Notes: Contains spoilers for the Guardians of Childhood books, although it was written with the movie's depiction of Pitch in mind, as well as the vaguest hints of my own theories. We'll just call this a character piece.
All characters belong to Dreamworks and William Joyce.
Children did not stay young long, Pitch knew.
Even so, he was with them through all of it. His presence was a blanket laid down upon their cradles. ("The cradle rocks above an abyss," a dead man said, "and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.") He knew children by name from their novitiate cries in the night, the ones whose parents never came to speak their mollifying denials of him, and he knew them in every moment afterwards.
Such tributes had weighted him world for centuries; he knew every loss, every dream relinquished, every fear of things real or imagined, until faith became a penny-match which they struck only when that bullying darkness pressed too close.
"All of this, about protecting the beliefs of children," he'd once asked the Moon. "What exactly is it that you'd have them believing in? Carefree, painless, endless lives?"
The Moon gave no answer. Pitch had laughed.
"Oh, yes, good. Keep them sealed up inside a pentacle of their own ignorance, so that when the world delivers its first blow they shatter completely. Believe me, your guardians do them no favors by keeping me at bay. When they're afraid, even children will not fool themselves into thinking they can live forever."
(He'd made to leave, after that, but had turned back for a moment. "…On a different note, am I right to assume that this new moniker is somehow your doing? Took it from the Middle English bogge, I suppose. Very clever of you.")
Pitch, to be fair, did not know who he had been during his own first life. It had never seemed to matter much. Quite frankly, it was nobody's concern either way.
But here is a secret, true believers:
He knew the weight of black armor hammered to fit him, its breastplate and pauldrons and vambraces damascened with gold. He knew the tug of horse reins in his hand. He knew the sound sand made as it fell down onto the lid of a rosewood coffin, too narrow for the reality it occupied, and he knew the name of the flower – black barlow – which was dropped down next.
He knew how soldiers tasked with guarding children from darkling things sometimes forgot to look under the bed, so of course that was the best place for a darkling thing to hide. He knew that a certain silver locket could be opened by tapping its clasp.
He knew that a lock should remember its key, and a key should remember its purpose.
He knew, he knew, he always knew.
(And he remembered a candle, its circle of light creating two long, thin hands out of the darkness. Then the hands were joined together at the thumbs, the fingers were spread outwards, shadows on the wall changed shape, and Oh I see it now I see it Daddy it's a butterfly).
…But to return to the cradle rocking. I think
Nabokov had it wrong – this is the abyss.
That's why babies howl at birth
And why the dying so often reach
for something only they can apprehend.
- Jane Kenyon, "Reading Aloud to My Father"
Notes: When Sandman knocks Pitch out towards the end of the film, we see that he's dreaming about golden butterflies. I guess this thing stemmed from my wondering why.
So, yes, I think that perhaps Pitch (back during the time he was General Pitchiner) lost his wife when their daughter was young, which is why he was so afraid of something happening to her, too. And maybe his daughter was carried off by Fearlings - what better way to strike the worst blow against the man who poses the worst threat to you? - and presumed dead. Or something like that.
That's why Pitch personally volunteered to guard the prison himself, and why the idea of his daughter locked inside with them was what finally broke him.
These are, of course, just theories to later be jossed. Thank you for reading, and of course any critiques or corrections are always welcome.