Hell of a Heaven
"Up here in Heaven without youSo you've died and Death Isn't Cheap. Luckily, you led a good life and go to Heaven. It's perfect in nearly every way, except for one thing. And that one thing makes Heaven damn near Hell. It's not about Heaven being bad in general, it's about how things are bad for one person. For example, maybe Heaven has a strict No Pets Allowed policy. While for some people being in a place with animal-less Christians would be wonderful, others may miss their pet. Another possibility is that their significant other is in hell; they may think it's worse than being down there with them. Anyway, heaven without them is "a hell of heaven". Of course, one of the most common complaints against Fluffy Cloud Heaven is that it would be soul-crushingly boring. Especially when even the tiniest amounts of free thought and pleasure carry huge risks of sin. In this trope the actual heaven is horrible in their view, so do not confuse it with This Isn't Heaven! Compare Infernal Paradise for when it's only horrible for outsiders to the faith and contrast A Hell of a Time for when hell is fun for a specific person. See also Rerouted From Heaven, when they're in the wrong afterlife.
It is Hell knowing that your health
Will keep you out of here for many, many years"
It is Hell knowing that your health
Will keep you out of here for many, many years"
—Sparks, "Here in Heaven"
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Anime and Manga
- An odd example occurs in Puella Magi Oriko Magica in the epilogue, where Oriko is so burdened by guilt from an act she committed in a past life that she can't move without the help of her accomplice, Kirika.
- Bleach intends to reconstruct the trope with the Soul Society. Thanks to Ichigo, several characters including Head Captain Yamamoto have changed from their centuries-long rule, villainous criminals like Aizen are brought down, and what used to be a Crapsack World of an afterlife is now becoming A World Half Full.
- Eastern Christian Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches teach that Heaven and Hell are within the same realm, which is in the presence of God. The damned would needless to say, absolutely hate Heaven, since through their warped perspective and indifference to their creator, they would see the divine light, not as loving but identify it as the fires of hell.
- Rhudiprrt: Prince of Fur starts out like this. The recently deceased human protagonist refuses to follow his "spirit guide" to the human afterlife (heavily implied but not quite outright stated to be Fluffy Cloud Heaven) upon discovering that he won't get to meet his beloved pet cat there again because animals aren't allowed in, and ultimately ends up on the planet of anthropomorphic cats where she has been reincarnated — in the body originally belonging to the title character. (A flashback in a later issue shows another inhabitant of the human afterlife complaining about the place being boring as well.)
- In the Good Omens fanfic Its Own Place, the angel Aziraphale's personal Hell turns out to be Heaven. The real kicker is that he doesn't even realize he's actually on Hell's torture roster because its version of Heaven is exactly as he remembers it, and he expected to be lonely and miserable there After the End (because Crowley isn't th--er, because Heaven is mind-numbingly boring compared to Earth), which makes this overlap with Self-Inflicted Hell.
- All Dogs Go to Heaven 2. After the events of the first movie the dog Charlie B. Barkin is in Heaven. However, he's bored with the place and wants to return to Earth. He gets his chance when Carface (Charlie's enemy) steals Gabriel's Horn and goes back to Earth. Charlie is sent after him on a mission to retrieve the Horn.
- The first film features a bit of this as well; Charlie is shocked to learn that in heaven there are no surprises, and sings about how he'd prefer to live unpredictably.
- What Dreams May Come has a doctor who goes to heaven after a car-accident. Some time later he finds out that his wife, consumed by grief at his death, committed suicide. Because the afterlife is self-constructed, her suicide means she is too wrapped up in grief and misery to join him in the Heaven he has been building, instead creating a dark corner of Hell in which to punish herself (forever). Without her, Heaven just ain't all that heavenly, and so he decides to go to hell to retrieve her, all Orpheus-style. He even decides to stay with her there when it becomes clear that even he can't save her. Ironically enough, this Heroic Sacrifice snaps her out of it and she ends up saving them both after he's given up hope
- In Heathers, the first Heather to die is seen later in a dream. She complains that Heaven is so boring.
- In 50 Percent Grey, Heaven is a endless grey plain, marked only by a fancy TV explaining where you are and why. Purgatory and Hell are exactly the same, except the TV is cheaper and the explanation is different.
- The psychotic main character in Unspeakable hallucinates that his dead daughter is speaking to him from beyond the grave, claiming that Heaven is terrible and God Is Evil.
