Sherlock Holmes is a figure who has developed mythic force and a life outside the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. When Conan Doyle, wanting to move on, killed him off, he came back. He appears in countless cartoons, stories, film and TV adaptations. The struggle of Holmes against arch-villain and intellect of equal power Professor Moriarty has something archetypal about it.
Some revisions of the story of that struggle have made Holmes the villain. What if Moriarty was framed? Consider also Holmes’ character – a brilliant intellect and athlete much more than a machine (emotionally close to his loyal friend Watson and a lover of music) but oddly incomplete emotionally, in relationships and spiritually. It’s easy to see Holmes, or a similar great detective, in a struggle with suppressed elements of himself or with aspects of humanity that may not be entirely negative.
The Last Problem
The great detective, pantherlike,
Prowls round the web of traps and mirrors
Constructed by the lord of crime
The lord waits sentient inside
He does not need to move to strike.
The great detective makes his maps
His diagrams and brilliant plans
Each trap is tested by the lord
And nothing’s what it first appears
Even the great detective’s word.
The great constructor sits inside
The marvellous complexity
Of art and thought and warm routine,
Watches the prowling of the wolf
And studies the compelling lie.
The wolf has broken through the web
The city of light alarms and screams
The great detective meets the lord
And who should live and who should die
Lies in your hands, and lies in mine.
“The Last Problem” title echoes the title “The Final Problem” in which Holmes outwitted Moriarty but both men died (apparently). In this poem the detective appears at first as a force for good facing the den of the well-resourced criminal mastermind, but before the end, the focus has shifted and the detective is seen as a destructive force while the lord of crime is simply a lord with a “city of light” to protect.
In the real world we often face choices where we must act, but are confused by similar ambiguity. Who really was at fault and whom can we trust? But inaction may not be an option.
copyright Simon Banks 2012