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"Scholar, it seems we've to storm hell!"
—Yin Chek Hsia, A Chinese Ghost Story
Sometimes heroes enter Hell to rescue a loved one; sometimes they go there to fight ultimate evil; some of the other, ahem, rough-around-the-edges heroes get sent there the old fashioned way. Either way, they generally see some or all of the following:
- The river Styx, either with or without Charon the boatman and his fee
- The gates of Hell, and their monstrous guardian, usually the three-headed dog Cerberus.
- Fire and brimstone.
- The dead suffering ironic punishments.
- Chance meetings with dead relatives and friends.
- A meeting with the guy in charge — sometimes Satan, sometimes a God of Death.
- The trip out is harder than the trip in.
If the hero is rescuing someone, there will be a catch. For instance, in Greek mythology, Orpheus was told his love, Eurydice, would follow him out of Hades, provided he did not look back to check that she was there. He looked back right after he got out but before she did, and lost her. Similar tales of descending into an underworld and returning occur in numerous mythologies: Inanna in Sumerian, Hermod in Norse, Kaknu in Cholone (Native American) and many more.
This is Older Than Dirt. Most modern examples are indirectly based on Dante's Inferno, or on Greek myths. The oldest story of a mortal journeying To Hell and Back is that of Odysseus, dating back to the 8th century BCE, but myths of gods descending into the underworld and returning go back to Mesopotamian Mythology. This plot actually was a named trope in ancient Greece: catabasis, literally "going down".
This is not to be confused with the autobiographical book and movie based on Audie Muphy's life.
Orphean Rescue is a subtrope.
- Chance Encounter II: Pirate Kingdom of Troy, features one of these, with the designated Iron Woobie and Butt Monkey Balian getting the crap beaten out of him in a subversion of Power of Love after it had been played straight as he charged straight through hell to rescue his wife by divine dispensation. The get out after the recently deceased and sainted Prince Hector gets involved, using this line:
- The protagonist of A Careless Wish traded a decade of his life to undo the eponymous wish God had granted the left-behind Love Interest. When a rent is torn between Earth and Hell for the explicit purpose of getting him back, after killing the demon that followed him to Earth, he opts to return to Hell before anything else can cross over. He does allude to his lack of interest in remaining there for much longer, and it seems that his deal with the Devil was to 'remain in Hell until he got bored'.
Anime and Manga
- The whole main cast of Saint Seiya goes on a trip to Hades to save Athena. Phoenix Ikki in particular comes and goes frequently.
- The third and final (so far) saga of Saint Seiya has Hades (the god) waging war against Athena. The Bronze Saints and a few Golds then travel down to the Hades (the location) both to defeat Hades and rescue their Goddess, going through the Circles of Hell and ending up in Elysium. Thing is, they're alive, so they require special dispensation to enter both locations.
- This Hell has pretty much everything a typical Underworld tourist would want. It's a perfect example of the trope.
- While not quite literally Hell, the infamous prison Impel Down in One Piece has enough visual parallels to count as Luffy embarks on a quest to break into Hell to rescue his older brother.
- According to their Badass Creed, the ultimate goal of the Iscariots in Hellsing is to perform a mass suicide and assault Hell itself.
- The latter half of Monster Soul takes place in Hell, which for some odd reason, can be accessed rather easily.
- Son Goku went to Hell (AKA. Home For Infinite Losers) by accident in the Dragonball Z anime after falling from Snake Way. Since he was on a quest to receive training from King Kai at the time, he had no goal other than returning to Snake Way.
- Note the above was filler, just like the other times Goku goes to Hell. Included that one Non-Serial Movie. Not that he doesn't kick ass during them though.
- Black Rock Shooter, the Otherworld has a Purgatory/Hellish feel to it. Mato/Black Rock Shooter enters it to save Yomi's soul from Dead Master.
- Inuyasha: One of Sesshoumaru's Crowning Moment of Awesome moments consists of him doing this for his Morality Pet Rin in one of the greatest Papa Wolf moments in the entire manga. Not only does he kick the King of Hell's ass, but he also purifies every damned soul in Hell before heading back to have Rin resurrected by his mother, a youkai queen.
