1976 or 1977. Friends got me The Hobbit & LOTR(Ballantine paperbacks with The Prof's illustrations on the covers) for my birthday.
Favorite Tolkien character:
Samwise Gamgee; his humility. He's the only one to ever be tempted by the Ring and over come the temptation, while possessing it, no less (and *in* Mordor, even less!)! His humility is contrasted with Boromir, Saruman, and Denethor; their pride was their downfall (although Boromir repented).