When I was about 8. My Dad brought the Fellowship of the Ring into my room and said "Read this." like he meant it, so I did. I didn't understand alot of it, but I was fascinated by it. I used to check out the movie storybook of Bakshi's Rings from the library over and over as a kid, and I even did a book report with a shoebox diroama puppet show of Gandalf and the Balrog in about 1984 to my classmates. I read the Hobbit and loved it at around 8-9, but my first Tolkien memory was at age 3, watching the Rankin Bass Return of the King cartoon on TV.
I remember seeing Gollum in Mount Doom and asking my Dad who it was. He said that's Gollum and I thought, yep, he looks like a Gollum alright. Then he bit Frodo's finger off and scared the bejesus out of me.
Favorite Tolkien character:
I think Bilbo. Bilbo is the everyman, who loves the comforts of home, and food and drink, and is not exactly comfortable breaking out of his patterns to challenge himself. Yet, in the end he does just that and redefines himself and his world for the rest of his days, finding courage and humility amongst Dwarves, Wizards, Dragons and all manner of strange and magical creatures.
It helps that Martin Freeman's brilliant performance defines the character completely, being fresh, sympathetic, identifiable and charismatic at every turn.