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Professor James Moriarty is a fictional character and the archenemy of the detective Sherlock Holmes in the fiction of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Widely considered to be the first true example of a supervillain, Moriarty is a criminal mastermind, described by Holmes as the "Napoleon of Crime." Doyle lifted the phrase from a real Scotland Yardmarker inspector who was referring to Adam Worth, a real life model for Moriarty. As he is depicted as Holmes's greatest enemy, Moriarty is the most notable antagonist of the entire franchise.

Appearance in Doyle's fiction

Professor Moriarty's first appearance and his ultimate end occurred in Doyle's story "The Final Problem", in which Holmes, on the verge of delivering a fatal blow to Moriarty's criminal ring, is forced to flee to the Continent to escape Moriarty's retribution. Moriarty follows, and the two apparently fall to their deaths while locked in mortal combat atop the Reichenbach Fallsmarker. During this story, Moriarty is something of a Mafia Godfather; he protects nearly all of the criminals of Englandmarker in exchange for their obedience and a share in their profits. Holmes, by his own account, was originally led to Moriarty by the suggestion that many of the crimes he perceived were not the spontaneous work of random criminals, but the machinations of a vast and subtle criminal ring.

Moriarty plays a direct role in only one other of Doyle's Holmes stories: The Valley of Fear, which was set before "The Final Problem," but published afterwards. In The Valley of Fear, Holmes attempts to prevent Moriarty's agents from committing a murder. Moriarty does not meet Holmes, but sends him a note of commiseration at the end. In an episode where Moriarty is interviewed by a policeman, a painting by Jean-Baptiste Greuze is described as hanging on the wall; Holmes remarks on another work by same painter to show it could not have been purchased on a professor's salary. The work referred to is La jeune fille à l'agneau; some commentators have described this as a pun by Doyle upon the name of Thomas Agnew of the gallery Thomas Agnew and Sons, who had a famous painting stolen by Adam Worth, but was unable to prove the fact.

Holmes mentions Moriarty reminiscently in five other stories: "The Empty House" (the immediate sequel to "The Final Problem"), "The Norwood Builder," "The Missing Three-Quarter," "The Illustrious Client,", and "His Last Bow." More obliquely, a 1908 mystery by Doyle, The Lost Special, features a criminal genius who could be Moriarty and a detective who could be Holmes, although neither is mentioned by name.

Although Moriarty appeared in only one of the 60 Sherlock Holmes tales by Conan Doyle, Holmes' attitude to him has gained him the popular impression of being Holmes' arch-nemesis -- as "The Final Problem" clearly states, Holmes spent months in a private war against Moriarty's criminal operations—and he has been frequently used in later stories by other authors, parodies, and in other media.

In the Doyle stories, narrated by Holmes' assistant Dr. Watson, Watson never meets Moriarty (only getting distant glimpses of him in "The Final Problem"), and relies upon Holmes to relate accounts of the detective's battle with the criminal.

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

Moriarty's weapon of choice is 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. It closely resembled a cane, allowing for easy concealment, was capable of firing revolver bullets and made very little noise when fired, making it ideal for sniping; the weapon became infamous for being Moriarty's favorite tool. Moriarty also has a marked preference for organising "accidents". His attempts to kill Holmes include falling masonry and a speeding horse drawn van. He is also responsible for stage managing the death of Birdy Edwards.

Holmes described Moriarty as follows:

The "smaller university" involved has been claimed to be one of the collegesthat later comprised the University of Leedsmarker. However, in Sherlock Holmes: The Unauthorized Biography, the "smaller university" is said to be Durhammarker.

Holmes also states Moriarty wrote The Dynamics of An Asteroid, describing it as "a book which ascends to such rarefied heights of pure mathematics that it is said that there was no man in the scientific press capable of criticising it."

Doyle's original motive in creating Moriarty was evidently his intention to kill Holmes off. "The Final Problem" was intended to be exactly what its title says; Doyle sought to sweeten the pill by letting Holmes go in a blaze of glory, having rid the world of a criminal so powerful and dangerous any further task would be trivial in comparison (as Holmes says in the story itself). Moriarty only appeared in one book because, quite simply, having him constantly escape would discredit Holmes, and would be less satisfying. The Valley of Fear changes this.

Eventually, public pressure forced Doyle to bring Holmes back.

A point of interest is that the "high, domed forehead" was seen as the sign of a prodigious intellect during Conan Doyle's time. In giving Moriarty this trait, which had already appeared in both Sherlock Holmes and the detective's brother Mycroft, Doyle may have intended to portray Moriarty as a man having an intellect equal or greater than that of Holmes, and thus the only man capable of defeating him. Moriaty died when he fell off the Reichenbach Fallsmarker and Sherlock only faked his death to protect Watson from being pursued.

