The Final Problem is a Very Different Holmes Story…

…That’s Also Unforgettable

 “He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organiser of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city.

 The Final Problem is very different from most other Sherlock Holmes stories.

Instead of sitting in Baker Street contemplating a case, Sherlock Holmes is running for his life.

The story is like a cat and mouse chase – with Sherlock Holmes trying to catch master-criminal Moriarty who is trying to catch Holmes before he catches him. Ahem.

The drama element in this story is splendid – the story reads like a spy novel.

It is also one of the most emotional Sherlock Holmes stories out there. You can’t help getting teary-eyed as you read the last line of this story for the first time…

OK, let me put it this way: there’s no case to solve here, no deductions about dogs and trains and no mind-blowing mystery either.

And yet, this story is unforgettable for it makes you realize how much you care about Sherlock Holmes.

A part of the Strand Magazine (December, 1893) that featured The Final Problem

Here are my ratings for the story:

Average Rating: 8.33/10

What’s the Mystery/Problem Here?

It’s not a client who’s in a mess, it’s the Sherlock Holmes who has a pretty huge problem on his hands.

The problem is – someone’s after his life.

This someone is the smartest criminal the world has ever known: Professor Moriarty.

He’s after Sherlock Holmes because Holmes has almostexposed Moriarty’s criminal gang – and within a few days – he might just get the Professor himself arrested.

Does Moriarty finally catch Sherlock Holmes and kill him? Does Sherlock Holmes manage to outwit someone who is not a dumbo like other criminals  – but actually as mind-bogglingly intelligent  as himself?

The Final Problem is a bit like an exciting football game – with one side winning and then the other side winning  and then the first side winning again!

It’s tense at times, exciting at other times and saddening at yet other times…

The big question, of course, is: what’s the score going to read at the end?

Magical Moments From The Final Problem

1 The Moment When Sherlock Holmes Lands at Watson’s House

It’s rare to see Sherlock Holmes walk into Watson’s house and say that…

…he’s scared.

He generally summons Watson with telegrams or asks him to quickly join him in a case. But in The Final Problem, he walks right in and then this happens:

“You are afraid of something?” I asked.

“Well, I am.”

“Of what?”

“Of air-guns.”

“My dear Holmes, what do you mean?”

Definitely a gripping start to the story.

By the way, here’s an interesting list of stories in which Sherlock Holmes actually seeks Watson out:

The times when Sherlock Holmes comes looking for Watson in the stories.

2 The ‘Crossed Your Mind’ Moment

Sherlock Holmes is a smart-ass. But then, so is the criminal lordof London – Moriarty.

When two fantastically marvelous brains talk to each other, what’s that like?

It goes like this:

Prof. Moriarty: “All that I have to say has already crossed your mind.”

Sherlock Holmes: “Then possibly my answer has crossed yours.”

Moriarty: “You stand fast?”

Sherlock Holmes: “Absolutely.”

When I read that for the first time, I absolutely loved it.No direct intimidation. Both the guys know that the other guy’s getting what they’re trying to say.

This interaction between Holmes and Moriarty is definitely a magical moment from the story.

3 The Moment When Holmes is Willing to Sacrifice His Life…

Generally, we tend to view Sherlock Holmes as a bit selfish – you know – a bit too biased towards whether he likes a case or not.

In fact, there are times in other stories  when Holmes is very excited about solving a problem just when his client is all upset.

But in The Final Problem, Sherlock Holmes says something to Moriarty that’s beautiful and very noble.

He basically says he doesn’t care about his life – if that will help save the world.

Moriarty: “If you are clever enough to bring destruction upon me, rest assured that I shall do as much to you…”

Sherlock Holmes: “..if I were assured of the former eventuality I would, in the interests of the public, cheerfully accept the latter.”

 Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty talking in The Final Problem (My version!)

Beautiful. Special.

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t read the story yet, skip to the ‘trivia’ section!

4 When Sherlock Holmes’ Disguise Stumps Watson Yet Again!

Holmes disguising himself and making Watson gasp is not new.

It happens in wa…y too many stories.

But I love it whenever it happens! It’s fun. 🙂

Poor Watson is in a reserved train compartment, waiting for Sherlock Holmes.

Then he spots a venerable Italian priest who’s sitting  in Watson and Holmes’ reserved compartment. Watson tries telling the priest that the compartment’s reserved. But the priest knows only Italian and doesn’t get it.

That’s when the priest says:

“My dear Watson, you have not even condescended to say good-morning.”

The Italian priest is Sherlock Holmes in disguise!

Ah, to imagine Watson’s face at that moment.. 🙂

5 The Moment When Watson Finishes Reading Holmes’ Letter

This moment is without doubt, one of the most emotional moments in all the Sherlock Holmes stories.

It’s the moment when John Watson finishes reading Holmes’ last note before his ‘death’.

A part of the heartbreaking letter that Sherlock Holmes leaves for Watson before his fight with Moriarty.