- Erewhon Revisited discusses this trope at length and suggests that heaven would have to be a place of continual pleasant surprises. For example, when you first get there, the angel on duty should tell you that your luggage was sent to another part of heaven, or even hell, but when you get to your room, it should be waiting there for you.Note
- Job: A Comedy of Justice. After the Rapture, Alex Hergensheimer ends up in Heaven. However, his love Margrethe is not with him because she worshiped the deities of Norse Mythology. He eventually decides to leave Heaven to search for her.
- The idea is put forth in Paradise Lost. After losing the war, Satan states that "The mind is its own place, and in it self. Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven." This counts as the Trope Namer and possibly the Laconic version. At its heart, this trope isn't that Heaven is a horrible place, just that, for some people, it isn't perfect. It isn't Heaven. It's Hell.
- C. S. Lewis puts forth the same idea in The Problem of Pain: the reason people go to Hell is because their own actions have warped their minds to the point that Heaven would be Hell to them.
- In the Incarnations of Immortality book For Love of Evil, Satan tries to discuss things with God. When he pays God a visit in Heaven, he finds that Heaven fills this trope for many souls who are there because God's lost in narcissism. While there, he finds an unlikely ally who wants to help put things right.
- In Good Omens, we get the impression from Crowley that Heaven's a boring place with few composers, theaters and films. "Listen, the point is that when the bird has worn the mountain down to nothing, right then...then you still wouldn't have finished watching The Sound of Music. And you'll enjoy it. Heaven has no taste. And not a single decent sushi restaurant."
- "Well, Hell was worse, by definition. But Crowley, who had spent time in both places, could see that they had a lot in common. You couldn't get a decent drink in either place, for example. And the boredom you got in Heaven was as bad as the excitement you got in Hell."
- Many fanworks have Aziraphale feeling the same way, usually because he's become so used to living on Earth with his bookstore and Crowley's company for so long that he feels like an outsider in Heaven. One fanfic even showed Aziraphale being utterly miserable in Heaven After the End, only to then drop the bombshell that he had actually been on Hell's torture roster all along, meaning that Heaven was literally his personal Hell.
- Susie in The Lovely Bones is in Heaven, but it seems like a rather dull place, and she's absolutely miserable missing her family and watching them grow up without her.
- Richard Matheson's novel What Dreams May Come, source of the aforementioned Film of the Book.
- In one of his speeches (published 1910), Mark Twain commented, "Heaven for climate, and Hell for society."
- Twain's short story Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven lampoons the cloud and harp heaven — his story's heaven gives the newly-arrived people a chance to try this, since it's what they expect, to get it out of their system. They are quickly bored by it and ask if there is anything else.
- In Jitterbug Perfume, one character travels to the afterlife or at least the first stage where souls are weighed and measured (as in Egyptian mythology). Those souls which aren't sent for reincarnation/recycling, instead board a giant wooden ship that sails over the distant horizon (and back to pick up new souls). The decks are covered in people, sitting at tables, standing around, discussing all matter of things, and generally carrying on. One side of the ship has the name "HEAVEN" painted on it, the other side says "HELL", because for some such a fate would be a reward while others would see it as punishment. Either way, only the most "interesting" people are sent to the ship, and its unclear if they are able to disembark at whatever location lies over the horizon.
- In The Salvation War, an afterlife in Heaven means eternal menial servitude to the angels. Better than the tortures of Hell, but if you were the kind of person who qualified for Heaven you're in for a rude shock. Meanwhile, the famous bounty of Heaven consists entirely of "enough food, good weather, no wars and livable housing", the latter still being hovels by modern standards. One character speculates that when Yahweh closed the gates of Heaven centuries ago, he did it because what it offered was no longer certain to be a paradise compared to Earth.
Live Action TV
- In Angel, the first words we hear from Cordelia in Heaven are: "I'm bored."
- The Twilight Zone TOS episode "The Hunt" plays with this trope. A recently dead hunter decides not to enter Heaven when a "gatekeeper" tells him that his dog can't go in with him. Soon afterwards, an angel tells him that the gatekeeper was trying to trick him into Hell, which is why the dog wasn't allowed in: "A man, well, he'll walk right into Hell with both eyes open. But even the Devil can't fool a dog!" The hunter and his dog enter the real Heaven together.