- La Blue Girl. In this Hentai, the main protagonist's sister is taken to the Shikima Realm due to a scent-based mix-up. Miko has to go down there using sexual techniques to rescue her sister from the Horny Devils.
- Formerly Known As The Justice League had the ironic punishments and the Orpheus trip — Guy Gardner and Fire had to keep from looking at Ice, Guy's girlfriend and Fire's best friend, who had died some time previously. In the end, Fire looked, and they lost her.
- Alan Moore's Swamp Thing featured this in one annual, wherein the eponymous plant elemental journeyed through the afterlife--visiting Purgatory, Heaven and Hell--in order to find and bring back the soul of his human love interest which had been cast into hell at the end of the previous arc. In addition to the similarity to the Orpheus myth, the issue also functioned as a retelling of the Divine Comedy, with Dante's supernatural guides being replaced by their closest DCU equivalents--Deadman, The Phantom Stranger, The Spectre and Etrigan (who, thanks to Moore's gift for poetry, doesn't sound retarded for once).
- The Saint of Killers in Preacher (Comic Book) gets to Hell the regular way, but his hatred is so great it freezes over. Satan convinces him to take over the job of the Angel of Death just to get him out of Hell, but as he leaves he uses his new powers to kill Satan. Eventually he ascends to heaven. God returns to find every angel slaughtered, with The Saint of Killers sitting on his throne. Bang! and he becomes one of the few characters that have killed both Satan and God.
- Hellblazer's John Constantine has been to Hell so many times it's in the comic's name.
- Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, where Morpheus travels to Hell to retrieve his helmet, and again to free Nada, though the latter didn't turn out so well.
- A classic Strontium Dog story involved the heroes chasing a renegade bounty hunter to a Hell-dimension, and then going to track down Satan in order to escape.
- Marvel Comics has Mephisto who is a Satan-like figure. Many heroes have found themselves facing Mephisto in his realm. One of the most famous being a story in Daredevil, which saw the hero and the entire Hell's Kitchen district of New York venturing into his realm.
- There is also Damien Hellstorm, the Son of Satan who has traveled to Hell and returned many times due to his dad being Satan himself (or one of Marvel's many versions of him).
- Almost every version of Ghost Rider has ventured into Hell.
- The Mighty Thor has traveled to Hel, the Asgardian version of Hell and has fought Hela, the Nordic Goddess of Death.
- Spider-Man once died in a lesser-known and underrated story. He traveled to Death's Realm and fought Thanos for the soul of a little girl.
- The X-Men, teamed up with Doctor Strange, once went to Hell. Or so it seemed. When Colossus ripped down the gates of Hell, Doctor Strange got suspicious, since no one short of Jesus is supposed to be capable of that feat. It turned out to be a hoax.
- The plot of Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment involves the pair venturing into Mephisto's realm to rescue the soul of Doom's mother. They succeed... at a price.
- Also the name of a Sin City story, although the literal journey does not take place.
- Near the end of PAD's run, Triton has killed Poseidon and is kicking the crap out of Aquaman and friends. Aquaman lets Triton kill him, so he can get to the afterlife. Once there, he decks Charon, rallies the souls who didn't have boatfare, jacks Charon's boat, runs Charon over with his own boat, storms the literal Gates of Hell, cuts off one of Cerberus' heads, marches right up to Pluto and demands Poseidon back, ultimately convincing Hades with a very solid Batman Gambit. On his way out, Cerberus is back, and Aquaman has just one word for the titanic guardian of the underworld: "Stay."
- Robin Williams literally goes through hell in the movie What Dreams May Come after he dies, when he attempts to retrieve his (also) dead wife who has gone to hell because she committed suicide.
- Disney's Hercules.
- He does it many times in the TV series, including one retelling of the Orpheus myth. Charon even Hangs a Lampshade on it in one episode and offers Herc a frequent customer discount.
- A variant occurs with Davy Jones' Locker in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.
- A variation in the demonic musical romantic comedy Lo: after the protagonist watches his girlfriend get carried off by a demon, he summons another one to bring her back from Hell so that he can speak with her again.
- The "Inferno" from Dante's The Divine Comedy. Dante is taken down to Hell to observe, then moves up to the other two realms in "Purgatorio" and "Paradiso." The episode in Hell, by the by, is by far the most interesting and well-remembered part of the poem.
