personal list of the twelve best Holmes stories.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

An injured Holmes arrives at Watson's residence one evening, having escaped three separate murder attempts that day. Holmes reveals to Watson he has been tracking Moriarty and his organisation for months, who are responsible for most of the crimes orchestrated in London. As Holmes is close to snaring them all and delivering them to the police, Moriarty visits Holmes at 221B Baker Street earlier that day and warns him to withdraw from his pursuit of justice against him. Holmes admits that Moriarty could thwart his plans given his great mind that could rival his, and plans to flee to Europe while the police capture Moriarty and his gang.

Watson decides to join Holmes on the trip. Holmes then gives him unusual instructions intended to hide his tracks to the boat train at Victoria station before leaving Watson's house by climbing over the back wall in the garden, paranoid that he might be followed. The next day, Watson follows Holmes's instructions and finds himself waiting in the reserved first-class coach for his friend, who is disguised as an elderly Italian priest. As the boat train pulls out of Victoria, Holmes spots Moriarty on the platform trying to stop the train. Despite extraordinary precautions, Holmes deduces that Moriarty has tracked Watson. Changing their planned route, Holmes and Watson alight at Canterbury, allowing Moriarty on board a special one-coach train to pass them as they hide behind the luggage.

Holmes and Moriarty, 1893 illustration by Harry C. Edwards in McClure's

Having made their way to Strasbourg via Brussels, Holmes receives a message from the London Police that most of Moriarty's gang have been arrested in England, but Moriarty has escaped and is in pursuit of Holmes in Europe. He urges Watson to return to England as he considers himself a very dangerous companion for Watson. Watson, however, decides to stay with his friend. Holmes and Watson continue to Meiringen, Switzerland and visit the Reichenbach Falls. At the Falls, a boy hands Watson a letter, saying that there is a dying Englishwoman at the hotel who seeks an English doctor. While Holmes realises it is a hoax, he allows Watson to see the patient.

Watson soon realises the trick when returning to the hotel and rushes back to the Falls. He only finds two sets of footprints that lead to the end of the path, where he uncovers other signs of a violent struggle and a note from Holmes explaining that he knew about the hoax but chose to fight Moriarty himself. Holmes and Moriarty have both fallen to their deaths down the gorge and their bodies cannot be recovered. A saddened Dr Watson returns to England. The Moriarty gang are all convicted on the strength of evidence secured by Holmes. Watson ends his narrative by saying that Sherlock Holmes was the best and the wisest man he had ever known.


The Reichenbach Falls, near Meiringen, Switzerland

"The Final Problem" was intended to be exactly what its name says. Conan Doyle meant to stop writing about his famous detective after this short story; he felt the Sherlock Holmes stories were distracting him from more serious literary efforts and that "killing" Holmes off was the only way of getting his career back on track. "I must save my mind for better things," he wrote to his mother, "even if it means I must bury my pocketbook with him."

Conan Doyle sought to sweeten the pill by letting Holmes go in a blaze of glory, having him rid the world of a criminal so powerful and dangerous that any further task would be trivial in comparison; indeed, Holmes says as much in the story.

In 1893, Conan Doyle and his wife toured Switzerland[2] and discovered the village of Meiringen in the Bernese Alps.[2] This experience fired Conan Doyle's imagination.

"In 1893 he wrote in his diary, which still exists, that he wanted to kill Sherlock Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls," says Jürg Musfeld, director of the Park Hotel du Sauvage, where Conan Doyle is believed to have stayed during his visit to the village.[2]

Publication history[edit]

The story was published in the UK in The Strand Magazine in December 1893, and in the US in McClure's in the same month. It was also published in the US edition of The Strand Magazine in January 1894.[3] It was published with nine illustrations by Sidney Paget in the Strand,[4] and with eleven illustrations by Harry C. Edwards in McClure's.[5][6] It was included in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes,[4] which was published in December 1893 in the UK and February 1894 in the US.[7]


In an article published by the BBC, Jennifer Keishin Armstrong noted that "The public reaction to the death was unlike anything previously seen for fictional events." The Strand Magazine "barely survived" the resulting rush of subscription cancellations.[8] There were some stories that "young men throughout London wore black mourning crêpes on their hats or around their arms for the month of Holmes’ death" although these may have been exaggerations propounded by Doyle's son.[8] Armstrong continues, "Readers typically accepted what went on in their favourite books, then moved on. Now they were beginning to take their popular culture personally, and to expect their favourite works to conform to certain expectations."[8]

