Liz B at A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy has a tremendously thoughtful post on how she came to read the "classics." Her thoughts on what worked for her are spot-on and echo my own experience.
What my parents read: I know my kids (and I) became interested in Tolkien because of their dad's, Treebeard's, love for the books. He read aloud every evening and we would tidy up the kitchen and then settle in for the next installment in the lives of our dear hobbits.
The fact that the books were so important to their father made an impression on them (they were still very young) and gave The Professor's story the opening it needed to work its magic on all of us.
Entling #3 even gave Wuthering Heights a read this year because I suggested she read the Brontes. She almost NEVER reads something I suggest so this was a pleasant surprise. She was reading Wuthering Heights while waiting at the doctor's office and the nurse practitioner asked with some surprise, "Do you have to read that for a school assignment?" She could not imagine reading it, otherwise.
Comic Book versions: There are new editions of the classics in graphic novel format. I have not been able to determine if these are well received by kids or not.
I have been hoping that living-at-home-entlings (1 college, 1 high school) might read some Jane Austen but so far -- no sell. I am attempting to lay some groundwork with another of Liz B.'s ideas: Watching the movie/TV version. I offered a screening of Sense and Sensibility the other evening and challenged them to count the Harry Potter cast members (there are TONS!) in the film. They really enjoyed it.
So now I am wondering, should I offer up the BBC Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth or do the Keira Knightley version? I love the former and have not seen the later.
I think the best I can hope for is that they will read Austen at some point in the future but will never admit it to me. I am probably just guaranteeing that they will NEVER EVER read Jane Austen as long as they live. Alas.