A question about “The Final Problem” (Sherlock Holmes)

If Arthur Conan Doyle really wanted to end the Holmes stories, why did he give Holmes such an easily avoided offscreen death? Wouldn’t it have been light years better for Watson to actually see Holmes and Moriarty go over the edge - better, to actually find the body? Why do it this way, if he really was tired of the character?

Even the best story-teller in the world can’t necessarily think of everything.

Plan B, is always good idea.

The final problem requires the final solution…which has…connotations.

Less so in 1890…

I don’t think Doyle wanted to torture and maim Sherlock, he just wanted to move on to different things. So yeah, sure, he could have written about Sherlock lying strewn across the rocks, his organs being picked at by wild animals. But that’s not where the author was in his head space. He just wanted to spend as little time and effort on it as he could to end the story, so rather than writing a big elaborate story with lots of detail and angst and whatever, he did the only slightly more lengthy equivalent of, “And then they went up into the mountain, threw themselves off a cliff and died. Too bad, so sad. The end.”

He wanted to get it over with, and so he chose something that allowed him to write less.

What bugs me more about it the creation of the supervillain trope. To hear latter-day fanfiction writers (including people who write movies and TV shows) Moriarty is Holmes’ longtime archnemesis, when he only appears in two of Doyle’s stories and is mentioned in a handful of others. Modern adaptations of Holmes are less about spotting clues and deducing conclusions, but insanely elaborate chess games against an opponent who can plan fifty moves ahead and base elaborate schemes on spit-second timing of events months in advance and who has virtually everyone but Holmes himself on his secret payroll but somehow can’t bring himself to just eliminate Holmes, even though by all indications it would be a trivial effort on his part. Instead, he’ll deliberately leave subtle clues that only Holmes can find. Why? Who knows, just keep the story moving.

And the “mentions in a handful of other stories” are all indirect, like the villain in “The Red-Headed League” being the second-most-dangerous man in London. In retrospect, it’s easy to say “Well, obviously Moriarty was the most dangerous”, but he could have perfectly easily just left that thread dangling.

To the OP, he could have done that, but he didn’t see any reason why he needed to. And in fact, he didn’t need to: He could have just said “yup, that’s dead enough”, and just refused to write any more Holmes stories. It’d have cost him financially, of course, but he could have done it.

First of all, the stories are from the point of view of Watson.

It’s perfectly reasonable for Moriarty to want to confront Holmes alone (he wouldn’t want Watson barging in with his pistor). It’s also perfectly reasonable that Holmes not wanting Watson there: Moriarty could contrive to use him as a hostage or in some way that would limit Holmes’s action. (Note that in “The Great Game” episode of Sherlock, Moriarty used Watson as a pawn).

So there are many story reasons why Watson would not be there.

Further Conan Doyle just wanted the character to die. When he wrote the story, he did not plan on any more, so the things mentioned in the OP weren’t really a consideration.

130 years ago, how common was the trope of “‘Offscreen’ death means they’re actually still alive?”

Good question. At the time, was there any significant speculation among readers that Holmes was still alive?
Even though he was tired of the character and wanted to kill him off, Arthur Conan Doyle could have wanted, even unconsciously, to leave open the possibility of bringing him “back from the dead.” (Is there any real evidence for or against this theory?)

Not as far as I’m aware, and I’ve read almost every major nonfiction book on Holmes. I can’t think of any earlier example of bringing a hugely popular character back from the dead, either, but I’m no expert on the period.

Again, not according to any contemporary evidence. Doyle:

Doyle truly hated Holmes. He was all about the serious novels that are largely forgotten today. Holmes was an obstruction to his larger goals.

Holmes is a religion. Like every religion, modern practitioners pick and choose pieces from the holy texts to suit themselves. They are inerrant when confronting others and alphabet soup internally.

There’s no doubt that Doyle, after 2 novels and 24 short stories, was sick of Sherlock Holmes and wanted to pursue other writing projects. It’s also true that the “death” of Holmes in The Final Problem conveniently avoided having to present too many unpleasant details and allowed a sort of “mythic” and dignified demise for a legendary and vastly popular character.

But I’ve also always felt that, no matter what he said at the time, Doyle deliberately left the door open for a possible Holmes return. The best evidence for this is that he did, in fact, eventually go on to write an additional 32 short stories and 2 novels featuring the detective.