|Part of the Halloween decorations of Sherlockians Bill and Teresa Harris|
October has me thinking about the late, lamented Professor James Moriarty.
William Baring-Gould assigned the criminal genius’s birthday (on zero evidence) to October 31. And by coincidence, The Tankerville Club of Cincinnati, which I serve as Most Scandalous Member, is holding a Professor Moriarty Film Festival on Oct. 22.
While Holmes was the first private consulting detective, we must not forget that the Napoleon of Crime—“organizer of half that is evil and almost all that is undetected in this great city”—was equally unique. Before him, there was no criminal mastermind in fiction. As such, he is as much an archetype as Holmes himself.
How could it have been otherwise? Holmes was originally expected to be vanquished at the Reichenbach, and it would require a worthy opponent to do that without diminishing the great detective’s iconic status. In the process, Moriarty also became an icon—the Master Criminal.
There are many other Master Criminals in fiction, often as the nemesis of the hero: Nayland Smith had Dr. Fu Manchu; Nero Wolfe, Arnold Zeck; Superman, Lex Luthor and dozens of others; the 87th Precinct, the Deaf Man; and James Bond, Ernst Stravro Blofeld and his S.P.E.C.T.R.E. But none of these villains rises to the stature of Moriarty, and it is likely that none of them would have existed if he had not come first.
The Tankerville Club’s Professor Moriarty Film Festival will include the following:
- The Final Problem (Jeremy Brett as Holmes, Eric Porter as Moriarty)
- The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Wontner, Lyn Harding)
- The Woman in Green (Basil Rathbone, Henry Daniell)
Each of these productions ends with Moriarty falling from a
great height, either the Reichenbach or a clear echo of it. Perhaps down deep
that is what we really love about Moriarty—the assurance that good defeats
evil in the end, even when that evil comes in the form of a genius.