two men, Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty, stare at one another and an envelope floats above them

The Adventure of the Final Problem

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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What are two clues in the story "The Adventure of the Final Problem," and why are they important to the plot of the story?

The letter from the Swiss boy is an important fake clue because it ensures Moriarty and Holmes are alone at the falls. The footmarks at the falls are also important because they make Watson believe Holmes and Moriarty both died.

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Unlike many other short stories Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote, “The Adventure of the Final Problem” is not a clear cut mystery Sherlock Holmes has to solve. Instead, Holmes and Watson are trying to outsmart Moriarty while also keeping themselves safe and on the run. Doyle intended that this would be the end of all of the Holmes stories, so both Holmes and Moriarty fall off Reichenbach Falls in the end and Watson assumes they are dead. The story concludes with Watson saying Holmes was “the best and wisest man” he’s ever known. However, the public did not want Holmes’s tale to stop there. Doyle faced public pressure to bring Holmes back, and in 1903 he did in “The Adventure of the Empty House.”

Although this is not the typical Holmes story, there are a few important clues in “The Adventure of the Final Problem.” For instance, recall how the Swiss boy at the falls hands Watson a letter telling him that a woman at the hotel is in urgent need of an English doctor. Watson believes this and it takes him a while to realize he is being tricked. Holmes later reveals that he assumed Moriarty sent this fake clue to get Watson away from the falls. This clue is important because it allowed Moriarty and Holmes to fight with no one around.

The footmarks in the soil at the falls are also important clues in this story. Watson follows them to the edge and sees that there are none returning the other direction. He then concludes that “the two men ended, as it could hardly fail to end in such a situation, in their reeling over, locked in each other’s arms.” This is a logical conclusion, but it is also interesting to note that Doyle killed off the characters in a way in which it would be impossible to recover their bodies. This allowed him to later craft an explanation for Holmes’s return.

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