The Valley of Fear Literary Elements

The Valley of Fear Literary Elements


Mystery, Adventure

Setting and Context

London/America, Turn of the Century

Narrator and Point of View

First person, Watson/Third Person, in reference from a manuscript

Tone and Mood

Suspenseful, mysterious, dark

Protagonist and Antagonist

Sherlock Holmes is the protagonist, and Moriarty, Boss McGinty, and the Scowrers are the antagonists.

Major Conflict

This novel, which contains a "story within a story" has two major conflicts; the overriding conflict being the solution of the mystery, and the overthrow of the Scowrers being the conflict of the "story within a story".


The climax of this novel is the scene in which McMurdo is revealed to be Birdy Edwards, and the Scowrers are captured.


Douglas' delirious reference to "Bodymaster McGinty" and "the Valley of Fear" foreshadow the attempt on his life, and the unveiling of the mystery of the Scowrers.


When speaking of Brother Morris' cowardice, and perhaps treachery, Bodymaster McGinty states he will no doubt have to be "taught a lesson." This understatement signifies that some great calamity with soon befall Morris, possibly even death.


Vermissa Valley, or "the Valley of Fear" can be seen as a biblical allusion to either death or oppression, take for example the reference in Psalm 23 to the "shadow of the valley of death." Also, McGinty can be seen as a Devil-like character, with evil minions beneath him. Refer to Mrs. Douglas' question of "whose body McGinty was master of?" to Douglas' reply, "Never of mine, thank God."


The description of Vermissa Valley depicts it as a gloomy, foreboding district, sparsely wooded, and overhung with black smog. Doyle uses this imagery to symbolize the oppression of the Scowrers.


The Scowrers are a gang of ruthless, merciless assassins who enjoy their work and make a living oppressing the inhabitants of Vermissa Valley. Yet when a sad song is sung, they are moved to tears. This paradox of their natures serves to show how warped the Scowrers have become.


Inspector MacDonald says that Moriarty's hand on his shoulder was "like a father's blessing." This ironic and inaccurate parallel reveals the ability Moriarty has to deceive the public, and even the police force, of his true nature.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

The "Valley of Fear" is a metonymy for "Vermissa Valley." Douglas never mentions the name "Vermissa", only its symbolic counterpart. Similarly, "Boss McGinty" works as synecdoche for the Scowrers as a whole. When the novel speaks of the inhabitants of Vermissa fearing McGinty, they really live in fear of the Scowrers.


In the description of McGinty, we learn that his eyes are "cold and merciless". The description of Vermissa Valley itself as a "Valley of Fear" personifies it as not a banal geographical region, but a fortress of terror.

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