NORTHERN TALES by Howard Norman (Pantheon Books: $24.95; 333 pp.) . These traditional folk stories from Eskimo and Indian lore were gathered in societies around the Arctic and subarctic circles, from Siberia, Greenland and the Japanese islands of Hokkaido to Canada and the Aleutian Islands. Some of them date back hundreds of years. The 116 stories are divided into arbitrary categories (Village Life, The How and Why of Everything, Sprits and Other Strange Neighbors) and could as easily be shuffled into any other order. Fantasy overlaps reality in these tales, and divisions blur between humanity and nature, death and life, spirituality and survival. These are stories told in tents, on hunting trips, at festivals and powwows. If there are lessons, they are that love and food are inextricably linked, people never give up on someone who is missing, and a good story will always outlive a tragic reality.