- In JRR Tolkien's The Silmarillion, the Big Bad Morgoth rules a vast underground fortress named Angband, the Iron Prison, which is basically Hell on Earth. While many characters are dragged there as prisoners and a few escape, only three people go there voluntarily and get out alive: Fingon, who actually only climbed the mountain heaped up over the gates, to rescue his friend Maedhros; and Beren and Luthien, who shapeshifted into animalistic monsters, snuck all the way down to Morgoth's throne room, stole a Silmaril right out of his crown, and made it all the way back to the outermost gate before they were caught. They still escaped anyway.
- Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle revisited Dante's Inferno in their own modern version. The central character, Allen Carpenter, traveled through the same Hell, encountering many similar events. However, some of the settings had been modernized — there were demonic cars, and the Grove of the Suicides was being bulldozed. Replacing Virgil's role as guide was Benito Mussolini. In the end, Allen had Benito climb Satan rather than himself to seek divine forgiveness.
- Taltos and Morrolan traveled the Paths of the Dead in Taltos and came back with Aliera. Zerika did the same in The Paths of the Dead to get the Orb.
- Twice in Discworld novels. In
FaustEric, Rincewind and Eric end up in Hell by mistake, and are allowed to leave (across a road paved with good intentions) by the new Demon King due to their adventures having distracted the old one while his removal was plotted (he becomes Life President of Hell, a job with no powers whatsoever). Before that, they meet everyone they've encountered over the course of the story, and discover the most ironic punishment is mind-numbing tedium. In Wintersmith, Roland and the Nac Mac Feegle rescue the Summer Lady from Limbo (so called because the door's very low). The ferryman talks in ALLCAPS, and may therefore be a certain recurring character.
- Robert A. Heinlein's story Magic, Inc..
- One of the legends told in the course of Watership Down features the first rabbit, El-ahrairah, descending into Inle — evidently the Lapine version of Hades — and winning his people's freedom from the Black Rabbit who rules there. Hint: it involves sacrificing his ears. And that's only the beginning. No, folks, contrary to the marketing, this is not a cute bunny story.
- Poul Anderson's novel (actually a compilation and rewrite of several stories) Operation Chaos, about a werewolf and witch who manage to accidentally thwart the Devil in their technomagical world (written in the 1960's, and thus possibly one of the first technomagical milieus in fiction). Eventually one of the Devil's top henchmen (a guy with a funny little mustache and wearing a swastika — whom the heroes do not recognize as he never existed in their world) kidnaps their baby daughter and they use experimental magicks to invade Hell and snatch her back.
- Most of the Incarnations of Immortality visit Hell at some point in their respective books.
- In Philip Pullmans `The Amber Spyglass` The main characters Lyra and Will go to where all dead people end up and free them
- In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero in Hell, what his children start out to do to rescue him.
Live Action TV
- Hercules: The Legendary Journeys
- Stargate SG-1 did this in 'Jolinar's Memories'. In this case Hell was a moon that a Goa'uld Satan impersonator used to make his enemies suffer. This led to the memorable line, said by O'Neill, "To Hell with us."
- Victorious plays on this trope with their episode "Helen Back Again". Helen, from Drake and Josh, is their new principal, and their re-auditions are certainly a journey through Hell.
- The Orpheus story forms the basis for the song "From the Underworld" by The Herd.
- And also the song "Eurydice (don't Follow)" by the Cr Ã¼xshadows.
- A song by Venom.
Myths and Religion
- Most certainly the oldest example in human storytelling/mythology is the Sumerian story of the goddess Inanna (in later mythology Ishtar), descending to the Underworld to steal her sister's throne, then getting herself captured and requiring a rescue from the Underworld by her "uncle" Enki, god of water and wisdom. Like many other stories, there is a catch — someone has to replace Inanna in the Underworld for her to be free and for the harvests on Earth to survive.
- Various sources from Classical Mythology:
- Orpheus, who entered Hades to rescue his wife Eurydice. Unfortunately, he was told that he might not look back upon her until both were out of Hades, and Orpheus was unable to follow this one command. As a result, Eurydice vanished back to the Underworld.
