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Written by kyle keenan
Arguably the most famous fictional character in history, Sherlock Holmes is synonymous with “great detective.” His place as the most brilliant detective in all of literature is challenged only possibly by Agatha Christie’s Poirot. Sherlock Holmes is described as tall, thin, and reserved, with an aquiline nose and penetrating eyes. He is incredibly brilliant, moderately vain, and often impatient with those who are unable to keep up with his rapid deductions. This particular novel, ironically enough, probably contains less of Holmes than any of the others, the great sleuth being contained largely to Part I. In “The Valley of Fear”, we do not see as much of the “bloodhound” Holmes, rather, he seems to penetrate the mystery rather quickly, and the true heart of the story lies in the second part. Still, he remains without a doubt, the intellectual superior, even when surrounded by other successful detectives.
Dr. John Watson
Perhaps just as famous as his brilliant partner, Dr. John Watson is the loyal sidekick of Sherlock Holmes, appearing in almost every Sherlock Holmes story ever written by Doyle. Through almost the entire canon, we see everything through Watson’s eyes, and the story is presented as if written firsthand by the good doctor himself. Such is the case in much of “The Valley of Fear,” though Doyle departs from this perspective for much of Part II. Watson, fairly intelligent in his own right, seems to remain in a constant state of stupor over Holmes’ brilliance, and often voices the reader’s own confusions concerning the detective’s rapid deductions. Watson’s presence is fairly insignificant in this particular novel, appearing in only a few scenes in which Holmes was not present as well. Watson is often described as stout and somewhat withdrawn, as well as being very easy-going in nature.
Professor James Moriarty
Every great fictional hero has an equally great nemesis. Sherlock Holmes is no exception. Professor James Moriarty is described by Holmes as “the Napoleon of crime”. One of the most infamous characters in literature, he ironically appears in only two Sherlock Holmes stories. Indeed, in “The Valley of Fear”, he is does not even appear, he is only referred to, and at the end of the book, Holmes receives a short note from the professor. Nonetheless, Moriarty remains one of the central characters of this novel, and he is revealed to be the mastermind behind Douglas’ demise.
John Douglas/Jack McMurdo/Birdy Edwards
This crucial and multi-dimensional character (whom we will refer to as Douglas for the sake of clarity) could really be considered three different characters contained in one man. Introduced at the beginning of the story as John Douglas, this man appears to be a faceless victim, simply the object of Holmes’ investigation. Towards the end of part I however, Douglas is revealed to be very much alive, and he commences to share his history, which comprises nearly the entirety of part II. During this “story within a story”, we learn that Douglas once bore the name “Jack McMurdo”, and that he was part of a notorious gang in the United States, which was not unlike the Mafia. At the end of part II however, we learn that “McMurdo” is really a Pinkerton detective named “Birdy Edwards”. Throughout all three of his “identities”, Douglas is described as fearless, intelligent, and good humored. Douglas is an example of Doyle’s skill as a writer, in that the reader is able to accept with little difficulty the composition of the “three-in-one” character.
Boss (Bodymaster) McGinty
Mentioned in Part I, but not fully introduced until Part II, Boss McGinty is one of the major villains of this novel. The cruel and brutal leader of “the Scowrers”, a murderous society not unlike the Mafia, McGinty is a fearsome leader, described as looking almost like a lion, with fierce eyes and a mane-like beard. McGinty is the undisputed lord of Vermissa Valley, which is referred to by many as the “Valley of Fear.” The Bodymaster (the title of the head of the Scowrers) rules over the valley with an iron fist, crushing anyone who gets in his way through the agents beneath him. McGinty could be thought of as an American Moriarty, though not as intelligent nor as powerful.
The Valley of Fear Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Valley of Fear is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Sometime after Douglas flees England, Holmes receives a cryptic message which reads only “Dear me, Mr. Holmes, dear me!” From this, Holmes deduces that Moriarty, the sender of the note, has succeeded in killing Douglas.