There's a certain type of book series that offers the reader the chance to be a detective; the entire world of the series is a mystery whose origins lie shrouded in a mist of narrative, yet enough light pierces that veil to allow the attentive reader to glimpse the nature of things.
The Kingkiller Chronicles is just such a series, perhaps the best such series. It is written by a very talented writer, and it is already finished; every twist in the plot is already written in a manuscript, and Rothfuss is largely just fixing diction at this point (which is still taking him agonizingly long). Further, the future of the series is already known; we know the end of the story, where Kvothe becomes the humble innkeeper of Nevarre and the world is torn apart by demon spiders, and we know that the rest of the story is going to explain how all of this happened.
So, as I have done in the past, I would like to take a moment to wildly speculate about the series.
There are, of course, SPOILERS. Please do not read this until you have read the first two books, and thoroughly. Try to piece things together for yourself, or you're missing half the fun of the series.
One subject that has caused much debate is the issue of Kvothe and his apparent inability to do magic. In particular, when Kvothe is attacked by the skin-dancer at the end of NotW, he throws elderberry liquor on it and is about to light it on fire. But he doesn't light it on fire.
"With an almost casual motion, Kvothe grabbed a dark bottle from the counter and flung it across the bar. It struck the mercenary in the mouth and shattered. The air filled with the sharp tang of elderberry, dousing the man's still-grinning head and shouldersAfter this event, as Chronicler, Kvothe, and Bast discuss what happened, Chronicler makes the mistake of asking about the fire. Bast purposefully hurts his bruised shoulder, sends Kvothe away, then cautions Chronicler.
"Reaching out one hand, Kvothe dipped a finger into the liquor that spattered the bar. He muttered something under his breath, his forehead furrowed in concentration. He stared intently at the bloody man standing on the other side of the bar.
The mercenary reached across the bar, catching hold of Kvothe's sleeve The innkeeper simply stood, and in that moment his expression held no fear, no anger or surprise. He seemed only weary, numb, and dismayed." - Chapter 88
"'Don't ask him about it,' he hissed urgently. 'Don't mention it at all.'And of course, Bast later sneaks in to Chronicler's room to remind him not to focus on the bad things that will make Kvothe sad but the heroic things that will build him up, in particular on "why he doesn't do magic anymore." [Chapter 92].
"Chronicler looked puzzled. 'What are you talking about?'
"About the bottle. About the sympathy he tried to do.
"So he was trying to light that thing on fire? Why didn't it work? What's--'
"Bast tightened his grip, his thumb digging into the hollow beneath Chronicler's collarbone. The scribe gave another startled yelp. 'Don't talk about that,' Bast hissed in his ear. 'Don't ask questions.'" - Chapter 88
So it seems that something has happened that prevents Kvothe from using magic, even to save his own life, and that whatever it is will likely only remind Kvothe of the terrible and dark past.
Let me interject quickly here what Alar is and is not. When we are first introduced to Alar, it is with an analogy to belief. It is the way donkeys believe in a whip; riding-crop belief. It is the ability to believe things, multiple things, contradictory to one another, and yet know that they are not true. Alar is the ability to believe with one part of your mind that a rock will not fall, and with another that it will fall, regardless of what rocks really do. It is an ability to concentrate. Kvothe is good at sympathy because he is clever and intelligent and was trained in this concentration from a young age; not because he has some Harry-Poter-like "wizard blood". Alar is not in itself magical, but is what facilitates magic to happen. Sympathy is practically a science, involving transporting forms of energy from one region to another, converting them from one form to another. The ability to do sympathy is almost the ability to do algebra in your head. In theory, any given peasant could use sympathy if they could focus properly (and not be superstitious about it). The idea that Kvothe has 'lost' his Alar or 'broken' his Alar is to say that Kvothe lost his ability to focus in a particular way, or broke his ability to concentrate on something. Unless he had a stroke or something, that doesn't make sense. So if it is the case that Kvothe can no longer do sympathy, then there must be a deeper explanation than that he "lost the source of his powers".
The seeming explanation offered to us in the book itself is that he has worn a mask of innkeeper for so long that he now sees himself as an unmagical innkeeper and so is becoming an unmagical innkeeper. This is at least what Bast says, that seeming is being. In this view, then, Kvothe could not light the skin-dancer on fire because he was so thoroughly caught up in playing an innkeeper that he stumbled when trying to be his real magical self. He still has the power to light alcohol on fire from a distance, but he was too deep in the Kote persona to do it.