- For his twelfth labor, Heracles goes to the Underworld to fight Cerberus and bring him back to King Eurystheus.
- In Greek stories, Heracles also helps save the queen Alcestis who has taken the place of the ill King Admetus in the Underworld.
- Odysseus descends to Hades at one point in The Odyssey, where he meets Tiresias to tell him his next step, and even has a talk with Achylles (who had died in The Iliad).
- Psyche, wife of Eros/Cupid, descended as a task imposed by Aphrodite/Venus in order to beg Persephone/Prosperina for a box of beauty in order to win back her husband whose trust she had betrayed.
- Aeneas visited Hades in order to hear a prophesy from his deceased father.
- Pirithous and Theseus descended so that Pirithous could take the married Persephone as his wife. They end up captured by Hades. Theseus, with the help of Heracles, eventually escaped. Pirithous didn't.
- Japanese Mythology tells of Izanagi, one of the first deities, and his attempt to retrieve his wife Izanami from Yomi, the underworld. Unlike Orpheus, Izanagi didn't lose his wife outright by looking back — he saw that she had rotted and was so repulsed he refused to lead her the rest of the way out.
- Refused? More like he got scared and ran away from her.
- In Norse Mythology, Hermóðr the Brave rides to Hell (more appropriately, Hel) to get his brother Baldr back from the underworld. Hel agrees, as long as the entire world would weep for him. Everyone but Loki does, but because of Loki Baldr remains trapped in the underworld.
- Many Christians believe that Christ descended into Hell after his crucifixion and spent a few days there rescuing people, before being resurrected: this belief is part of the "Apostle's Creed," for example. (The dates of Dante's Inferno are timed to coincide with Christ's sojourn: Dante enters Hell on Good Friday and returns to the surface of the earth on Easter Sunday.)
- Buddhism has the story of Princess Miao Shan who willingly died and took on the negative karma of the man who killed her to save his life from her at the time rather crazy father. She then ascended to godhood in Hell, turned that portion of Hell into a Paradise by releasing all of her good karma, and traveled through the rest of Hell. All with the intention of helping her father who ordered her death in the first place.
- This happens on a daily basis to people living in a certain area in Michigan.
- The underworlds of many different religions are available to visit in Scion. They aren't outright nasty, though social calls are generally inadvisible. Unfortunately, only two of them (Yomi, the Shinto afterlife, and Guinee, the Voodoo afterlife) are connected to functioning religions, so most of the people a Scion knows are nowhere to be seen.
- Both Malfeas, the Demon City, and the Underworld (they're separate places in this universe) are available for adventuring in Exalted. Resurrecting deceased loved ones isn't on the table, but almost anything else is.
- All the Lower Planes can be visited in some Dungeons and Dragons campaigns.
- The Don't Rest Your Head supplement Don't Lose Your Mind details the Orpheus talent, which literally lets the user walk to Hell and back again.
- Planescape: Torment has a quest of this sort. During the Nameless One's journey, he discovers that the one piece of vital information he needs is kept by the Pillar of Skulls: A writhing, babbling, screaming tower of disembodied heads... which can only be found in Baator, which is essentially D&D's version of Hell. Needless to say, the party doesn't intend to stay there longer than they have to.
- Doom has the Marine going back and forth between Hell and this world so many times (even after apparently destroying it in Doom 2) that in Doom 64 he decides to just stay there to make sure everything really does stay Killed Off for Real this time.
- Doom 3 also has you go to hell and back twice.
- Kratos from God of War goes to both Hades and Tartarus in the course of his game series, and he doesn't leave either without sufficient arse-kicking.
- He goes to Hell and back so many times, they might as well install a revolving door.
- Assuming another jaunt through the fire and brimstone in III, it is offically Once a Game.
- Yep. Complete with Hades as a boss, and he carries the very hooks Hades uses to rip out souls when he comes roaring back out again.
- In the final chapter of Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark the player is trapped in the eighth hell and spends the whole chapter venturing deeper into its frozen wastes to find a way back to the material plane and confront the Big Bad who sent him there.
- The protagonist in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion spends a fair amount of time bringing pain and terror to a reasonable facsimile of a fire-and-brimstone-flavored Hell.
- Romancing SaGa lets you visit hell as one of the three paths to endgame if you make yourself evil enough.
