[[quoteright:342:[[Anime/FullmetalAlchemist http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/ALightInTheDistance_6991.jpg]]]]
[[caption-width-right:342:"Mom would always put a light in the upstairs window, so no matter how dark it was, we could find our way home."]]
->''"What's that? A transport! I'm saved!"''
-->-- '''[=C-3PO=]''', ''Franchise/StarWars: ANewHope''

So, you've got characters who are either lost, or are caught in some sort of storm. All seems hopeless...

...But, what's this? There's a light in the distance. Our heroes may have found shelter from that dreadful storm or, at least, a place to rest before resuming the journey. Yes, it seems that one of the ways to show the audience that characters have [[HopeSpot a glimmer of hope in an otherwise gloomy situation]] is to have something light the way, literally.

This is caused at least partly by the fact that, celestial bodies aside, light-producing objects are rare in nature--particularly those producing steady light, visible over a distance. So any light visible at night, or in a storm, is a sign of humans (or, in SpeculativeFiction, any intelligent beings) and civilization.

Of course, the source of this light [[LightIsNotGood frequently turns out to be bad]], and possibly worse than whatever our heroes were seeking shelter from. This particular wrinkle dates back at least to GhostLights and will-o'-the-wisps from folklore.

[[LighthousePoint Lighthouses]] are common sources of such lights. So are [[DiabolusExMachina fires and burning buildings.]] Ambulance lights/sirens are also used occasionally.

Can easily overlap with WhatDoYouMeanItsNotSymbolic. See also SurvivalistStash for a similar place of hope and danger.
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!!Examples:

[[foldercontrol]]

[[folder: Anime and Manga ]]

* In an episode of [[Anime/FullmetalAlchemist the 2003 anime version]] of ''Manga/FullmetalAlchemist'', Edward remarks that their mother would light a lantern to help guide her sons home after dark. This idea is repeated at the end of the episode when Winry shines a lantern off of the balcony of her house, symbolizing that the boys do indeed have a home there.
* The arrival of the Catbus in ''MyNeighborTotoro''. It looks like ordinary headlights at first, until they start hopping and weaving.
* In ''SpiritedAway'', a hopping lantern appears to lead Chihiro and her friends along the path to Zeniba's house.

[[/folder]]

[[folder: Comic Books ]]

* In a related symbolic gesture, during the SinestroCorpsWar the citizens of Coast City shined green-colored lights out their windows in support of the ComicBook/{{Green Lantern}}s - in spite of the fact that Hal Jordan had just told everyone to evacuate.

[[/folder]]

[[folder: Film ]]

* ''RockyHorrorPictureShow:'' [[EarWorm "There's a light, over at the Frankenstein Place."]]
* ''Film/MontyPythonAndTheHolyGrail''. As Sir Galahad is struggling through a forest at night, he sees a castle in the distance with a light--which looks like the Holy Grail--overhead. On [=YouTube=] [[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvRH-8eF6l0 at about 3:35]].
* In ''WesternAnimation/BarbieAndTheDiamondCastle,'' the heroines are lost in a forest and out of food and water. Just then, Liana notices smoke coming from just beyond the trees, leading them to an [[TheFinalTemptation isolated mansion]].
* The very beginning of ''TheIronGiant'': A fisherman and his boat are caught in a horrible storm, and he's searching for the lighthouse to find his way out. He thinks he's found it upon seeing a light in the distance, but that assumption quickly fades away when the light turns and reveals itself to be two lights--like eyes. Then the boat crashes into the title character.
* Threepio seeing the Jawa sandcrawler in the distance in the original ''Franchise/StarWars'' movie.
* SubvertedTrope in ''WesternAnimation/FindingNemo'': "It's so... pretty!" (To clarify--these are fish, much deeper in the ocean than they really ought to be, and the light in the darkness is an angler fish. Sometimes light ''really'' isn't good.)
* "And we lights the city ... not just for him, but for all of 'em that're still out there. 'Cause we knows ... there'll come a night, when they sees the distant light ... and they'll be comin' home." (''Film/MadMaxBeyondThunderdome'', final words.)
* In ''WesternAnimation/{{Brave}}'', Will'o'the Wisps lead the Princess to find a witch's house, starting the main plot.

[[/folder]]

[[folder: Folklore ]]

* Will-o'-wisps and GhostLights are lights seen over bogs and marshes. Folklore attributes them to mischievous spirits or [[TheFairFolk fairies]] attempting to lead travelers astray.
* Common English folktale of the traveller caught in a storm who sees a light - struggles there - finds a very oldfashioned inn - stays the night - wakes at dawn on the grass outside a barrow - no sign of the inn.

