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The world in which the characters live in is less than pleasant, to say in the least. The sky is choked with pollution, the crops won't grow, and the evil dictator of the land brings nothing but despair to the people.
Or, on a more positive end, the world the characters live in is fine, but the characters are restless. Perhaps they are bored with their current life and want to find something better, or perhaps they are misfits in an otherwise nice world, and desire a place where they will have no worries.
Regardless of the case, there are stories of some mystical land, of which rumor and legend tell, where all people can be happy. The ground is fertile, the food is good and the best part is: you can get to it... if you know how.
This trope comes in two main flavors, the idealistic portrayal, and the cynical portrayal. The cynical portrayal can be broken down into separate flavors as well.
The Promised Land is everything that it has been chalked up to be. Rivers flow with clean water and plenty of tasty fish. Fruit just falls right out of the trees, perfect for eating, the land all around you is perfect for farming, the weather is always perfect, and anyone can make it big with just some hard work. Sadness, despair, and hard times are all but just stories and bad memories in this place. The promise of the Promised Land will be a driving force for the characters of the story, and while they face many hardships while trying to get to this place, arriving there is almost always an immediate Happily Ever After ending.
Cynical Flavor A - No Promised Land
The Promised Land never really existed, or if it did exist, it is nothing but a shell (or even less) of its former glory. Here, the Promised Land was just a myth, perhaps created to give people hope of a possible better life, or from a misunderstood or distorted legend of the past. In an even more cynical viewpoint, the idea of the Promised Land was deliberately created to control people with a false promise of better times with the price of submitting under a cruel rule.
Cynical Flavor B - Crappy Promised Land
This flavor of the trope shows the Promised Land in disarray, either from everyone else who arrived there before the main characters using it up, or some other event. The once beautiful land is now dry and barren, with only vermin as its remaining native life, and ruins as its last structures. Worse, the Promised Land may even appear to be exactly as advertised, but turn out to be just as bad as, if not worse than, the world that they know.
For both flavor A and flavor B, usually, the revelation of the truth of the Promised Land is usually the story's big reveal, and can usually be a breaking moment for the characters, and at its worst, a Downer Ending.
Cynical Flavor C - Unreachable Promised Land
The Promised Land exists, and is probably a great place to live - if you could actually get there that is. Either the Promised Land can only be reached by those with money and/or power, or a barrier of some sort, either physical, political, or whatever prevents the characters from arriving to this place. In this case, getting there may be a driving force of the story, like in the other flavors, but the goal may be later discarded when reality sets in. Another take on this flavor is that the Promised Land is never really visited or even seen, but merely mentioned by the characters as they wistfully dream of making it there, but know deep down that they could never make it and continue on with their dreary lives. A variant of this is that the land is reachable, but at a great cost. Perhaps the character would have to sell his or her soul, or enslave him or herself to a cruel worker, or eat a thousand babies alive before they could even think about setting foot there. Regardless, the land is not reachable for common folk.
- The Galactic Leyline in Outlaw Star is a Promised Land.
- The titular Shinzo is a Promised Land for the human lead Yukumo to find the rest of the human race, in a world populated by animal-human hybrids called Enterrans. It turns out to be a Type A, as Mushra, Katul, and Sago go 500 years back in time to the end of the Human-Enterran War, and find out Mushrambo had destroyed it.
- Umineko no Naku Koro ni: The Golden Land can act like this, depending on which EP. The catch: resurrecting Beatrice, done by having about a dozen people killed in as horrific a manner as possible.
- Paradise (Rakuen) in Wolf's Rain is apparently real. Nobody seems to know what it's like, only that it's desirable to get there.
- The Island is named for its Type A Promised Land which people can "win" a one-way trip to - in reality, they're clones being harvested for parts.
- Logan's Run features a Promised Land by the name of Sanctuary.
- Clonus features America as a Promised Land.
- In Tank Girl, The Rippers have a belief in such a place, as related by Bugger.
Bugger: It's one of Johnny Prophet's dreams. See how the people are all free, and the water just comes down from the sky and it don't cost nothin'. With flowers and rainbows.
- A Boy and His Dog has the title characters searching for "Over the Hill" (which, when you think about it, would be a more appropriate destination for the escapees from Logan's Run, but we digress...)
