- This article is for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's character. For other versions of the character see Versions of James Moriarty.
- "He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city. He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them."
- ―Sherlock Holmes to Dr Watson speaking about Professor Moriarty [src]
Professor James Moriarty, the arch-enemy of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes, a mathematics professor turned master criminal. His genius is acknowledged by even Holmes himself to be on par with him.
Despite only appearing in two stories, Moriarty has been proven to be the most dangerous of all criminals that Holmes has ever encountered. In the short story "The Adventure of the Final Problem", during a fight with Holmes above the Reichenbach Falls, Moriarty fell to his death.
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 retribution. The criminal mastermind follows, and the pursuit ends atop the Reichenbach Falls, during which, Moriarty falls to his death while fighting with Holmes. During this story, Moriarty is depicted as something of a Mafia Godfather: he protects nearly all of the criminals of England 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. In such a way, he is described as a Consulting Criminal, the opposite of Holmes, a Consulting Detective.
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 afterward. In "The Valley of Fear", Holmes attempts to prevent Moriarty's agents from committing a murder. Moriarty does not meet Holmes in this story. 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 the 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.
Moriarty's family and first name
The stories give a number of contradictory indications about the Professor's family. In his first appearance in "The Adventure of the Final Problem", Moriarty is only referred to as Professor Moriarty, with no first name mentioned. Watson does, however, refer to the name of another family member when he writes of "the recent letters in which Colonel James Moriarty defends the memory of his brother."
Professor Moriarty was an extremely intelligent person. He is mentioned by Holmes himself as having a mind of the first order. He was a mathematical and scientific genius with a distinguished academic reputation. Moriarty, unfortunately, possessed a lust for power that led to criminal practices.
Professor Moriarty impresses Holmes, who is not easily impressed, with his incredible talent at organizing elaborate crimes throughout London whilst keeping his own identity and involvement effectively anonymous from the authorities. However, Moriarty's personality speedily developed into that of a calculative, sociopathic megalomaniac.
When he appears in The Final Problem, he is introduced as a ruthless, cunning and decisively malicious person. He expresses his intelligence to Holmes, but also his profound ruthlessness. Moriarty admits that physically dueling with Holmes is considered an extreme measure on his part, but is still entirely willing to resort to it - this means that he is completely willing to go beyond his comfort zone if need be. He is also shown to be abundantly self-confident.
Moriarty's malevolence is shown when, after his famous first encounter with Holmes, he arranges three ways of trying to kill Holmes but simultaneously make it look coincidental or accidental.
Moriarty was an exceptionally intelligent and cunning criminal genius. He is so smart that even Sherlock Holmes considers Moriarty to be his equal and have a brain of the first order and was very impressed by his intellectual abilities. His cunning intellect is his most dangerous trait.
Moriaty was highly accomplished in the field of mathematics, with abilities that earned him significant renown and even impressed Holmes. At the age of 21, he published a treatise on the binomial theorem which was lauded throughout Europe and earned him a chair at a provincial university. Moriaty also applied his mathematical faculties to other scientific fields, such as astronomy. His book The Dynamics of an Asteroid, was said by Holmes to "ascend to such rarefied heights of pure mathematics that it is said that there was no man in the scientific press capable of criticizing it."
Moriarty had particularly unparalled mastery of criminal techniques to the point that Holmes even called him as "The Napoleon of Crime", with a vast network of criminal followers, and was an exceptional tactician and actor. His strategic and acting capabilities and phenomenal levels of skill and talent for organising criminal activities to perfection throughout even the most powerful and widespread of cities while effectively keeping his identity anonymous was so great that he impresses even Sherlock, who is not easily impressed and was easily able to remain completely unsuspected as the world's only consulting criminal and the most dangerous of all of Sherlock's foes while executing his criminal activities to perfection throughout the extremely large and powerful London city, never actually personally employing the crimes but sending his henchmen and creating the plans to flawlessly complete the assigned crime. Even when the police managed to capture all of his followers, Moriarty somehow escaped and managed to use what remained of his men to very nearly kill Sherlock, by easily tricking Watson into leaving Sherlock so he can confront him with a letter and stationing some of his men to help him should it be needed. His ability to remain unsuspected for his criminal activities and act as a humile man as well as his self control was so great that Holmes said that for calling Moriaty a criminal, Watson would mean uttering a liabel in the eyes of the law and be hauled to the court and pensioned for a year.
Although an older man with a frail and aging appearance, and often preferring to deal with problems using his brains rather than fighting head on, considering physical dueling to be an extreme measure that should only be used as a last resort, Moriaty proved to be surprisingly highly deadly in hand-to-hand combat. Moriaty proved he had a very huge amount of skill in martial arts as well as proving to be in excellent physical condition for a man of his age and appearance. His skills and physically fit body made him quite confident in engaging in a fist fight and he is entirely willing to resort to it if pushed or angered, as he fought against the highly martial arts proficient and physical fit Sherlock Holmes in close quarters combat with full confidence in his abilities to handle himself in physical combat and he indeed proved to be so ferocious in a brawl as of having surprised Holmes with his tenacity, as well as being skillful and powerful enough in melee combat to be able to go toe-to-toe with and even almost defeat the renowned detective, as he managed to gain the upper hand and get a grip on him. Sherlock only survived the duel with Moriaty due to using his knowledge of Jujizu to free himself and cause him to lose his balance and fall.