Pressure from fans eventually persuaded Doyle to bring Holmes back, writing The Hound of the Baskervilles (set before "The Final Problem") and reviving him in "The Adventure of the Empty House". There were enough holes in eyewitness accounts to allow Doyle to plausibly resurrect Holmes; only the few free surviving members of Moriarty's organisation and Holmes' brother Mycroft (who appears briefly in this story) know that Sherlock Holmes is still alive, having won the struggle at the Reichenbach Falls and sent Moriarty to his doom—though nearly meeting his own at the hands of one of Moriarty's henchmen.[9]

Influence and legacy[edit]

Statue of Holmes outside the English Church, Meiringen

Inhabitants of Meiringen are still grateful to Doyle and his creation Holmes for ensuring the enduring worldwide fame of their falls and considerably promoting tourism to the town.[2]

A museum dedicated to Holmes is housed in the basement of the English Church, located in what has now been named Conan Doyle Place.[2]

London-style Street sign outside the Sherlock Holmes Museum

At the funicular station near the falls, there is a memorial plate to "the most famous detective in the world".[2]

The actual ledge from which Moriarty fell is on the other side of the falls. It is accessible by climbing the path to the top of the falls, crossing the bridge, and following the trail down the hill. The ledge is marked by a plaque written in English, German, and French. The English inscription reads "At this fearful place, Sherlock Holmes vanquished Professor Moriarty, on 4 May 1891." It is also marked by a large cross so as to be visible from the viewing platform.

Fans who call themselves "pilgrims"[10] travel to Meiringen dressed as characters, both major and minor, from the Holmes stories.[10] There, they take part in a reenactment of the events of "The Final Problem" organized by the Sherlock Holmes Society of London.[10]



"The Final Problem" was adapted as a 1923 silent short film as part of the Stoll film series, starring Eille Norwood as Holmes and Hubert Willis as Watson, with Percy Standing as Moriarty.[11]

The 1931 film The Sleeping Cardinal, the first film in the 1931–1937 film series starring Arthur Wontner as Holmes, is based in part on "The Adventure of the Empty House" and "The Final Problem." The scene from "The Final Problem" in which Moriarty confronts Holmes at Baker Street and attempts to persuade Holmes to stop his investigations is used in The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes (1935), another film in the series.

In the 1939–1946 film series starring Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Watson, a number of films borrow elements from "The Final Problem". Most noticeable of these elements are the methods of killing Moriarty off; in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939), Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1942) and The Woman in Green (1945), Moriarty is seen in all three films falling from a great height to his death. The Woman in Green contains a variation on the conversation between Holmes and Moriarty in Baker Street, as well as the idea of Moriarty manipulating Watson out of the way by hoaxing an injured Englishwoman who requires his treating.

The 2011 film Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is based in part on "The Final Problem".[12] Like the story, it ends with Holmes and Moriarty plummeting into the falls, and Watson is shown writing the final sentences of "The Final Problem" on his typewriter. However, in the film, the characters are attending a European Peace Conference held near the falls which Moriarty seeks to sabotage, and the two plunge down from a balcony overlooking the falls rather than from the ledge of the original story. Holmes is also shown falling over the edge with Moriarty rather than simply being assumed to have fallen, being too injured to defeat Moriarty in a straight fight but knowing that Moriarty will go after Watson if he lives. While Holmes is shown to have survived, having used his brother's oxygen inhaler to survive the water at the bottom of the falls, Moriarty's fate is less certain.


The Soviet television film series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (1979–1986) adapted "The Final Problem" as "The Deadly Fight" (and "The Adventure in the Empty House" as "Hunt for the Tiger").

In the television series Sherlock Holmes starring Jeremy Brett, the 1985 episode based on the story begins with the theft of the Mona Lisa, masterminded by Moriarty in order to sell prepared fakes to collectors. Holmes recovers the original painting just before Moriarty makes a sale to a "Mr. Morgan". Holmes's interference with his plans convinces Moriarty that the detective must be eliminated, and Holmes is subsequently presumed to have died in a tumble down the Reichenbach Falls. This was the last episode to star David Burke as Dr. Watson. Burke was replaced by Edward Hardwicke until the end of the show's run, starting with the adaptation of "The Empty House" which acted as the first episode of The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

The BraveStarr episode "Sherlock Holmes in the 23rd Century" begins with a revised version of the climax of "The Final Problem", in which only Holmes plummets down Reichenbach Falls, but instead of falling to his doom, he falls into a natural time warp that transports him into the year 2249.

The first episode of the animated television series Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century (1999–2001) begins with the climax of "The Final Problem", where it is later revealed in the second episode that while Holmes managed to survive the fall by grabbing a tree branch and would go on to solve many more cases (later being entombed in honey upon his death of old age, which preserved his body enough to be revitalized in the 22nd century), Moriarty had indeed perished and was buried by Holmes himself, preserved in ice in a freezing cave. Holmes, the robotic Watson and Inspector Beth Lestrade later visit the burial site at Reichenbach Falls to confirm Moriarty's death upon news of a lookalike causing a crime spree in New London. Upon seeing a drill hole in the ice, Holmes surmises that the new Moriarty is in fact a clone with all the original's memories and skills.

