Reykjavík, Iceland is an odd, volcanic city, full of sunshine almost all day during the summer. There are few tourists, including Shadow, who wanders alone, marveling at the sense of continuity here. Shadow smiles at everyone he sees on the street, gradually becoming aware that someone is watching him. He goes into a restaurant and the waiter wishes him “Happy Fourth of July” after hearing Shadow’s American accent. Shadow wonders at how free he feels.
As Gaiman was inspired to write American Gods while on a trip to Iceland, it makes sense to end the book here where it “began,” in an homage to the cyclical patterns of myths. It is also an important thematic choice in terms of continuity, as Iceland’s connection to the past stands in stark contrast to America’s never-ending shifts into the future. Shadow retains his American identity in Iceland, celebrating his new-found freedom and joy on the very day that America celebrated its independence as a sovereign nation. Shadow now governs himself, beholden to no one for his life and choices.
Shadow goes to read in a park and an old man in a dark cloak and a broad-brimmed hat with a feather in it approaches him. Shadow apologizes that he only speaks English, and the man nods, explaining that his people went to America long ago, then came back when their gods could not survive there. The old man reveals that he is Odin, but that he is not the Wednesday that Shadow knew. Odin asks if Shadow will return to America, and Shadow knows that he will have to return eventually.
Apparently some people feel the need for gods too strongly to survive in America, where gods do not thrive. This aspect of Odin reveals the complex nature of reincarnation that the gods go through, as each nation might perceive a different version of the same god and create new versions of that god to suit their particular culture. Just as the gods are dependent on human belief, Shadow is in some sense born of the American land, and so must return once he has traveled enough.
Shadow tells Odin he has a gift, then “magically” makes Wednesday’s glass eye appear in Odin’s hand through sleight of hand. Odin asks for more tricks, so Shadow makes a gold coin appear out of the air. Shadow flips the gold coin into the sky, where it hangs like a sun as Shadow walks away.
Odin, true to form, demands more magic, but Shadow now knows that he only has to give the gods as much as he wants to. The last gold coin shines as a reminder of Shadow’s hybrid nature as both an old sun god and the new King of America, with the power to bring both sides together in his own new adventures.