Holmes described Moriarty as follows:
- "He is a man of good birth and excellent education, endowed by nature with a phenomenal mathematical faculty. At the age of twenty-one he wrote a treatise upon the binomial theorem which has had a European vogue. On the strength of it, he won the mathematical chair at one of our smaller universities, and had, to all appearances, a most brilliant career before him. But the man had hereditary tendencies of the most diabolical kind. A criminal strain ran in his blood, which, instead of being modified, was increased and rendered infinitely more dangerous by his extraordinary mental powers. Dark rumours gathered round him in the University town, and eventually he was compelled to resign his chair and come down to London. He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organiser of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city. He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order."
- ―Holmes in "The Final Problem"
Holmes echoes and expounds this sentiment in The Valley of Fear stating:
- "But in calling Moriarty a criminal you are uttering libel in the eyes of the law — and there lie the glory and the wonder of it! The greatest schemer of all time, the organizer of every deviltry, the controlling brain of the underworld, a brain which might have made or marred the destiny of nations — that’s the man! But so aloof is he from general suspicion, so immune from criticism, so admirable in his management and self-effacement, that for those very words that you have uttered he could hale you to a court and emerge with your year’s pension as a solatium for his wounded character. Is he not the celebrated author of The Dynamics of an Asteroid, 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 criticizing it? Is this a man to traduce? Foulmouthed doctor and slandered professor — such would be your respective roles! That’s genius, Watson. "
- ―Holmes in The Valley of Fear
Moriarty has several interesting notes as a character in the Sherlock Holmes franchise:
- He is very much the mirror image of Holmes himself: both of them are geniuses among their breed, are extremely resourceful, are sophisticated and commit their activities to prevent boredom. However, whilst Holmes is a detective, Moriarty, in contrast, is a criminal.
- Moriarty is the only adversary that Holmes genuinely fears and admires (Which is also the way Moriarty views Holmes).
- Moriarty is the only villain who drives Holmes the closest to fleeing for his life
- He was only introduced at all so that Conan Doyle could move on from the character of Sherlock Holmes.
- The idea of the clash between Holmes and Moriarty throughout The Final Problem inspires the notion that Sherlock Holmes went down destroying his true rival. Also, the idea that Holmes went down, ridding the world of the most dangerous and powerful criminal minds of the age - and, against all odds and at the cost of his own life, prevailing over the criminal.
Moriarty has been portrayed in several adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, including novels, films, and TV shows. He is often considered Holmes' arch-enemy, even though he is not a major character in the majority of the original stories.
- He is in a handful of Basil Rathbone films.
- In the 1980s Soviet Television series of films, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, Professor Moriarty was portrayed physically by Viktor Yevgrafov and voiced by Oleg Dal.
- In the Granada Television series (1984-1994), Moriarty is played by Eric Porter and is the overarching villain in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes second series' finale. He is set up as a character in "The Red-Headed League" and becomes the main antagonist in the following episode, "The Final Problem". After Holmes' return in the episode "The Empty House" in The Return of Sherlock Holmes, Moriarty is only occasionally mentioned as a past antagonist to Holmes and Watson.
- In the 1985 theatrical film Young Sherlock Holmes, James Moriarty is depicted as an alias, its bearer originally a London lecturer known as professor Rathe (played by Anthony Higgins). After Rathe's defeat by a young Holmes and Watson, he settles in Switzerland and adopts "James Moriarty" as his new name.
- In Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Moriarty is played by Jared Harris. He is still seen as the "Napoleon of Crime". At the end both he and Holmes fell into a waterfall but only Holmes was shown being to survive.
- He has a large role in BBC's Sherlock in which he is played by Andrew Scott, and appears as an overarching villain throughout most of the run and the main antagonist of the first and second series.
- One could argue that the antagonist in "The Great Mouse Detective," Ratigan, is loosely based off Moriarty.
- Natalie Dormer portrays Moriarty in Elementary. Moriarty here having created the disguise of Irene Adler to get close to Holmes. She eventually reveals herself to Sherlock in episode 23, "The Woman".
- Alexey Gorbunov portrayed the Moriarty in the Russian TV adaptation from 2013.
In other works
- Professor Moriarty is portrayed twice in "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Once in the episode "Elementary, Dear Data" and again in "Ship in a Bottle". He is created as the only fitting enemy for Data, an android, while he is pretending to be Sherlock Holmes on the Holodeck, a kind of virtual reality recreation area. The computer accidentally makes the character sentient, and in doing so chaos ensues.
- Moriarty was seen in the PC game Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened, in which Moriarty had survived falling off Reichenbach and is in a weakened condition in a Swiss hospital.
- Moriarty was also in the game The Testament of Sherlock Holmes - part of the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (game series) - plotting to frame Sherlock and take over Britain.
- In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill, a team of literary heroes is recruited to confront the insidious Doctor Fu Manchu, only to learn that their employer is the equally evil Professor Moriarty.
- In Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, Professor Moriarty appears briefly in the series premiere. A clone of Moriarty created in the 22nd Century serves as the primary recurring antagonist of the series; both the clone and the original are portrayed by Richard Newman.