This explanation is given by Bast, but it is not given by Bast to explain why Kvothe cannot do sympathy. When Chronicler asks why Kvothe does not do magic or music, Bast tells him not to pursue that topic because it is not productive. This is after explaining about the innkeeper mask, so if Bast suspected the reason Kvothe couldn't do magic was the innkeeper mask, he would have said something more like "it's the mask, like I just told you about." Bast's reply here implies a more profound reason than the innkeeper persona, and shows that not even Bast believes "his own" theory on this.
Even if Bast does not suspect this theory, it would explain the known facts. It would explain why Kvothe can still fight off five Scrael and dig their graves then carry Chronicler back to the inn while himself covered in razor slices all over his body. Notice, also, the changes Chronicler sees in Kvothe, from telling his story as a bold and fiery hero, to then fading in to an obscure nobody once customers walk in. Especially interesting is Kvothe's response to being told "You are Kvothe" by Chronicler. It would explain why Kvothe at first (just jarred out of his story) is beating the crap out of the soldiers in the second book, and it would explain why he then loses saying he "almost forgets who he is" (which is Kote). Also accounted by this theory is why Kvothe is seen training at the very end of WMF; he is now trying to step out of the innkeeper persona and back in to his old self. Maybe with this will come the magic, and the music?
And think of the music. We have been told four times now that "if there had been music... but no, of course there was no music". And yet Kvothe gets carried away when visitors come to the inn and starts leading everyone in clapping and singing "Tinker Tanner"; he is clearly still musical, when he forgets himself. He just avoids playing the lute, maybe for fear of getting caught back up in his old self and blowing the disguise (right after he sings, one of the guests recognizes him and approaches him). This theory presents a more hopeful view of the end of the story, with Kvothe coming back to his true self and regaining all of his powers.
Related to this is the idea that Kvothe isn't just getting caught up in character, but is actively using his Alar to hide his powers from himself, like in the game seek-the-stone that Ben taught him. It is very similar in how it approaches Kvothe's behavior in the frame, and how Kvothe will ultimately return to his "true self".
Another theory, more intriguing, is that Kvothe has changed his name. Not just from Kvothe to Kote, but has changed his true name that describes his essence (that is, a clever and musical magician with an Alar like a rod of Ramston steel) to something more mundane (like a mild-mannered innkeeper who makes delicious apple pies). In the beginning of the story, it even says that he has changed his name to Kote, because names are important to him. Elodin makes perfectly clear that name changes are possible, and that the result of it is terrifying (notice his shock when he thinks Fela might have done so). Name-changing would be disastrous if used improperly, but for the apparently grief-striken Kvothe who has realized that his actions have destroyed the entire world (so that demons from Fae are commonplace occurrences and the entire world is in the war of the Penitent King) it might just sound like the best thing to do, to keep from doing any more damage.
Why doesn't Kvothe do magic? Bast said it wasn't a fruitful topic, and if he had changed his name to get rid of his powers out of profound guilt and shame, that seems like the sort of thing you don't ask people about. When Chronicler almost asked Kvothe why his magic failed, Bast digs a claw in to his shoulder wound to keep him from it; this might be because Bast doesn't want Chronicler to embarrass him (that's how I first read it), or it might be because the loss of sympathy came with a change of Kvothe's deeper essence, which was sparked by a very troubling and depressing event that Bast doesn't want his Reshi to dwell on.
And why doesn't Kvothe do music? This is even more of a question, given how obsessive Kvothe is about it. It's a need like water for him. It might just be part of the disguise, but it's an extreme step. I can see why he'd willingly give up fighting and magic to be a lowly innkeeper, but music doesn't seem like it needs to be on that list. For instance, playing music would be good for business in the inn, even if only a little of it. If Kvothe has changed his name, it might have had the unintended consequence of changing his musical abilities, too. Perhaps his naming and sympathy come from the same source of intelligence and drive and aesthetics that also motivates his love of music? (After all, music and mathematics tend to be very closely related skill sets). I think a name change makes more sense there.
One further thing is the reason why Bast is learning alchemy. We know, resolutely, that Kvothes knows nothing about alchemy. But, if he had changed his name and hence truly lost his ability to do other magic like sympathy or naming, this explains why now he's focused on alchemy; it's the only one left to him, not requiring any power of the alchemist, but of the substances used.
However, I don't think a name change makes sense in other places. Kvothe fought five scrael by himself, and we know an ordinary person just barely killed one after it was wounded coming over the mountains and squashed by a horse. Kvothe also still sings, when the guests come and he loses himself in the moment, and possibly when the young couple come with their child and Kvothe accuses Bast of being the father. Kvothe also fought the two soldiers, and was winning at first; seemingly he could have beat them if he had wanted to.