Simon Newcomb and other real world role models

In addition to the master criminal Adam Worth, there has been much speculation among astronomers and Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts that Doyle based his fictional character Moriarty on the American astronomer Simon Newcomb. Newcomb was revered as a multi-talented genius, with a special mastery of mathematics, and he had become internationally famous in the years before Doyle began writing his stories. More pointedly, Newcomb had earned a reputation for spite and malice, apparently seeking to destroy the careers and reputations of rival scientists.

Gauss' portrait published in Astronomische Nachrichten 1828
A gallows ticket to view the hanging of Jonathan Wild.

Professor Moriarty's reputed feats might also have been inspired by the accomplishments of real world mathematicians. If the names of the academic papers are reversed, they describe real mathematical events. Carl Friedrich Gauss wrote a famous paper on the dynamics of an asteroid in his early 20s, which certainly had a European vogue, and was appointed to a chair partly on the strength of this result. Srinivasa Ramanujan wrote about generalizations of the binomial theorem, and earned a reputation as a genius by writing articles that confounded the best extant mathematicians. Gauss's story was well known in Doyle's time, and Ramanujan's story unfolded at Cambridge from early 1913 to mid 1914; The Valley of Fear, which contains the comment about maths so abstruse that no-one could criticise it, was published in September 1914.

Des MacHale, in his George Boole : his life and work (1985, Boole Press) suggests George Boole may have been a model for Moriarty.

The model which Conan Doyle himself mentions (through Sherlock Holmes) in The Valley of Fear is the London arch-criminal of the 18th century, Jonathan Wild. He mentions this when seeking to compare Moriarty to a real-world character that Inspector Alec MacDonald might know, but it is in vain as MacDonald is not so well read as Holmes.

It is averred the surviving Jesuit priests at Stonyhurst instantly recognized the physical description of Moriarty as that of the Reverend Thomas Kay, S.J., Prefect of Discipline, under whose aegis Doyle came as a wayward pupil. According to this hypothesis, Doyle as a private joke has Inspector MacDonald describe Moriarity: "He'd have made a grand meenister with his thin face and grey hair and his solemn-like way of talking."

Finally, Conan Doyle is known to have used his former school, Stonyhurst Collegemarker, as inspiration for details of the Holmes series; among his contemporaries at the school were two boys named Moriarty.

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 Adventure of the Empty House" 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 popular culture



Moriarty is the only character in the Sherlock Holmes films to have been killed off three times in the same series. All three deaths occurred in the Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce Holmes films. Holmes threw the unconscious Moriarty off the Tower of London in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Moriarty fell sixty feet into the sewers in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, and in The Woman in Green, he fell from a high building when a drainpipe that he was clutching onto broke (it must be noted that all three of Moriarty's deaths occur by falling from a great height. This may be a nod to his demise at the Reichenbach Falls in The Final Problem).



Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke played Holmes and Watson in the Sherlock Holmes TV series made by Granada Television. Eric Porter played the professor. In the late 1980s Brett and Hardwicke appeared in the stage play The Secret of Sherlock Holmes by Jeremy Paul, a regular contributor to the series. The only characters in the play are Holmes and Watson and it highlights many aspects of their relationship from their first meeting to the Reichenbach Fallsmarker. In the second half it is indicated that Moriarty never existed: he was a figment of the imagination of Holmes who needed a worthy enemy as much as he needed a devoted friend like Watson. It might be noted that in The Adventure of the Final Problem Watson and Moriarty never actually come face-to-face. The play has been re-staged with other actors.


