"Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?"
The protagonist misses someone terribly, for whatever reason. Maybe The Hero
is dead, or a loved one. But thankfully, the land of the dead is a place that can be visited. If the protagonist can brave the journey To Hell and Back
, they can free the soul and resurrect them. Success is not guaranteed.
A subtrope of To Hell and Back
The trope is a misnomer since Real Life
Catholic teaching defines purgatory as a state where the dead are cleaned up from the effects of their sins before entering heaven
. Most non-Catholics are iffy at best about the concept of purgatory. "Purgatory" as used in this trope is more akin to the state some Christians call Limbo
...a place that's neither heaven or hell—perhaps just the classical place known as Sheol, where the pious dead hung out, awaiting entry into heaven,
broke them out.
This is a Death Trope
so expect heavy spoilers.
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Anime and Manga
- In The Phantom Stranger tie-in to Trinity War, the Phantom Stranger and a few other heroes go to heaven's basement to rescue the soul of a dead hero. They fail and the Stranger is sent to oblivion while the heroes are sent back to Earth.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End: The Black Pearl in that desert with multiple Jacks. Subverted when Jack is actually leaving on his own and stops to pick up his rescuers.
- The Matrix Revolutions: Neo is trapped for a time in Mobil Station, depicted as a subway station. Rearrange "Mobil" and you get "Limbo." A Big Damn Heroes moment with Trinity and Morpheus help get him out.
- Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
- What Dreams May Come: The main character is dead, but in Heaven. He receives word that his wife has killed herself and gone to Hell, and embarks on a trip to save her.
- In Hellboy, Rasputin yanks Liz Sherman's soul out of her body and casts it into the Void. Hellboy kills Raz, then whispers something in the comatose Liz's ear which causes her to revive. The audience doesn't hear it at the time, but finds out later that Hellboy spoke to the Eldritch Abominations in the Void and promised to kick their asses if they didn't send Liz back.
Live Action TV
- Babylon 5: Sheridan wanders through the ruins of Z'Ha'Dum after his death. He is rescued by Lorien and returned.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: After her Heroic Sacrifice to save the Earth from being folded into a Hell Dimension, Buffy's friends work to bring her Back from the Dead. What they don't know at first is that they dragged her out of Heaven, leading to much of the angst of the sixth season.
- Supernatural: Naomi literally pulls Castiel from Purgatory, and Dean beats himself up for not being able to do so.
- The story of Orpheus, who went to Hades to bring back his wife, Eurydice, is the Trope Codifier. Unfortunately, he couldn't do the whole journey back without looking back at her, which was the condition of success, so she stayed trapped. Theseus also accompanied his friend Pirithoos into Hades when the latter took a fancy to Persephone; they both got stuck there until Heracles freed them on a completely unrelated mission.
- Persephone was, herself, literally abducted and dragged into Hades, and her mother went batshit insane, which is bad when you're the goddess of The Earth. Hermes went to retrieve Persephone, but discovered that she had eaten of the food of the underworld while there, which bound her to Hades. A compromised was reached that allowed Persephone to leave Hades for half the year, then spend the other half as the queen of the dead. The half which she is on earth is the autumn, winter, and spring (growing seasons in Greece), while the dry, hot Greek summers are caused when she leaves for the underworld and her mother grieves.
- A modern retelling has her voluntarily running off with Bad Boy Hades to get away from her overcontrolling and overprotective mother, and when it looks like war between the gods if she doesn't come back, she eats a few pomegranate seeds deliberately to ensure she at least gets a vacation from mom once a year, meaning for her "purgatory" is actually the half of the year she's not in the Underworld.
- Older Than Dirt: Inanna's Descent to the Netherworld: Inanna sends her own husband to Irkalla when she comes back from the dead to find him relaxing under a tree instead of grieving openly. Later on, she misses him terribly and all the plants die and no animals or people can reproduce. She agrees to let his sister take his place in the Underworld for half the year, during which everything grows again, and stops growing when that time is up. Which is why we have summer and winter.
- According to Christian theology, Jesus Christ went to Hell after being crucified and rescued the souls who stayed in the Limbo of the Fathers due to not being redeemed yet. Happily, after Jesus was crucified and humanity redeemed, He went back and then took the good souls to Heaven. The rest, well...
- Easily possible in Forgotten Realms, due to the ease with which the Outer Planes can be accessed.
- Occurs with the soul of Aribeth in the Forgotten Realms-set game Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark.
- MegaTokyo: Though it was only Purgatory if you were both Largo and very drunk.