Most damning to this theory, though, is that Kvothe does still do magic. Explicitly, in chapter 6, when Chronicler is trying to convince Kvothe to tell his story, he makes a fist with his right hand and causes a bottle eight inches away to explode. If his true name were really changed and his powers removed with it, he wouldn't be able to do that.
In this theory, there are a number of resolutions. One is that Kvothe has locked his name inside of the thrice-locked chest, just as Jax did with the name of the Moon. The lock is intended to keep himself from opening it too soon, on an impulse or a broken will. Hopefully he will figure out how to open the chest by the end of the story, and thus regain all of his power. Another is that Kvothe really and finally changed his name, but that Chronicler (a known namer), after collecting the story of Kvothe, will be able to speak the true name of Kvothe back to Kote and restore him to who he was (similar to what Skarpi and Elodin do). Or, depressingly, he just stays Kote and dies like the prologues keep saying he's waiting for. I don't put a tragic ending past this series.
A related theory pertains to a vow Kvothe swore to Denna, on his good left hand and his power and his name, to not try to find out who her patron was. The Cthaeh seems to have obliterated all possibility of him keeping that vow. Kvothe might somehow be magically bound to that vow (though I can't imagine why), and when he seeks her patron in the third book, these things will be lost. Or perhaps Denna becomes so enraged at his betrayal when he seeks her patron that she herself invokes the terms of the vow (reminiscent of Selitos, making this truly a story of betrayal). In this theory, then, Kvothe doesn't play music because his left hand, used for forming chords, no longer works. He doesn't do sympathy because he lost his power, and he has lost his name. But he can still do non-related things, like alchemy and ketan. Or maybe even Kvothe enforces this sacrifice on himself in his grief after having broken his vowto his love, purposefully paralyzing his left hand and refusing to perform magic.
If you look through the book, you will see a special and vague attention paid to Kvothe's hands. For instance, the third silence of the prologues and epilogues "is in the hands of the innkeeper". He also looks at his hands often, in particular when he says how nice a panacea would be, or when he pokes himself with a thorn while weaving the holly boughs without knowing it. He fumbles clumsily at the locks on his chest. In the story told by Kvothe, fear about his hands is a constant obsession, which seems to set the stage for him to lose them.
And yet in the frame, Kvothe's hands are described constantly as "graceful" and seem to be no less capable than they are in the story. Kvothe enjoys using them, and takes a long time polishing glass just to savor the use of his skilled hands.
Not related to any theory, but on the issue of the fight, people who mention this seem to forget what Bast says when he meets up with the soldiers later. That is, that Kvothe "figured it out". Bast and the soldiers both seem to think that Kvothe figured out they were just there as a scam to get Kvothe to come back to his old self, and that is why he throws the fight. That connects to his words to Chronicler after he lost; he had just finished telling about his training with the Adem and the entire troupe of bandits he killed, he starts taking on the soldiers, then he realizes (somehow) that this is a set up and goes back to his Kote self; he tells Chronicler that he "almost forgot who he was". I bring that up because if you want to discuss the lost fight with the soldiers, the text seems to strongly suggest that Kvothe lost it on purpose, at least partially to make a point to Bast.
All told, I think the idea of Kvothe's name being locked in the thrice-locked chest is the neatest (and what the heck else is in there?), but does not account for the events of the story. In particular it doesn't explain how Kvothe is still able to music, still able to magically break glass, and still able to fight off the scrael.
What I think makes the most sense is exactly what the story says: seeming is being. Kvothe is playing the part of innkeeper, and hence has become an innkeeper. Sometimes he merely doesn't do magic, out of grief for what he's done and to not give himself away; the innkeeper persona isn't just a disguise, but a penance for having ruined the entire world. But other times he really cannot, because he's so deep in making delicious pies that those parts of himself are atrophied. This fits the data the best, and may have a connection to the Fae magics of glamourie and grammarie ("seeming" and "being", introduced briefly in the text -- Bast does a glamourie when he turns Chronicler's ink into a bird, and I don't think there's been a grammarie yet).
Kvothe is wearing the mask, and is becoming the mask.
I think, as per the end of the second book, that Kvothe is beginning to get jostled out of his complacency, as demons and bandits are regularly attacking his town and he recounts his past heroics. He started retraining in ketan, trying to open the thrice-locked chest, and unlocking the parts of him that hold his music and his magic. I think in the third book, we'll begin to see a return of Kvothe's music, magic, and fighting skills.
Or at least I hope so, anyway. Can't wait to find out for sure.