Professor Moriarty

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Professor Moriarty, illustration by Sidney Paget which accompanied the original publication of "The Final Problem"

Professor James Moriarty is a fictional character who is the best known antagonist of the detective Sherlock Holmes. Moriarty is a criminal mastermind described by Holmes as the "Napoleon of Crime". (T. S. Eliot would later use the same phrase, in homage, to describe Macavity in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.)

Professor Moriarty first appeared in Arthur Conan Doyle's tale "The Final Problem", in which Holmes, on the verge of delivering a fatal blow to Moriarty's criminal organisation, is forced to flee to the Continent to escape Moriarty's retribution. Moriarty follows, and the two apparently fall to their deaths whilst locked in mortal combat atop the Reichenbach Falls.

Moriarty plays a role in only one other of Conan Doyle's Holmes stories: The Valley of Fear, published after but set before "The Final Problem", in which Holmes attempts to prevent a murder being carried out by Moriarty's agents. Moriarty himself does not appear, although he does send Holmes a note of commiseration at the end.

In addition to these, Holmes mentions Moriarty reminiscently in five other stories: "The Empty House", "The Norwood Builder", "The Missing Three-Quarter", "The Illustrious Client", and "His Last Bow".

Although Moriarty only appeared in two of the sixty Sherlock Holmes tales by Conan Doyle, Holmes' attitude to him in those two stories has gained him the popular impression of being Holmes' nemesis, and he has been frequently used in later stories by other authors, parodies, and in other media. In fact to some casual fans, it is assumed the real overall plot arc of the Holmes stories is the war that the detective wages with Moriarty who oversees the crimes that Holmes foils.

In the Conan Doyle stories, narrated by Holmes's assistant Dr. Watson, Watson never meets Moriarty (only getting a distant glimpse of him on one or two occasions in "The Final Problem"), and relies upon Holmes to relate accounts of the detective's battle with the criminal. In stories by other writers, Watson has encountered Moriarty more often.

Conan Doyle himself is inconsistent on Watson's familiarity with Moriarty. In "The Final Problem", Watson tells Holmes he has never heard of Moriarty. But in The Valley of Fear, set earlier on, Watson already knows of him as 'the famous scientific criminal'.

Moriarty's weapon of choice was the "air-rifle", a unique weapon constructed for the Professor by a blind German mechanic, Von Herder, and used by his employee Colonel Sebastian Moran.

Holmes described Moriarty as follows:

He is a man of good birth and excellent education, endowed by nature with a phenomenal mathematical faculty. At the age of twenty-one he wrote a treatise upon the binomial theorem, which has had a European vogue. On the strength of it he won the mathematical chair at one of our smaller universities, and had, to all appearances, a most brilliant career before him.

Moriarty's family

The stories give a number of indications about the Professor's family, some seemingly contradictory.

In The Valley of Fear, Holmes says of him: "He is unmarried. His younger brother is a station master in the west of England." In The Final Problem, Watson refers to "the recent letters in which Colonel James Moriarty defends the memory of his brother."

In neither story are we told the Professor's own first name; it is only in The Empty House that Holmes refers to Professor James Moriarty.

The question of how many Moriarty brothers this makes, and which of them is called James, has provided much amusement for Sherlock Holmes fans in the years since the stories were first published.

Moriarty in pop culture

In Nicholas Meyer's 1976 novel The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, Professor Moriarty is portrayed as Holmes's childhood mathematics tutor, indeed the genius of the detective's description. However, he is rather incensed to hear that Holmes has depicted him as a criminal mastermind, as a side-effect of his cocaine addiction. It is partially through Moriarty's goading that Dr. Watson seeks the help of Sigmund Freud. This is one of many works to seize on the fact that Moriarity never actually shows his face in the Holmes canon (though, of course, different authors do different things with this idea).

Michael Kurland has written a series of novels in which Moriarty is the hero: his organisation of crime is the method by which he raises the money required for his experimental physics apparatus (predating the Michelson-Morley experiment by some decades, for example). In the first book of the series, The Infernal Device, he foils a plot against Queen Victoria, reluctantly allying with Sherlock Holmes.

Moriarty and Picard in "Ship in a Bottle"
Moriarty and Picard in "Ship in a Bottle"

A computer simulation of Professor Moriarty, played by actor Daniel Davis, appeared in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes "Elementary, Dear Data" and "Ship in a Bottle". Due to technical errors, Moriarty gains sentience and seizes control of the Starship Enterprise. Freed from holographic captivity in the latter episode, he again takes over the Enterprise and blackmails Captain Jean-Luc Picard into letting him leave the ship with his mistress Countess Regina Bartholomew. The wily Picard tricks Moriarty into believing that a holographic simulation in which the Professor leaves the ship is in fact real - leaving the holographic Moriarty still safely stored in a databank aboard the Enterprise.

Moriarty appeared in Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: having survived his final encounter with Sherlock Holmes he went on to become the head of British Intelligence under the code-name "M" (a nod to the James Bond novels and films). He instigated the creation of the League as a covert ops unit with plausible deniability. Following his death in the midst of a gang war with Fu Manchu, he was succeeded as "M" by Mycroft Holmes. The film of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen also included Moriarty, but with a more supervillain-style take on the character.

External links

es:Profesor Moriarty ja:ジェームズ・モリアーティー nl:Professor Moriarty pt:Professor Moriarty


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