The two part sixth season finale of Monk, "Mr. Monk is on the Run" (2008), is loosely inspired by both "The Final Problem and "The Empty House." Adrian Monk is supposedly shot over a pier after being accused of murder, only to be alive in the second part. The orchestrator is revealed to be Dale "the Whale" Biederbeck, described as "the Genghis Khan of world finance," much like Moriarty as "the Napoleon of Crime."

Episode three of the first season of BBC's Sherlock, titled The Great Game shows a variation of the part where Moriarty confronts Holmes at Baker Street in the story.[13] The story is also the basis of the episode "The Reichenbach Fall"(Season 2, Episode 3), which first aired on 15 January 2012 and shows Holmes falling from the roof of St Bartholomew's Hospital in London, supposedly leading to his death.[14][15] Throughout a confrontation between Sherlock and Jim Moriarty in Baker Street, Moriarty repeatedly utters the phrase "the final problem". The special episode of Sherlock, "The Abominable Bride", which was broadcast on 1 January 2016, featured a re-creation of the showdown between Sherlock and Moriarty set in Victorian times, as depicted in the book. The 2017 series finale of Sherlock is named for this story, but bears little to no resemblance to the canon.

The 2012 series finale of the American medical drama House—which was inspired by the Sherlock Holmes stories—sees Dr. Gregory House fake his own death, in an ode to "The Final Problem".[16]

The 2013 Russian television series Sherlock Holmes adapted "The Final Problem" as "Holmes' Last Case".

The 2018 HBO Asia/Hulu Japan series Miss Sherlock loosely adapts this story for its series finale "The Dock." In this version, the famous scene at the Reichenbach Falls is replaced by an analogous scene set at a fictional "Reichenbach Building" in Tokyo.

The 2019 penultimate episode (Season 7 Episode 12) of the CBS adaptation of Sherlock Holmes, Elementary, was titled "Reichenbach Falls", and portrayed Sherlock's ploy to bring down a powerful serial killer billionaire, Odin Reichenbach. Holmes fakes his death on a bridge, which puts Odin Reichenbach under investigation for the murder of Sherlock Holmes and thereby exposes Reichenbach's past crimes.


"The Final Problem" was loosely adapted for multiple episodes of the American radio series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes starring Richard Gordon as Sherlock Holmes and Leigh Lovell as Dr. Watson, including episodes titled "Murder in the Waxworks" (March 1932),[17] "The Adventure of the Ace of Spades" (May 1932),[18] and "Murder by Proxy" (January 1933).[19]

The story was later adapted for radio by John Kier Cross; it was broadcast on the BBC Light Programme in December 1954 and starred John Gielgud as Holmes and Ralph Richardson as Dr. Watson, with Orson Welles as Professor Moriarty.[20] The production was also broadcast on NBC radio on 17 April 1955.[21]

Felix Felton adapted the story as a radio adaptation which aired on the BBC Home Service in March 1955 as part of the 1952–1969 radio series starring Carleton Hobbs as Holmes and Norman Shelley as Watson, with Ralph Truman as Moriarty.[22] Another dramatisation of the story adapted by Felton aired on the BBC Home Service in November 1957, again starring Hobbs and Shelley, with Felton playing Moriarty.[23] Hobbs and Shelley also starred as Holmes and Watson in a 1967 BBC Light Programme adaptation of the story which was adapted by Michael Hardwick.[24]

"The Final Problem" was dramatized for BBC Radio 4 in 1992 by Bert Coules as part of the 1989–1998 radio series starring Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson. It featured Michael Pennington as Professor Moriarty, Frederick Treves as Colonel Moran, Sean Arnold as Inspector Patterson, Terence Edmond as Steiler, Richard Pearce as Jenkinson, and Norman Jones as Sir George.[25]

An episode of The Classic Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a series on the American radio show Imagination Theatre, combined "The Final Problem" with the events of "The Empty House". The episode, titled "The Return of Sherlock Holmes", aired in 2009, and starred John Patrick Lowrie as Holmes and Lawrence Albert as Watson.[26]

Other media[edit]

William Gillette's 1899 stage play Sherlock Holmes is based on several stories, among them "The Final Problem." Films released in 1916 (starring Gillette as Holmes) and 1922 (starring John Barrymore), both titled Sherlock Holmes, were based on the play, as well as a 1938 Mercury Theatre on the Air radio adaptation titled The Immortal Sherlock Holmes, starring Orson Welles as Holmes, although in none of these retellings do Holmes die (and indeed in the two film versions he marries).[27]

In 1975, DC Comics published Sherlock Holmes #1, a comic book which adapted both "The Final Problem" and "The Adventure of the Empty House".[28] It was intended to be an ongoing series, but future issues were canceled due to low sales.

