Didn't see the films until 2004, although I gave birth to a son on the premiere night of The Two Towers in 2002. My sister left the hospital in a hurry for the theater that evening. Read the books for the first time sometime in fall of 2004. I like the ROTK the best of the three, but The Hobbit is my favorite of all Tolkien's books. The plot is neater and more engaging than any of his other stories, hands down.
Read the entire book in a day and a half!