- The lost kids in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome think that Max is the Second Coming of Captain Walker, who will take them to "Tomorrow-morrow Land".
- The intended destination of the besieged "villagers" in Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior also qualifies.
- Dry Land in Waterworld.
- The Nesting Grounds in Dinosaur. Although according to the viewers of the film, the Herd is going there because it's the only part of prehistoric Earth that was not destroyed by the meteorite, according to the book Dinosaur: The Essential Guide, the main reason the Herd was going there is because of the fact that during the winter, the Nesting Grounds actually becomes too cold and infertile for the dinosaurs to lay their eggs, and as a result they were all evicted into the desert where they all remained for days until springtime. The film's events actually take place in the spring since that is when the Herd is supposed to return to the Nesting Grounds.
- Pacific Playland fits the No Promised Land description in Zombieland.
- "Out west, we hear it's back east. Back east, they hear it's out west. It's all just nonsense. You know, you're like a penguin on the North Pole who hears the South Pole is really nice this time of the year"
- "A new life awaits you in the Off-world colonies! A chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity and adventure!"
- The Gorgonites in Small Soldiers don't want to fight the Commando Elite - they just want to be left alone and find their way back to Gorgon, their idyllic homeland. An odd case in that Gorgon is fictional in-universe, making it technically a Type A, but the Gorgonites don't mind: when they set off on their journey in the end, it's safe to say that they'll find some place they'll be happy to call home someday.
- House of the Scorpion: The boys under control of the Keepers in Aztlán (Mexico) view the United States as this, and one boy mentions that his father is probably currently living it up in California as a movie actor. This fact was subverted earlier in the book when El Patrón mentions that when he captures illegal immigrants for his work force, he catches them not just coming in from Aztlán, but from the United States, saying that America has seen better economic times.
- In Dr. Seuss' story I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew, the titular Solla Sollew is a Cynical Flavor C Promised Land, as a key-slapping slippard prevents the door from being unlocked.
- The mythical land of Sugar Candy Mountain in Animal Farm qualifies, though this is supposed to represent Heaven -- and in the context of the novel in general, it's meant to symbolize the promises of religion (represented by Moses the Raven), which were seen as empty and another means of control by those with the money and power (represented by Man) according to the proponents of the Russian Revolution.
- When life on Animal Farm worsens, Napoleon invites Moses the Raven back, so that Moses will keep the others happy with his tales of the promised land. It is never clarified if this land exists, but it is clear that Napoleon doesn't believe it does. So, Cynical flavor A, at least from Napoleon's point of view.
- In Dune, the Fremen believe they can turn the planet Arrakis into a Promised Land through ecological engineering. They refer to it in the same quasi-religious terms. They get their wish in later books, which turns out to be a mixed blessing at best when the sandwurms that create all Spice go extinct from the moisture.
- California in The Grapes of Wrath. This falls under the cynical side of this trope, as everyone else has been trying to get to California, resulting in government officials blocking it off, and forcing many people into labor and government camps.
- Deathlands. Earth has become a Death World after WW 3. A popular myth is that a gateway to a better world lies in the Darks (Glacier National Park in Montana). Turns out the 'gateway' does exist -- to a Lost Technology Portal Network which takes the protagonists from one part of Deathlands to another, which is not exactly an improvement.
- In the Warrior Cats series, the Clans are forced to leave their home, though Midnight promises them that there's a place for them to live with oak forests and streams and plenty of prey. When they leave on their journey, their ancestors give them a sign to show them which way to go. The land does end up being very good - there's perfect territory for each Clan - but it is still susceptible to natural disasters such as drought, and it's not free of predators.
- The planet Earth in Battlestar Galactica. The colonists eventually find Earth in the re-imagined series, but it is a burnt out wasteland, putting this trope in the cynical side. However, the trope swings over to the idealistic side, when they find another planet, with more biodiversity than any of the planets they originally came from, which they decide to call Earth in honor of the series-driven dream.
- Myth-shrouded Utopia in the Doctor Who episode of the same name.
- Another Doctor Who example from the first season of the new series, The Long Game: the workers on the TV satellite talk about the legendary "Floor 500", which is described as a promised land. Falls under a mix of Cynical A and B, in that there is a 500th floor of the satellite, but it's full of corpses being used by the station's abominable alien overlord.