[[/folder]]

[[folder: Literature ]]

* In ''Literature/TheHobbit'', Bilbo and the dwarves get lost upon leaving the path in Mirkwood. Every time they see the lights of the elves, they head towards them; usually the lights disperse before the heroes can reach them. (This was probably intended as a ShoutOut to the will-o-the-wisp folklore.) When they eventually reach one of the lights, the elves capture and imprison them (which is still better than being lost in Mirkwood).
** Similarly, in ''Literature/TheLordOfTheRings: The Two Towers'', Frodo, Sam and Gollum see will-o-the-wisps in the Dead Marshes, and it is stated that they might be caused by the lingering spirits of the dead.
*** It's implied however that these are not real spirits of the dead, but evil spirits summoned by Sauron to guard this border of his realm, luring travellers to their doom. The undead in ''Literature/TheLordOfTheRings'' generally seem to have nothing to do with the actual people who died, with the exception of the ghosts of Dunharg.
* ''TheChroniclesOfNarnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe'': Upon first entering Narnia, Lucy sees a light in the distance, which she finds to be a gas lamp post. In the middle of a forest. It is at this lamppost that Lucy meets Mr. Tumnus. Its presence is explained in ''The Magician's Nephew''.
* ''Literature/HarryPotterAndThePrisonerOfAzkaban'' introduces a hinkypunk, a creature that uses the light in the distance gimmick to lead travelers into its clutches.
* In the second Bahzell novel the titular hero and his companions are stuck out in a huge storm not far from shelter, but it's so bad that they have no idea where to go. However Wencit of Rum arrives to save them, and Bahzell, cynical DeadpanSnarker that he is cracks wise about the timely arrival.
* At one point in ''[[Creator/JulesVerne The Mysterious Island]]'', the castaways have built a small ship and some of them sail to another island some two hundred miles away. On the way back, a squall blows them off course, but then they see a powerful light (visible at twenty miles) on the shore of their island that guides them home. They're rather disconcerted to learn, later, that their friends on the island '''didn't''' make that light. At least, not any friends they '''knew'''....
* Not a light, but close, in Mann's ''The Magic Mountain'', the protagonist Hans Castorp has gotten lost skiing during a storm. He spots a distant house off in the snow, heads to it hoping to find people and warmth, only to discover it's just an old storage shed he'd noticed earlier that morning.

[[/folder]]

[[folder: Live Action TV ]]

* Referenced in the second season opening credits of ''Series/BabylonFive'':
--> "A shining beacon in space... all alone in the night."
* In the season one finale of ''{{Lost}}'', Sawyer, Jin, Michael, and his son Walt have successfully escaped the island on a raft. Night falls, and they receive a signal on the radar emitter [[MrFixit Sayid]] salvaged for them. They send up a flare, and are rewarded with the sudden beam of a fishing boat's floodlight. [[spoiler:Things start to go downhill when the captain of the boat tells Michael, "The thing is, we're going to have to take the boy."]]
* In ''Series/{{Merlin}}'', when Arthur was lost in a dark cave, trying to find a flower that would cure Merlin, Merlin sent a light to help him on his way.

[[/folder]]

[[folder: Music ]]

* "''[[{{Eagles}} Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light...]]''"
* Music/{{Metallica}}'s "No Leaf Clover".
-->Then it comes to be that the soothing light at the end of your tunnel
-->Was just a freight train comin' your way
* "Long As I Can See the Light" by CreedenceClearwaterRevival.

[[/folder]]

[[folder: Tabletop Games ]]

* ''{{Traveller}}'' adventure 3 ''Twilight's Peak''. While traveling on the world of Fulacin, the adventurers can find an octagonal structure with a light in the window. If they encounter it at night, the light will lead them to the building.

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[[folder: Video Games ]]

* Bright streetlights mark sanctuaries in ''AlanWake'' where you can hide from the nastybad monsterface guys and usually pick up batteries for your torch.
* Right at the start of ''VideoGame/ResidentEvil'' the S.T.A.R.S patrol get attacked by zombie dogs and quickly overrun. The only thing they can think of is run towards a lit up mansion. Of course their problems are only just beginning.
* The swamp level in ''VideoGame/ZanZarahTheHiddenPortal'' is an incomprehensible labyrinth of small islands sitting in mud, and the whole thing is covered with thick fog. However, there are always small lights in the distance and when one disappears, another always appears if you don't move much. To reach your quest objective, you must follow all of them.

[[/folder]]

[[folder: Webcomics ]]

* In ''Webcomic/ElGoonishShive'', Abraham thinks his fight with [[spoiler: Nanase]] is over and yells defiance, until he spots a light coming toward him at speed and he is knocked down before he sees what it is, [[spoiler:which is Nanase in her newly acquired [[FlyingBrick angel form]]]].
* In ''Webcomic/GunnerkriggCourt'', Antimony has fallen into a deep ravine and is lonely and lost, when she sees a light on the other side of the river. It turns out to be a ghost, who, upon meeting Annie, ''attacks her with a sword''.
* In ''Webcomic/NoRestForTheWicked'', [[http://www.forthewicked.net/archive/02-02.html November sees it when desperate]] in the storm, in TheLostWoods.

[[/folder]]

[[folder: Real Life ]]

* The primary metaphor of former Australian Prime Minister Ben Chifley's [[http://australianpolitics.com/parties/alp/chifley-light-on-the-hill-speech "Light on the Hill" speech]].
* [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wrecking_(shipwreck) Wrecking.]]
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