The 1999 comic series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume One by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill briefly adapts "The Final Problem" in issue #5 and shows Holmes triumphing over Moriarty and climbing the cliff, although Moriarty survives as well. The film adaptation references these events, but does not show them; the novelization copies the event almost verbatim from the graphic novel.

An arc of the Japanese manga series Moriarty the Patriot, a series featuring a young Moriarty as a crime consultant, is named after the Japanese translation of the story's title. The final two episodes, "The Final Problem Act 1" and "The Final Problem Act 2", feature Sherlock and William (Moriarty) falling from Tower Bridge to River Thames, though revealed that both of them are alive and in Switzerland.[29]


  1. ^ Doyle, Arthur Conan; Giddings, Robert (2009), Favourite Sherlock Holmes stories, Atlantic, ISBN 978-1-84354-910-9
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Sherlock Holmes success no mystery". swissinfo.ch. 19 May 2006. Retrieved 5 November 2012.
  3. ^ Smith (2014), p. 100.
  4. ^ a b Cawthorne (2011), p. 94.
  5. ^ "McClure's Magazine v.2 1893-1894 Dec-May". HathiTrust Digital Library. pp. 59 volumes. Retrieved 12 November 2020.
  6. ^ Klinger, Leslie (ed.). The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Volume I (New York: W. W. Norton, 2005). pp. 716, 745. ISBN 0-393-05916-2
  7. ^ Cawthorne (2011), p. 75.
  8. ^ a b c Keishin Armstrong, Jennifer. "How Sherlock Holmes Changed the World". BBC. Retrieved 21 November 2019.
  9. ^ Baring-Gould, William S., The Annotated Sherlock Holmes. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1967, pp. 320-328.
  10. ^ a b c "The curious case of the Sherlock Holmes pilgrims". Prospect. 31 October 2012. Retrieved 5 November 2012.
  11. ^ Eyles, Alan (1986). Sherlock Holmes: A Centenary Celebration. Harper & Row. p. 132. ISBN 0-06-015620-1.
  12. ^ Tilly, Chris (22 February 2011). "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows Preview". IGN. Retrieved 6 June 2020.
  13. ^ Mark Gatiss, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. DVD audio commentary for Sherlock: "The Great Game".
  14. ^ Singer, Leigh (10 April 2011). "Kapow! 11: Ideal Holmes". IGN. Retrieved 6 June 2020.
  15. ^ "BBC One's BAFTA-nominated Sherlock begins filming second series". BBC Press Office. 16 May 2011. Retrieved 16 May 2011.
  16. ^ Sepinwall, Alan (22 May 2012). "Series Finale Review: 'House' - "Everybody Dies' Keep Me in Your Heart for a While". HitFix.com. Retrieved 31 December 2014.
  17. ^ Dickerson (2019), p. 41.
  18. ^ Dickerson (2019), p. 42.
  19. ^ Dickerson (2019), p. 50.
  20. ^ De Waal, Ronald Burt (1974). The World Bibliography of Sherlock Holmes. Bramhall House. p. 384. ISBN 0-517-217597.
  21. ^ Dickerson (2019), p. 287.
  22. ^ De Waal, Ronald Burt (1974). The World Bibliography of Sherlock Holmes. Bramhall House. p. 385. ISBN 0-517-217597.
  23. ^ De Waal, Ronald Burt (1974). The World Bibliography of Sherlock Holmes. Bramhall House. p. 386. ISBN 0-517-217597.
  24. ^ De Waal, Ronald Burt (1974). The World Bibliography of Sherlock Holmes. Bramhall House. p. 392. ISBN 0-517-217597.
  25. ^ Bert Coules. "The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes". The BBC complete audio Sherlock Holmes. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
  26. ^ Wright, Stewart (30 April 2019). "The Classic Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Broadcast Log" (PDF). Old-Time Radio. Retrieved 18 June 2020.
  27. ^ "The Mercury Theatre on the Air". Mercurytheatre.info. Retrieved 28 March 2012.
  28. ^ "DC Comics: Sherlock Holmes #1". A Study in Sherlock. 28 May 2006. Archived from the original on 30 April 2013. Retrieved 28 March 2012.
  29. ^ Mateo, Alex (3 November 2020). "Moriarty the Patriot Manga's 'The Final Problem' Arc Reaches Climax in 14th Volume". Anime News Network. Retrieved 12 November 2020.

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