  • T. S. Eliot, a fan of Sherlock Holmes fiction, used the phrase the Napoleon of crime, in homage, to describe Macavity in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.
  • In Neil Gaiman's Hugo Award winning short story "A Study in Emerald", the Moriarty and Holmes of an alternate history reverse roles. Moriarty (who, though never named as such in the story, is identified as the author of Dynamics of an Asteroid) is hired to investigate a murder. The murder has apparently been carried out by Sherlock Holmes (who signs his name Rache, an allusion to Doyle's first novella starring Holmes and Watson, A Study in Scarlet, in which the word Rache — German for revenge — is found written above the body of a murder victim) and Dr. Watson. The story is narrated by Colonel Sebastian Moran, given the rank of Major (Ret.) by Gaiman.
  • In a 2006 comic book story featuring Lee Falk's The Phantom, the 19th Phantom has to fight Professor Moriarty. The climax of the story features the Phantom and Moriarty falling down a waterfall in the Bangalla jungles. At the end of the story, Moriarty is shown to be alive, as he returns to London to find "a detective named Sherlock Holmes".
  • In Nicholas Meyer's 1976 novel The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, Professor Moriarty is portrayed as Holmes's childhood mathematics tutor, a whining little man with a guilty secret. He is incensed to hear that Holmes, apparently under the influence of cocaine, has depicted him as a criminal mastermind. Because of Holmes' worsening condition, and Moriarty's threats to tell the authorities about Holmes' addiction, Dr. Watson seeks the help of Sigmund Freud, who uncovers the truth behind Holmes' perception of "the Napoleon of Crime". This is one of many works to seize on the fact that Moriarty never actually shows his face in the Holmes canon. The novel The Seven-Per-Cent Solution was made into a 1976 film and starred Lord Laurence Olivier as Professor Moriarty.
  • 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. In the first book of the series, The Infernal Device, he foils a plot against Queen Victoria, reluctantly allying with Sherlock Holmes.
  • John Gardner has written two novels featuring the arch-villain, The Return of Moriarty, in which the Professor, like Holmes, is shown to have survived the meeting at the Reichenbach, and The Revenge of Moriarty. In these two novels, Moriarty is depicted as a Victorian-era Al Capone or Don Corleone, single-handedly controlling London's organized crime structure. Originally planned as a trilogy, the third book, The Revolt of Moriarty, has never been published. In 2008, a third volume simply titled "Moriarty" was released posthumously after the author's death in 2007.
  • Moriarty appears in Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Recruited from university by British Intelligence, he supposedly set up his criminal empire as part of an undercover operation which got out of hand. Having survived the 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), but still maintained his criminal interests. He instigated the creation of the League as a covert ops unit with plausible deniability and used them to recover an anti-gravity mineral called Cavorite which had been stolen by his crime lord rival The Doctor. He then used the Cavorite to bomb the East End of Londonmarker in an attempt to destroy The Doctor but was thwarted by the League which had uncovered the double-cross. Following his supposed death (indicated, but not clearly portrayed, as he "falls" into the sky, due to the Cavorite), he was ironically succeeded as "M" by Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's older brother. In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, it is suggested that Jack Kerouac's Dean Moriarty (from On the Road) is his great-grandson, and the rivalry between the two criminals is continued by the fact that The Doctor's great-grandson is Kerouac's other creation, Doctor Sax. In the third volume of the series, set over 60 years later, Mina Murray comes across his carcass, still holding onto the cavorite inside a block of ice floating through space.
  • A similar character appeared in the Solar Pons series, which was a pastiche of the Sherlock Holmes stories. The Moriarty figure was Baron Knoll, a German spy and a socialite who appeared in only two stories (much like Moriarty).
  • Moriarty appears in Anne Lear's short story "The Adventure of the Global Traveller" (1978). Surviving the falls via a net which in turn drops a dummy, he travels back in time, inadvertently creating the paradoxical lines of Third Murderer in Macbeth. The story is told in the form of a note addressed to Holmes, posing the question of where these lines came from.
  • In Kim Newman's short story "The Red Planet League" (collected in Gaslight Grimoire), Moriarty is responsible for inspiring H. G. Wells to write The War of the Worlds after perpetrating a scientific hoax on a rival scientist. Newman's novel Anno Dracula depicts Moriarty as the spokesman of a league of villains drawn from popular fiction. In this Moriarty is a vampire and is no longer interested in criminal pursuits as he now has an eternal life which he can dedicate to intellectual contemplation.
  • In DC Comics' Crime Bible: The Five Books of Blood#1 it's stated that within the Crime Bible exist the "Book of Moriarty".
  • It's most likely that Moriarty became the inspiration for comic book supervillains who have been described as evil geniuses, as well as foils for the heroes, such as Lex Luthor, or even Doctor Doom and Doctor Impossible (who, like the Professor, even have doctorates for their genius).
  • Commenting on Nero Wolfe's prolonges struggle with the powerful crime boss Arnold Zeck, Michael Dirda - book critic for the The Washington Post - wrote "I was thrilled when Wolfe finally encountered his own Moriarty in the archvillain Arnold Zeck," . British author and literary critic David Langford has also noted that the relationship between Zeck and Wolfe compares to that of Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes.

Other media

  • The PC game Eagle Eye Mysteries features a character named Mark Moriarty, a high school student who is at the heart of many of the mysteries the player has to solve. In one mystery, on the subject of Sherlock Holmes, he actually mentions that he has the same name as Holmes' nemesis.
  • The 1950s radio comedy programme The Goon Show had, as one of its principal characters, an incompetent 'Criminal Mastermind' named Count Jim Moriarty.
  • Moriarty was also seen in the PC game Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened, in which Moriarty has survived the falls of Reichenbach and is in weak condition in a mental hospital.
  • In the online game Wizard101, a cat version of Moriarty (Meowiarty) is the main villain in a London-style world, Marleybone.
  • Moriarty, along with Fu Manchu and Dracula, is referenced in The Kinks' song "The Village Green Preservation Society"

See also


Professor Moriarty is referenced in the Futurama episode "Kif Gets Knocked Up a Notch".

External links

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