- Not to mention "A Nice Place to Visit," in which the constant wish-fulfillment bores the protagonist to tears. Therefore, it's not surprising that it's really hell.
- In the first season of Blackadder, Edmund, having been appointed the Archbishop of Canterbury, uses this trope along with A Hell of a Time to convince a wealthy landowner that Heaven is only for pious people and Hell is where all the fun happens. This convinces the man to leave all his holdings to the king and, in so doing, damn himself to Hell.
- The narrator of the "Weird Al" Yankovic song "Everything You Know Is Wrong" dies in the final verse, nearly doesn't get into Heaven because he violated the dress code, and gets stuck with the room next to the noisy ice machine for all eternity. (Suggesting that Heaven is a mid-priced hotel.) Also, every day St. Peter runs by his room screaming "Everything you know is wrong!"
- Played for dark laughs in Sparks' song "Here in Heaven", narrated by the successful half of a suicide pact.
- The Talking Heads song "Heaven" describes Heaven as being rather monotonous. "Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens..."
- The Hank Williams Jr. Song "If Heaven Ain't a Lot Like Dixie"
- The premise of the Sonata Arctica song "Alone in Heaven" focuses on the potential loneliness of heaven. "Can this be heaven, if my best friends burn in hell?"
- Townes Van Zandt's "You Are Not Needed Now": "heaven ain't bad but you don't get nothing done."
- The vita of Wulfram, ex-bischop of Sens and missionary who died in the 8th century tells us of the Frisian king Radbod [died 719], who is about to be baptised by Wulfram. The king asks him whether he'll join his ancestors in heaven after his death. Wulfram, being an honest and scrupulous guy, tells him that they are in hell because they were never baptised. Radbod then withdraws from the baptismal water telling the missionary "I'd rather join my ancestors and friends in hell than to be alone in heaven!" and kicks Wulram out of his territory.
- Another version of the tale says that Wulfram only informed the king of that particular point after Radbod and all his subjects have been baptized (it was done by marching everyone through a river). The tale goes on to tell of how the enraged Radbod gathered all of his kinsmen and subjects and immediately walked across the river in the other direction, cancelling out the baptism.
- Older Than Feudalism: One version of the classic Indian epic Mahabharata has a very similar scene to the Twilight Zone example.
- The Far Side featured a man in Heaven who realizes that all Heaven gives you is a halo, robe and your own fluffy cloud to sit on for eternity, and thinks to himself: "I wish I'd brought a magazine".
- In one strip of Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin wonders if there are tigers in heaven, since it would be impossible to be happy if one was constantly under threat of a tiger attack, but heaven would be bland if there were no tigers at all. Finally, he guesses that maybe tigers just don't eat people in heaven, but Hobbes complains that the tigers wouldn't be happy.
- The Planescape setting has a plane of existence for each Character Alignment; Upper Planes, the Good ones, are each a kind of heaven. (Though see also Infernal Paradise.) It's specifically noted in source material that people of other alignments may not find them to their liking. How well is a Chaotic Neutral person going to get along with the way a Lawful Good world works? Then again, it's likely that most will prefer them to the Lower Planes, as well as Limbo, since there is a difference between a physically inherently hostile and nice environment. (But see Infernal Paradise again.)
- In The Adding Machine, Zero winds up in a place called the Elysian Fields, which appears to be the happy place where bad people go after they die. Though he and Daisy have the option of remaining there forever, Zero doesn't like it having to "mix with people that ain't respectable" and wants out. The man who killed his mother and accompanies Zero to this place wonders where's the eternal torment he feels he deserves.
- After Ascension was introduced in Kingdom of Loathing, up until a revamp in May 2011 Valhalla was just a waiting room for adventurers who had Ascended, where they could either reincarnate and start again as a level 1 adventurer or go through a few non-combat adventures about how boring the afterlife is: the restaurants serve nothing but tasteless health food, and there's nothing to do but play card games (which are rendered pointless by the fact that everyone plays for infinite stakes with infinite amounts of money, and in some cases infinite amounts of cards), chat with your ancestors (who are largely jerks), or contemplate the infinite (which at least leads to you getting stoned, playing Battleship with Death, fooling around with a Magic 8-Ball, or indulging in a parody of The Matrix).