- Stargate SG-1 has an episode where Maybourne learns of a Promised Land and tricks SG-1 in to taking him to the gate that sends you there. Jack follows him through. Unfortunately for him, the message pointing him to the planet was millions of years old, and the Promised Land stopped existing at some point in the intervening millenia.
- The Big Rock Candy Mountain from the American Hobo's Vision Of Utopia.
- The Seekers, "I'll Never Find Another You"
There's a new world somewhere they call the Promised Land
And I'll be there someday if you will hold my hand
- The United States Of America for many immigrants from poorer countries (and in more recent times, any modern democratic industrialized nation.) This trope falls under both the idealistic and cynical sides of this trope. For some immigrants, they find a golden land of opportunity, for others, they find themselves in dirty slums facing violent gangs and discrimination and distrust from the native population. For the Native Americans, it resulted in genocide, depopulation, and poverty and discrimination that continue to this day.
- There are stories of people running away to places like California, hoping to make it big in the movie industry, but wind up poor and penniless when they find out the difficulties of getting in.
- Israel is pretty nice when it hasn't been ecologically wrecked by the constant fighting that goes down there.
- Soviet Union was at first known as the "the workers' paradise".
- Exodus, from The Bible, is the Trope Namer, showing that this trope is Older Than Feudalism. Subverted slightly in modern times that the present incarnation of the Promised Land may be mostly like the trope- but only after years of labor and constant effort to make it like that and keep it that way. Also referred to as the Land of Milk and Honey, milk referring to goat's milk and honey referring to a type of date paste.
- Final Fantasy VII. It contains "the promised land, a land which promises supreme happiness". The Shinra company whishes to find it and extract the allegedly abundant Mako in order to build Neo-Midgar. It turns out to be mostly metaphorical... not that that stops anyone fighting over it.
- The Expanded Universe indicates that the Promised Land is the collection of souls that makes up the Mako Stream, essentially being the setting's version of the afterlife.
- Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles My Life As a King contains another promised land with the name "The Promised Land"... Imaginative bunch, aren't they?
- Rupeeland in Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland
- In Knights of the Old Republic, the people forced to live in the Taris Undercity have a legend about a Promised Land where life will be better. You can help them learn the location of the Promised Land, or give the clues to a slimy merchant who's perfectly content with the way things are.
- Though somewhat flavor C as the entire planet gets bombed from orbit shortly after that part of the game. The MMO reveals they made it, only to find it was a wasteland. After running out of vaccine, the survivors were picked off by disease, starvation, and radiation poisoning.
- Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri: Some of the factions consider Planet to be this, especially when you compare it to what Earth ended up turning into before the game begins. The Lord's Believers actively refer to it as such, and get an environmental penalty as a result (hey, if it's the Promised Land, why worry about treating the native life right?).
- The titular land of Ys was this until it was brought to ruin by the very artifact that drove it to prosperity.
- Erinn, the setting of Mabinogi, is seen as one of these in the Darker and Edgier prequel, Vindictus, and is very much the Type C variety, what with the war against the Fomors in order to reach it.
- Runescape has Yu'biusk, the goblin homeland. It's supposedly a green land of happiness and tranquillity, where all goblins can live together in harmony, but when the player gets there, what's left of it is barren rock and toxic sludge, completely inhabitable.
- In the Fallout: New Vegas add-on, Honest Hearts, Joshua Graham refers to Zion Nation Park as the Idealistic Version. It's hard to argue with him. The player's actions can have Joshua and the tribals leave Zion for another Promised Land (which leads to Zion being polluted and despoiled by the White Legs), or fight off the White Legs to preserve Zion's natural beauty at the cost of introducing war to its (innocent) local population.
- Nirvana from Digital Devil Saga is promised to be a Type A Promised land. Cue the sequel to find out it's actually Type B.
- Satellite in Phantasy Star III, where Ayn's generation go to resettle after Shushoran and Cille are attacked by cyborg armies. Type B. It's the headquarters of the chapter's Big Bad. Ayn can settle his people there afterwards and remain as their leader, but if he does, Siren will attack and destroy it 17 years later, killing all the survivors who went with him.
- The Great Valley in The Land Before Time
- The Land of Milk and Honey in The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
- Toad Hollow in Toad Patrol.