No, not irritated. Angry. He was angry. My friend was in a full-blown, righteous snit.
“That’s it?!” His e-mail read. “Moriarty is in two stories?! Two?!”
Well, yes. I thought (but did not write). Of course, he’s only in two stories, but… My train of thought seemed to derail there, for a time, unsure of how to finish.
The thought I did not complete at the moment was: …but it certainly seems like more, doesn’t it?
Professor James Moriarty is only directly mentioned in two of the original stories: “The Final Problem,” and “The Valley of Fear,” and is mentioned reminiscently in five others: "The Empty House,” “The Norwood Builder," "The Missing Three-Quarter," "The Illustrious Client," and "His Last Bow." But for all his sparse presence, Moriarty casts a very long, dark shadow.
And like a shadow, his character is tenuous and ethereal. He’s not in many canon stories, but he seems to work his way into all of them, like fog working its way down a darkened alley, obscuring everything of importance. Everything about the man is up for question, because as Sherlock Holmes pointed out—nothing about the man is certain, and to try to make any definite statements about the man is potentially libelous. Or, at the very least, potentially grossly inaccurate.
Or maybe not. John E. Gardner’s excellent “Moriarty” trilogy, for example, posits the theory that none of the above statements were true. Not about Moriarty’s family, not about his profession, not about his interests, not even Moriarty’s true identity is without question and uncertainty. And in “The Shadow of Reichenbach Falls,” by John R. King, the reader walks away wondering if anything he or she knows about Moriarty is true, and if the man—whom King portrays as a devoted husband and a doting father—might not be (unbelievable as it may seem) completely misunderstood.
And that's so what's so intriguing about the Professor, I think—the fact that he's so variable. Even using that word to describe him opens the door to wealth of possibilties. He has the ability to be as grotestquely evil, as coldy calculating, or as sympathetically misunderstood, as the author or reader wants him to be. His potential as an influencing force on the world of Sherlock Holmes is limitless, because there is almost nothing that we know about the man, and, therefore, there is almost nothing the man can't do. So, when it seems like Moriarty is lurking behind the scenes in every Sherlock Holmes story, even though he was only in two of them? Well, that's because he could be there, he could be there lurking and organizing, and the readers would do well to remember it.
At the conclusion of the television adaptation of "The Red-Headed League," starring Jeremy Brett and David Burke, we find that it was Moriarty (played by Eric Porter) who organized the bank robbery critical to the plot (a change contrary to the plot of the orignal story) and he is none-too-pleased with Holmes's disruption of his plan. Moriarty is visible in one of the final scenes of the episode, staring malevolently at Holmes and Watson from a distance, as Holmes says, "L'homme c'est rien—l'oeuvre c'est tout." [The man is nothing, the work is everything.]
And so it goes with Professor Moriarty, I think. The man is everywhere, but he is more than the incidentals of his character. Ultimately, perhaps it matters very little how many brothers he had, where he went to school, or whether or not he ever married. In the end, it is the fingerprint of his influence—his work—that is of the most importance. And what we always remember, is the way in which he makes the world of Sherlock Holmes move.