The Valley of Fear

The Valley of Fear Literary Elements


Fiction; Mystery; Adventure

Setting and Context

London/America, Turn of the 20th 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; 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.


1. When speaking of Brother Morris' cowardice, and perhaps treachery, Bodymaster McGinty states someone will surely have to teach him a lesson. This understatement signifies that some great calamity with soon befall Morris, possibly even death.
2. All Holmes says in response to hearing a man named Douglas, the very subject of Porlock's letter, just died is "Remarkable!" (172.)


1. Vermissa Valley, or "the Valley of Fear," can be seen as a biblical allusion to either death or oppression—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 which Douglas' replies, "Never of mine, thank God" (208).
2. "Machiavellian" (167) is used by Holmes to describe Watson's intellect. This refers to the stereotypical view of Niccolo Machiavelli's political philosophy: cold, calculating, and ruthlessly rational.
3. Jean Baptize Greuze was a famous French painter.


See the Imagery section of this ClassicNote.


The Scowrers are a gang of ruthless, merciless assassins who enjoy their work and make a living oppressing the inhabitants of Vermissa Valley. Despite this, 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.


In this story and others, the police parallel the experience of the typical reader: both are overwhelmed by the many clues Doyle presents, and both are blown away when Holmes deduces the precise solution to the mystery from these clues.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

1. 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, it means that they really live in fear of the Scowrers.
2. "London" is used to reference Scotland Yard and the authorities there; this is metonymy (186).