- Blue's quest in SaGa Frontier features Hell as the final dungeon, and its overlord as the final boss. The twist? You don't come back.
- Every videogame in the Devil May Cry series (except the fourth) has had the protagonist Dante go to hell (in the second game, it's part of the ending).
- The bottom (second) half of Nethack (early versions would instantly kill characters without fire resistance).
- Super Paper Mario, surprisingly. The Underwhere isn't really that bad of a place though, being more directly influenced by Greek mythology's underworld than a Fire and Brimstone Hell.
- In Odin Sphere, all the characters do this with the Netherworld at one point or another: Cornelius and Oswald both fight their way out after waking up trapped in there (the latter with some help from Odin), while Mercedes, Velvet and Gwendolyn all go into the Netherworld to look for someone and fight their way in and out (the latter two with some help from Odin).
- Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne You constantly go to hell and back; barriers prevent you from advancing until you acquire the Candelabra from the Fiends.
- The final venue of Guitar Hero III is a nightclub in hell. To escape, you must defeat the devil with The Power of Rock.
- Cave Story. Though here, it's more of a physical place than a metaphysical one, and it's ruled by a mad sorcerer rather than any mythological figure. At least the level enemies are demons (albeit disguised as angels).
- Baldur's Gate 2 has a strange aversion, where the character travels to what appears to be Hell, but is revealed to be a pocket plane they created that simply resembles Hell due to their connection to Bhaal.
- But it exists within Bhaal's realm, and so really is in The Nine Hells/The Abyss/Gehenna/wherever. These three are all Lower Planes, and so basically count as hell; the two first both seem to be suggested as the location at some point, the third is where it should have been by canon.
- The hero of Quest for Glory enters Hades to pick up a MacGuffin to prove his worth as king. Along the way, he gets the opportunity to go on a Orpheic quest to retrieve his dead love (either one).
- Alexander travels to the land of the dead in King's Quest VI, mostly because the plot demands it. Alexander rides to the Underworld on the Nightmare, a winged demon horse, to restore Princess Cassima's parents to life. Bonus points because you can see the Underworld on the Have a Nice Death screen, THEN visit it alive, when you thought it would only be yet another twisted way of Sierra to hand you a death scene.
- Highly Responsive to Prayers: One path has you storming hell for no reason. Though this game isn't really in continuity anymore...
- Perfect Cherry Blossom: The last two stages are in the netherworld. Closer to purgatory than hell, but still part of the afterlife.
- Phantasmagoria of Flower View [sic]: They fight a Shinigami and her boss, the Judge of Hell, while on the banks of the Buddhist equivalent of River Styx.
- Subterranean Animism: The final stage is former hell.
- In Splatterhouse 2, your character Rick dives down to Hell to save his dead girlfriend. While succeeding, he also punches out a really nasty source of evil equivalent to the King of Hell itself. Awesome.
- Both games in the Diablo series have the player character fighting through Hell to kill Diablo in the last Act. Considering that a third game is in development, killing Diablo doesn't seem to do much.
- Its more killing his host in the first game.
- Soul Reaver 2: Raziel says that he has been "dragged through hell and back, all it seems to reach this moment" (meeting Janos Audron, the last of the Precursors).
- Nethergate has the player characters go into Annwn, a Celtic afterlife sort of thing, in the fifth act to get a MacGuffin.
- Final Fantasy II has the heroes storming the Castle Pandemonium, inside Hell, to defeat Emperor Mateus, who has taken over.
- Jet Moto 2's final track, Nebulous, is a Marathon Level that alternates between heaven and hell.
- Tenchu the mission called "Save the Princess" where Rikimaru has to go to Hell to rescue princess Kiku and kill lord Mei-Oh, eventually Rikimaru get's trapped there but manages to escape trough the same portal lord Mei-Oh came from.
- The cause of the difficulty spike in Momohime's story in Muramasa: The Demon Blade. The mission is to recover a sword, though when it can't be done, the next step is the natural one.
- Dwarf Fortress has "Hidden Fun Stuff".
