Idealistic Flavor — No worries, for the rest of your days.
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 and suffering 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.
Idealistic Flavor: 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 a little 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. It is possible that the Promised Land isn't exactly what it was said to be but still good; if the rivers flow with clean water and food is abundant, it's not that important that there are no genuine rivers of milk and honey. The main characters might have to work at it, but at the end of the day they'll still earn their happy ending.
Cynical Flavor: The Promised Land is anything but what it's advertised to be, and the truth about it usually falls into one of three major sub-flavors:
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 is nothing but a deliberately created lie, meant to control people with a false promise of better times with the price of submitting under a cruel rule.
Crappy Promised Land: The Promised Land is 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.
Unreachable Promised Land: The Promised Land exists, and is probably a great place to live — that is, if you could actually get there. Either the Promised Land can only be reached by those with money and/or power, or some kind of barrier, 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 that Shinzo doesn't exist anymore, 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. Except from a mundane perspective, it really just refers to the place where Kinzo's gold is hidden.
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 Fourth Doctor comic story "End of the Line" takes place on a planet ruined by years of industrial, chemical, and nuclear development, where a horde of Mad Max-style cyborgs terrorize a small band of human rebels. The rebels are trying to get to the mythical "Countryside," a small patch of unspoiled land. The Doctor gets there, only to find that it's just like the rest of the land. A truly heartwrenching example of No Promised Land.
The Island is named for its so-called Promised Land which people can "win" a one-way trip to — in reality, they're clones being harvested for parts. Winning your trip to the Island means that it is your time to be harvested.
Logan's Run features a Promised Land by the name of Sanctuary, which the Runners are trying to reach.
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 bookDinosaur: The Essential Guide, the main reason the Herd was going there is because of the fact that during the winter, the Nesting Grounds actually become 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."
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 No Promised Land, 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.
Gibraltar in Sky Blue is talked about as if it's the idealistic flavour. Guess where the crapsack city of Ecoban is.
Antz manages to subvert its idealistic utopia without turning it into a cynical one. When Z reaches Insectopia (a garbage dump) he finds that it is everything he dreamed of — but in the end he voluntarily leaves because he decides that saving the colony is more important than selfishly living out his days in idle luxury.
The mythical and surreal Cockaygne (Cucaña, Kukania) of the Medieval European myths and folklore. It is said to be an earthly paradise with abundance of food and wine, where Christmas lasts one month and where there are five Easters in the year and eternal May, and fasting once in a hundred years. But it represents the Cynical Flavour C - the only road leading there is an unnavigable - but wadeable - river of faeces. It will take five years to reach there.
Beleriand to the Noldor Elves in The Silmarillion. It proved to be a Crappy Promised Land.
Likewise, Númenor to the Dúnedain.
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 Unreachable 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, No Promised Land, 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.
Death Lands. 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 TechnologyPortal Network which takes the protagonists from one part of Death Lands 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.
In Of Mice and Men Lennie and George's dream of a little homestead for themselves is one of these. For most of the book it's out of reach of them because they never made much money and had to move about to keep Lennie safe; it becomes a Hope Spot when Candy decides to use his life savings to try and make it a reality. But when Lennie accidentally kills Curly's wife George admits that he only really started believing in it because Lennie did and without him it feels pointless.
Selma Lagerlof's Jerusalem. A Swedish sect decides to sell their property and real estate and found a colony in Jerusalem. In the end they find, instead of land of milk and honey, a slovenly run filthy and crappy Oriental town. They still make it.
The Voyage of St. Brendan recounts St. Brendan's search for the "Land of Promise of the Saints", a paradisical island in the Atlantic which God will give to "His elect" when the entire world will be subject to God and "days of tribulation may come upon the people of Christ" (this refers probably to the beginning of the end times as described in the Book of Revelation). St. Brendan finds the Land of Promise, but is sent back by an angel because the time is not yet ripe to reveal the Land of Promise to mankind.
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 No Promised Land and Crappy Promised Land, 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.
"The Crimson Horror" has Sweetville, proposed in 1890s England as a haven from the sinfulness of modernity. It is, of course, all part of a plot to rain the titular Crimson Horror down from the skies.
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 millennia.
Defiance: Before settling in Defiance, Nolan and Irisa were trying to make their way to Antarctica, which has apparently been terraformed into a tropical paradise. Everyone tells Nolan it's a pipe dream, and given the current state of the world that we see, it's likely that very few people have been there to confirm it. In general, however, ark hunters are trying to make enough money to get to Antarctica, if the tie-in game is to be believed.
Earth was supposed to be this for the Votan fleet. It's not clear if they knew it was inhabited ahead of time, and they may simply have had no other choice.
Oingo Boingo uses the idea for one of their renditions of Tender Lumplings with a heavy lean toward the cynical.
"Oh listen, Tender Lumplings, let me take you by the hand
I'll take you from this hellhole to the Promised Land.
But don't blame me, oh children, if those promises don't keep
'Cause promises, like lives, can be bought so very cheap."
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.
Many other western countries are also seen as this, many European nations have been a seen as a promise lands where immigrants want to travel to, in hopes of receiving the benefits of the countries.
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".
The Swedish-American colony in Jerusalem, which sparked Selma Lagerlöf to write her novel Jerusalem, founded in 1881. It is still there.
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 wishes 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 Lifestream, essentially being the setting's version of the afterlife.
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 unreachable 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, turning this into a Crappy Promised Land.
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 an Unreachable Promised Land, what with the war against the Fomors in order to reach it. By the time Erinn actually does get reached, several quite sympathetic characters have been corrupted, killed off or both, the biggest Badass of the entire game has become the Big Bad, and sweet and adorable Tieve has become Morrighan herself.
RuneScape has Yu'biusk, the goblin homeland. It's supposedly a green land of happiness and tranquility, 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 Promised Land of the idealistic type. But in the sequel, it turns out to be a Crappy Promised Land.
Satellite in Phantasy Star III, where Ayn's generation go to resettle after Shushoran and Cille are attacked by cyborg armies. Satellite turns out to be a Crappy Promised Land. 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.
Tino remembers and tries to convince the other members of the group that The Crevasse of Dreams in The Weekenders is real. This example is both the Idealistic version and an Unreachable Promised Land as they can't quite remember how to get there.