- Touhou's version of Heaven was so dull to Tenshi Hinanawi that she decided starting an incident on the surface, just so she could get beat up by mortals as punishment, would be more fun. She's also snubbed by the other celestial beings for her unorthodox ascension as a small child (since she hadn't developed the virtues to earn or properly appreciate her place in Heaven).
- Afterlife makes heaven look like a cross between an upmarket retirement home and a very expensive but slightly tacky theme park. Thee's an actual game mechanic about siphoning "ad infinitum" from the rocks scattered around the place (because they're infinitely heavy or something; It Makes Just As Much Sense In Context) to make everything feel new and interesting all the time, which is really kind of creepy when you think about it.
- In The Saga Of Biorn by The Animated Workshop, the eponymous viking is seeking honorable death in battle in order to gain entrance into Valhalla. After many failures at finding a worthy opponent, he suffers a mortal blow while defending a convent of nuns from a giant. As Biorn ascends the stairs to his reward, the nuns repay him posthumously with a Christian burial, causing him to wind up in Fluffy Cloud Heaven which turns out just as boring as the Helheim he was desperately trying to avoid.
- In Casey and Andy, Andy was punished by being forced into heaven. His girlfriend is Satan, so Hell would not be a punishment for him. But then...
- In one strip of The Non-Adventures of Wonderella, Wonderella ends up in Heaven, but wills herself back to life after being unable to deal with Heaven's horrible fashion sense.
- This strip from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal theorizes that Heaven is this for St. Peter.
- On South Park Satan got God to do him a favor: let Saddam Hussein into Heaven, which is otherwise populated entirely by Mormons. Being surrounded by Mormons was torture to Hussein. Later on, Saddam took over and started building WMDs.
- In an episode of The Simpsons, a gas leak causes people to have visions of Heaven. Disco Stu's vision is, obviously, a nightclub full of disco music, dancers... and Frank Sinatra, who tells Stu "For me this is Hell! Ya dig, pally?"
- Ned Flanders also once had a vision of Heaven. He was very disillusioned to learn that Confucius and Milton Berle were there.
- When Homer predicts Armageddon, he goes to Fluffy Cloud Heaven only to be miserable knowing his family is suffering on Earth. He eventually persuades God to rewind time ("Superman did it!") and postpone the end of the world.
- An episode of Bob and Doug had an old man die and go to dog heaven. It doesn't seem so bad at first, but it eventually does get annoying.
- On American Dad!, Francine renounces her belief in God when her pastor tells her that Roger, who the family thinks has died, wouldn't get into Heaven. (Which doesn't make much sense, since Francine, unable to admit that Roger was an alien, claimed he was a pet, so it's not like the pastor's claim was necessarily valid.)
- Except that claim's also been around for a long while, based on the belief that only humans have souls, therefore only humans can go to Heaven.
- In another episode, Jesus comes back and recognizes Roger as one of his father's side projects. Roger is not amused.
- On Futurama, "The Beast With A Billion Backs", Leela insists this about Fluffy Cloud Heaven-esque sentient universe Yivo after the whole population of the universe "ascends" into him/her/it/"shkler", but its implied she's just complaining for the sake of it. "Okay, I admit that everyone's happy, but it's all so wholesome. And that's what's wrong with heaven! It's boring! There's no sleaze!" Naturally, this observation is immediately followed by everyone running off to Mattress Island to indulge in a perfect jealousy-free orgy of Idealized Sex.
- Used in the "Captain Stormalong" segment of The Adventures of Mark Twain. Captain Stormalong of California, Earth, accidently finds himself in an alien heaven, which is shown as a loud, colorful nightclub full of bizarre creatures. He's eventually ushered to his own Christian heaven, which...isnt really all that great either. Its portrayed as a solemn, peaceful place of worship.
- As far as Christopher Hitchens is concerned, if there was a Heaven, it wouldn't be any better than Hell.
- Specifically his view is, if the Abrahamic religions are accurate, "you'll get tapped on the shoulder and told 'Great news, this party's going on forever, and you can't leave. You've got to stay, the Boss says so, and he also insists that you have a good time."
- In other places he said that it was basically a more oppressive North Korea.
- Isaac Asimov once said: "I don't believe in an afterlife, so I don't have to spend my whole life fearing hell, or fearing heaven even more. For whatever the tortures of hell, I think the boredom of heaven would be even worse."
- Neil Degrasse Tyson tweeted: "If there is a cat heaven, and there are mice in cat heaven, then it must be mouse hell."