Yes, we all know that Sherlock Holmes bounces back in The Empty House. But I can only imagine how those Victorian people of 1893 must have felt – when they read that Sherlock Holmes was dead.

Even my eyes were moist when I read what Watson says about Holmes after mentioning the final note:

“…him whom I shall ever regard as the best and the wisest man whom I have ever known.”

Conan Doyle has written this part of The Final Problem perfectly.

Despite knowing that Holmes would be back in The Empty House, I felt sad that Holmes had apparently died.

The Final Problem: Cool Trivia

1 Some Quick Facts About The Final Problem

When was The Final Problem first published? How many movies and TV shows have used scenes from the story?

Take a peek at some must-know facts about the story!

Interesting facts and info about The Final Problem

2 What Exactly is the Binomial Theorem?

Sherlock Holmes says that when master-criminal Professor Moriarty was 21 years old, he rocked the world with his cool ‘treatise’ on the binomial theorem.

So, what’s this theorem in simple words and when exactly did someone come up with it?

Here’s what the binomial theorem is:

The Binomial Theorem was apparently first stated by Euclid.

It basically tells you how to calculate the ‘nth’ power of the sum of any two numbers. So, if you want to quickly find out what (500+33) raised to the power 23 is, you can use the binomial theorem.

Apparently, it was Euclid who first came up with a basic form of the binomial theorem in the 3rd century BC.

There were plenty of other guys who improved the theorem till Isaac Newton nailed it almost completely in the 17th century.

Spoiler Alert: Are you saying you haven’t read ‘The Final Problem’ yet? Read it before you proceed – there are spoilers ahead!


3 Stamps Based on The Final Problem

Many, many countries have issued stamps with Sherlock Holmes on them. And a few of those stamps feature The Final Problem!

Here’s an interesting picture that shows some of the stamps that feature Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty’s ultimate fight at the Reichenbach Falls:

Three stamps that are based on Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty's fight at the Reichenbach Falls.

Thanks to Steve from for the stamp pictures!

4 Here’s the Exact Escape Route That Sherlock Holmes and Watson Follow!

Sherlock Holmes and Watson follow a long-drawn, uncommonroute as they run from Moriarty.

They first take the Continental Express from London’s Victoria station to a place called Canterbury (England).

Now, normally, the train would have continued from Canterbury to Dover in England.

Then from Dover, they would have taken a boat to the French city of Calais. They could then go to Paris. But they don’t do this. That route is apparently too obvious.

So, Holmes and Watson alight at Canterbury – and here’s what they do instead!

The escape route followed by Sherlock Holmes and John Watson as they flee Professor Moriarty

Sherlock Holmes finally gives it a go with Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls which are very near Meiringen, Switzerland.

5 The Reichenbach Falls: Interesting Info

The Reichenbach Falls near Meiringen –  are one of the most famous places associated with Sherlock Holmes today.

I mean, come on – that’s where Sherlock Holmes almost falls to his death. After a cracker of a fight with Moriarty.

Here’s a picture of the real Reichenbach Falls:

The Reichenbach Falls - Interesting Facts

By the way, do you know what Reichenbach means?

Apparently, it means ‘rich and powerful stream’ in Old High German. (Old High German is one of the earliest forms of German.)

6 Conan Doyle’s Problems After The Final Problem

When I read about Sherlock Holmes dying, I was melancholy for a few minutes.


Despite knowing he’d be back.

Now, imagine how the original Victorian readers of Doyle from the Strand Magazine must have felt.

These guys (and girls) didn’t know that Sherlock Holmes would be back. And they were used to an exciting, new Holmes story every month or so. Before Doyle dropped the bomb on them.

They must have felt as melancholy as me –  only – 10 times more.

Here’s what Arthur Conan Doyle himself said about how people reacted to Holmes’ death. This extract is from his autobiography Memories and Adventures:

I was amazed at the concern expressed by the public. They say that a man is never properly appreciated until he is dead, and the general protest against my summary execution of Holmes taught me how many and how numerous were his friends.

“You Brute” was the beginning of the letter of remonstrance which one lady sent me, and I expect she spoke for others besides herself. I heard of many who wept.

But that wasn’t it!

According to the book Teller of Tales  by Daniel Stashower, the Strand Magazine lost quite some subscribers when Holmes said ‘bye’:

20,000 subscriptions were canceled when Holmes went over the Reichenbach Falls in the December 1893 issue.

According to the BBC, Sherlock Holmes fans in the US actually started a club called ‘Let’s Keep Holmes Alive.’

I guess it must’ve been like one of those online petitions we have these days.

In the book, The Doctor and the Detective, Martin Booth says:

People wore black armbands in public mourning. Newspapers around the world reported the death as a news item and there were obituaries by the score.

Now this does seem a bit far-fetched, and some people say there were no arm-bands – but yousort of get the point.

People were heart-broken. They were angry. And they were expressive about it.

Those few months after The Final Problem was published mustn’t have been a good time to be Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

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