- In Painkiller the protagonist, Daniel Garner, chooses to enter Hell of his own accord to save Eve, even despite being told he can never come back. He then fights his way through Lucifer's minions and passes through the gates of Hell, reaching what is considered by many to be one of the coolest levels ever created. The game ends on a cliffhanger with him defending himself and Eve against an endless horde of demons. The game's following expansion is called Battle Out of Hell.
- Hades is a location in both the original Zork and Zork: Grand Inquisitor. In the former, it's mostly just another room with a piece of treasure, but you do have to exorcise the evil spirits. In the latter, Hades is more elaborate, with the River Styx, Charon to row you across for a price, and
Cerberusa two-headed beast guarding the gate (the original three-headed dog having been stolen some centuries ago to guard some king's museum).
- Dantes Inferno, based on the first part of The Divine Comedy, just takes this trope and runs with it.
- The end of Fear Effect takes place in the Chinese version of Hell, with dead trees and bubbling black pitch taking the place of fire and brimstone.
- Sam and Max take the subway to hell in "What's New, Beelzebub?" And back. And due to the nature of the game, it becomes an easily repeatable round trip.
- In Portal 2, when the newly crazed Wheatley sends Chell and POTaDOS downwards hundreds of feet below the modern Aperature Laboratories building towards the hazy remains of the older Aperature Science buildings, and the subsequent traverse back upwards through the destroyed remnants of Cave Johnson's testing chambers.
- In the NES game Day Dreamin' Davey, Davey has to get though Hades' Underworld Lair not once, but two times! The first time is in Ancient Greece, when he had to pay The Ferry Man Charon one coin to get through the lair while avoiding being sunk in quicksand and defeat the three-headed Cerberus. The second time is in the final level of the Wild West, where he has to go through a tunnel to... Hades' Underworld lair! Fortunately, Hades has to get Davey to the other side in order to reach the OK Corral.
- Fear Effect. The end of the first game takes place in the Chinese version.
- Rayman Origins makes this the main objective by getting into the Land of the Livid Dead to put a stop to the underworld invasion of Rayman's home.
- In the interactive fiction game Frederik Pohl's Gateway (loosely based on the book) one of the final challenges is escaping Hell. Hell itself is quite small - it's only got four distinct areas but each carries a painful punishment for the player. The escape method relies on the player realizing that Hell is actually a Virtual Reality and that hydras and Virtual Reality memory limits don't mix well.
- Sluggy Freelance has a Story Arc called "Torg Goes To Hell." He's eventually rescued, but it takes bit longer to get back to his own universe.
- Sam goes to Hell properly so called in the Saturday fillers at one point, taken there by the Demon Queen Deplora (who is not a native either, having her own separate hellish dimension). Later on, this is referenced in the main comic with his saying he's been to hell and back, maybe literally, in a Continuity Nod towards the "mostly canon" and not terribly loved Saturday comics.
- The first book in The Salvation War trilogy, Armageddon is this, a literal invasion of hell after the defeat of a demonic army. It was a curbstomp war, with the humans doing the stomping. That being said, Belial did manage to do some very damaging retaliation with his "skyvolcanoes". Act Two is storming heaven! Act Three will supposedly deal with the immediate aftermath of the war.
- In Futurama, Fry and Leela must rescue Bender from Robot Hell — which is located just beneath the surface of New Jersey.
- Teen Titans: Nothing is explicitly stated, it being a "kid's" show, but it can be assumed from the fire, lava, and fiery demons that Hell is where Robin and Slade went in the Season 4 finale, Slade to reclaim his soul and Robin to find Raven.
- On Justice League Unlimited, Wonder Woman and Shayera went to the underworld, ironically, to rescue Hades, who had been dethroned by Felix Faust.
- In the Halloween episode of Pinky and The Brain, Brain travels to Hell to rescue Pinky, who had sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for a "radish rose whatchamawhoozit." Of course, since this is a children's cartoon, they call it "Hades," and Satan isn't actually named as such (though it's obvious who he is).
- The Animaniacs did this as well. Granted, being the Warners they just annoy Satan until he kicks them out.
- Warner Brothers cartoons, 'Satan's Waitin'(Sylvester and Tweety cartoon) and Devil's Feud Cake(Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam cartoon), define this trope.
- On Adventure Time Finn and Jake go to the Nightosphere (which is almost identical to Hell) to hang out with Marceline.